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Friday, April 27, 2012

Always Meditate on Whatever is Unavoidable

"We should constantly meditate on difficulties that we cannot escape. Towards people, for instance, who do us harm, who want to compete with us, who are at one moment friendly but who suddenly turn against us unprovoked, or towards people who for no apparent reason (due to our karma) we simply do not like, we should try to generate the Bodhicitta even more intensely, even when it is difficult." Dilgo Kyentse

Thursday, April 26, 2012


in the uncut grass
violets and dandelions bloom

in the untrained mind
thoughts and feelings bubble

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Discipline and kindness

A scheduled phone call falls through when the person on the other end doesn't answer, leaving me with 45 minutes free time.

Normally I would be at the gym at this time, but I came home instead to make this call. I could go to the gym now, but I'd run into the after-work crowd and I'd be pushing up against my evening plans.

I could sit. I should sit. Forty-five minutes free -- it'd be good.

But I'm so tired. My body contemplates moving to the cushion. I could sit, but I'm so tired.

When I was on retreat last summer, there was one day -- after an evening where we broke silence for an hour after a talk and my mind was buzzing too much to sleep -- where I could sit with sleepiness but nearly tipped over during walking meditation. It was not quality meditation time. I bowed out and headed toward a couch.
The teacher was coming down the hall toward me. I explained that I was going to lie down, that I wanted to be in the shrine room, sitting, as I was supposed to be, as a disciplined meditator would be, looking at my tiredness, but that I just couldn't (continue the explanation/excuse/rationale for why I was deviating from the schedule, failing to live up to ...)
He cut me off.
"That would be the kind thing to do," he said.

So this day, as my should-do mind directed me to the cushion, my heart-mind countered: Or I could take a nap. That would be the kind thing to do, my teacher's voice said.

Sometimes discipline means getting your ass onto the cushion. Sometimes it means heading to the nearest couch.

Discipline means knowing what's going on in the moment, whether you're indulging laziness, acting out on aversion, avoiding what you might find, or taking care of yourself.

And doing the kind thing.

What you do for yourself -- any gesture of kindness, any gesture of gentleness, any gesture of honesty and clear seeing toward yourself -- will affect how you experience your world. In fact, it will transform how you experience the world. What you do for yourself, you're doing for others, and what you do for others, you're doing for yourself. -- Pema Chodron

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Listen to your mind

Learning to befriend our minds will be born of learning to listen to our minds. Probing beneath the stories, concepts, judgments, plans and all sorts of other matter we find in our minds, we attend to the deeper rhythms of our hearts.
-- Christina Feldman

Don't you know who am I?

Al Pacino has taken up residence in my head. I can't tell you how many times over the last week I've heard a voice inside my head responding to some comment or request with: You mean me? Are you talking to me about that? For real?

In each case, I've been asked to do something mySelf thinks is maybe, possibly beneath me. You want me to cut up vegetables? Don't you know who I am? Those words popped up full-blown in my mind. Then my heart laughed. Yeah, you're the one who cuts up vegetables when that's what needs to be done.

Then there was a request to change some idiosyncratic punctuation. Me? Really? You're asking me? Are you asking other people not to make grammatical mistakes in their headlines? Huh?

But the request is not unreasonable. I understand it. It's just that my affirmation-seeking inner child thinks it's not fair.

The benefit of meditation practice is that I see that it's me taking offense at something not directed at me. And the contortions my mind goes through to make it about me make me laugh. Really. It's another misguided, deluded thought floating through my head. If I'm aware enough to see it, I can watch it float by rather than grabbing it and throwing it at an innocent bystander.

Let this thought float around a bit: When you get defensive at something someone says, who are you defending? And who are you defending against?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Keep on sitting

Here is a great article by Sharon Salzberg about sticking with meditation even when you don't think it's working.

A quote:
Meditation practice helps us relinquish old, painful habits; it challenges our assumptions about whether or not we deserve happiness. (We do, it tells us emphatically.) It also ignites a very potent energy in us. With a strong foundation in how to practice meditation, we can begin to live in a way that enables us to respect ourselves, to be calm rather than anxious, and to offer caring attention to others instead of being held back by notions of separation.

But even when you know that these benefits make meditation well worth the effort, it can be hard to keep up a new meditation practice.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Love it? Hate it? Meh. Why that matters

Most people take their thoughts for granted. I think, therefore I am, and I don’t think about where the thoughts come from, whether they are accurate, what biases they contain. We believe our thoughts tell us what is happening, and we follow them. We’re addicted to thoughts. If we aren’t having thoughts, if we’re bored, we panic.

To break that addiction, the Buddha prescribed the Foundations of Mindfulness. The first is Mindfulness of Body. We become aware of our bodies and rest our attention there. Typically we use the breath to practice. We pay attention to the breath, and when we notice that we’re lost in thought, we find our way back. Over and over.

By staying with the breath – or coming back to it – we cultivate an ability to pay attention to one thing, to stay in the present moment. The breath tethers us to now.

The Pali word for the second Foundation is “vedana.” It’s sometimes translated as Mindfulness of Emotions, but it’s more basic, more foundational than that. It’s about the feeling tone that comes before full-blown emotions. It’s an unconscious assessment we make thousands of times a day about every sensation or phenomena we experience.

We hear a noise, we respond – we like it, we dislike it – even before we give it a name: “motorcycle.” Lawnmower. Ice cream truck.

The Buddha identifies those feeling tones as pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral.

The automatic responses are the building blocks of judgment. They’re also described as the seeds of what the Buddha called the three poisons – passion/aggression/ignorance, or greed/hatred/delusion. That feeling tone – pleasant/unpleasant/neutral – determines whether we take a protective or open attitude toward the situation.

You can practice Mindfulness of Feeling Tones with each of the senses: what do I smell? Taste? See? Hear? Is it pleasant – do I want more? Unpleasant – take it away? Huh?

The idea here is just to feel in a direct way, without any commentary, and to see the reactions of immediately judging any experience as agreeable or disagreeable, to become aware of these judgments, which are constantly happening. To become aware of them gives us the opportunity to stop the chain, says Lama Lhundrop, a Kagyu teacher (Kagyu is the lineage of HHDL).

Sharon Salzberg relates the second foundation to the classic teaching of the hindrances that prevent us from moving forward in meditation: desire for sense pleasures, anger, laziness or boredom, restlessness, and doubt. These states are said to weaken wisdom.

By becoming aware of the feeling tones that precede these states, we can progress toward achieving equanimity, the ability to be with whatever happens without being pulled into it.

Lama Lhundrop: “Our feelings will be accompanied by awareness, and as we are aware of them and the connected judging process, we can find ways to let go of them, one after the other. Due to mindfulness we can avoid further chain reactions with all the connected emotional trouble.

“Mindfulness of feelings also has the effect that we get to know ourselves better and do not run away from our feelings anymore. They become familiar experiences of great variety but without any special importance. In spite of their great variety they are all the same in one respect: they come and go without leaving traces.
“This meditation gradually leads to non-identification with feelings or sensations. Feelings will then arise without secondary thoughts that create a connection to an imaginary I or self. They are simply what they are: feelings, a flow of experiences, ever-changing.”

In the beginning, Mindfulness of Feelings is an awareness of how every feeling triggers a chain of chain of reactions. As you become more adept, you can simply feel feelings, without reactions or judgments.

The Buddha said: “His mindfulness is established with the thought, ‘Feeling exists’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached and clings to nothing.”

This is a dramatic departure from the way we normally operate. When something is pleasant, we want to hang on to it, to have more. That clinging causes suffering. Everything is impermanent and fluid – trying to hold onto it is futile. Similarly, trying to escape from painful or unpleasant feelings leads to suffering and addiction to our means of escape. And detachment or delusion or ignorance keeps us from fully experiencing what’s there in the present moment.

Because Buddhists aren’t zombies. The idea is not to stop feeling but to feel what is here in the present moment without piling on reactive thoughts or history or projections. By clearing those away, getting to the foundational feeling tones, we can relate to emotions rather than be controlled by them.

Pema Chodron writes:

Emotional reactivity starts as a tightening. There’s the familiar tug and before we know it, we’re pulled along. In just a few seconds, we go from being slightly miffed to completely out of control.

Nevertheless, we have the inherent wisdom and ability to halt this chain reaction early on. To the degree that we’re attentive, we can nip the addictive urge while it’s still manageable. Just as we’re about to step into the trap, we can at least pause and take some deep breaths before proceeding.