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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What are we practicing?

The painful thing is that when we buy into disapproval, we are practicing disapproval. When we buy into harshness, we are practicing harshness. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become. How sad it is that we become so expert at causing harm to ourselves and others. The trick then is to practice gentleness and letting go. We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal. 
-- Pema Chodron

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Just be

One day, when Osel Rangdrol was a boy -- when he was still Osel Rangdrol -- his father called him over. "Come here," he said. The boy, who was around 10 then, hesitated, expecting that he would be drilled on homework or assigned work to do. "Come here," his father said again, with no hint of what would be asked.
The boy waited, then gave in to the inevitable and walked to his father's side.
"Let's just be," his father said.
Just be? the boy wondered, accustomed to being instructed. But there were no more instructions, just a boy and his dad sitting together with no tests, no pressure, just a moment.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche told that story at the Being Brave Shambhala Sangha Retreat at Karme Choling. He was the boy; his father was the venerable Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage.
The Sakyong gave many teachings during the five-day retreat, but I was especially touched by this one -- which he described as his first transmission from his father. He's received many more complicated transmissions, he said, but none more profound.
(The photo shows Chogyam Trungpa and Sakyong Mipham, date uncertain.)
Perhaps this struck me as particularly poignant because I think a lot of us received similar transmissions. I know I did. My dad used to sit on the front porch on summer evenings, smoking cigarettes and observing the world. Being. Sometimes my grandfather, who lived upstairs in the house where we lived downstairs, would join him. Maybe they'd talk politics or baseball. But the talk wasn't the point. Being was.
The neighborhood kids were part of the passing scene, rolling back and forth with the flow of our games. When the streetlights came on and we headed home, he would just be there.
Often on summer evenings, as the light begins to change, as the heat sinks into the asphalt, I wander out onto my front steps. My hands ache for the ritual of taking a cigarette from a pack, lighting it, and watching the smoke and the day dissipate. I don't smoke; my dad died from cancer that showed up first in his lungs -- I recognize the longing for what it is.
I sit, sometimes on the porch steps, more often on my cushion upstairs. The quality of light changes. The day dims.
Let's just be.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The benefits of loving-kindness meditation

"Eleven advantages are to be expected from the release of heart/mind by [the absorbed] practice of loving-kindness (metta), by constantly increasing thoughts of loving-kindness, by regarding loving-kindness as a vehicle and as something to be treasured, by living according to loving-kindness, by putting these sentiments into practice, and by establishing them. What are the eleven? The practitioner:
  • (1) sleeps in comfort, 
  • (2) awakes in comfort, 
  • (3) sees no bad dreams, 
  • (4) is dear to human beings, 
  • (5) is dear to non-human beings, 
  • (6) is protected by devas
  •  (7) is safe from fire, poison, and swords, 
  • (8) concentrates the mind quickly, 
  • (9) is of serene countenance, 
  • (10) passes away free of confusion, (
  • 11) and if one does not attain full enlightenment here and now in this very life is reborn in a brahma world [a literal divine abode].
Mettanisamsa Sutta

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.

John Cleese, one of the creators of Monty Python, outlines “the five factors that you can arrange to make your lives more creative.” The first four, at least, are common results of a meditation practice:
  1. Space (“You can’t become playful, and therefore creative, if you’re under your usual pressures.”)
  2. Time (“It’s not enough to create space; you have to create your space for a specific period of time.”)
  3. Time (“Giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original,” and learning to tolerate the discomfort of pondering time and indecision.)
  4. Confidence (“Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”)
  5. Humor (“The main evolutionary significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.”)
Many meditators would argue that practice also inevitably leads to #5. When you watch your mind operating, sometimes the only appropriate response is laughter.

(Cleese is on the far left in the photo of Monty Python's Flying Circus from April 1976. From left to right: John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, and Terry Jones.