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Friday, June 29, 2012

You Can Always Wake Up

My companion and I were walking back to our B&B in Galway through a pedestrian mall area lined with bars and restaurants. We'd spent the evening watching Eurocup football in a bar, being mistaken for French because we rooted for the team. That resulted in a man kissing my companion on the cheek at the bar, and she returned to our table with two Bulmers and a bemused expression. Later we were chatted up by two older gentlemen with incomprehensible accents. Excellent fun.

But the dark side of drink showed itself on our walk back. Two men came out of a bar arguing loudly. Then it became physical, with punches thrown. One man fell to the ground, and the other kicked him in the ribs.

We were on the other side of the street, fairly far away, but then stopped across the street. Several people were standing, watching, including the attacker's friends, who stood back.. No one cheered. No one egged things on. Everyone seemed to want it to stop, but no one knew how to make that happen without becoming the target of drunken aggression.

Then a taxi driver parked at the kerb honked his horn.

The man looked up, then stepped back onto the foot that was extended to deliver another kick. His friends immediately surrounded him, and they walked him away. The man on the ground lay still, and time stopped moving, until he raised his head. Three people who looked like they knew what they were doing rushed over, including a well-dressed woman in heels who'd been standing next to us. Within seconds the man was sitting up, his white T-shirt torn and ringed with blood, being talked to by those who'd gone over.

I looked for the Gardai as we walked on, a police officer, who could get help, if it was needed. Then I realized that the people on the scene probably had cellphones and could call for help.

I don't know if we could have done anything differently. Interfering would not have stopped the fight, only provided a new target.

But I do know this: We can always wake up. No matter how fast our train of thought is speeding down the track, something can stop us in our tracks, allow us to choose whether to continue or change directions. In this case, the taxi's honk interrupted the blind, drunken, aggression that had taken over that man's mind and body.

And if that can happen, I believe, our train of thought can always be brought to a screeching halt.

May we be open to those auspicious interruptions. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How to meditate when you don't have time to sit

My friend, Ven. Lawrence Do An Grecco, recently wrote about how to meditate if you don't have time to sit. You do it by conducting your everyday activities with the mind of meditation.
You can read his whole post here

He writes: 
Good practice is not just about sitting for long periods of time or going away on extended retreats at exotic meditation halls or reading a densely written Dharma book that makes you want to yawn. It’s simply about being fully aware of what your mind is doing at any given moment, and this is something you can do at any given moment. 
Here are some of his seven suggestions:

Set your phone alarm to go off at several different times throughout the day. When you hear the tone, take a moment to pause and check in and see how you are doing, even if it’s just for a few seconds. Notice if you’re stuck in any thought loops or harboring any negative emotional or mind states. Don’t try to force anything away or muster up any kind of special feeling, just notice how you are doing in that moment and then continue on with your day.
Do several periods of mini-practice sessions spread throughout the day. Be still and follow your breath for just 60 seconds at five or ten different periods. Use a reminder alert on your phone if you must.
Stick some small post-it notes in various places around your home and office to remind you to pay attention to what your mind is doing whenever you catch sight of them.
Whenever you are walking and wherever you happen to be, just walk. Don’t try to figure out your life or solve the world’s problems in your brain as you’re moving about—instead just pay attention to the feeling of the ground under each foot as it touches the earth below. 
Whether you’re grabbing a quick cup of coffee at Starbucks or having an elaborately prepared gourmet meal, allow yourself some time to simply experience the act of consuming.

When you’re texting or typing at your computer or on your phone, pay close attention to the sensation of your fingertips as they tap against the keys on your phone or your keyboard. 

To keep it simple, whatever you're doing, just be present with what you're doing.

Monday, June 18, 2012

When Things Aren't Going Your Way Change Direction

Lessons from travel:

Our trip to Ireland was loosely planned. We had general geographic locations, but no specific sites -- save one. The Aran Islands off the west coast. I'd been in love with them since I was a child and saw a photo essay in Life or Look or some other magazine I'd picked up some Sunday at my grandmother's house. They were desolate, spare, intriguing.

So the plan, then, once we got to Galway was to get up early and catch the first ferry at 10:30 to Inishmore. The second ferry didn't leave til 1.

We didn't make it. My traveling companion slept late and moved slowly, not feeling well. I miscalculated the distance. The drive was lovely, 80km an hour down narrow roads lined with stone walls, occasional ruins, and spare, bleak coastline. The clouds hung like a low ceiling so that you'd have to duck your head.

I assumed the ferry would have some touristy attractions, coffee shops, shopping shops, around it, basing my ferry experience on Cape Cod. The ferry from Ros a' Mhíl to Inis Mor is surrounded by fisheries and parking lots. We bought tickets and headed back to the main road, turning left (because left turns are easier when you're driving on the left), and heading into Connemara.

Connemara -- gorgeous word -- is in the Gaeltacht, where Irish is the language of everyday life. The signs were incomprehensible with words containing long strings of vowels and odd combinations of consonants, at least to our English-reading brains. We stopped in the first place that had more than two buildings and a bunch of parked cars. The best option was a coffee shop, where the vegan ate eggs and the gluten-sensitive person had fish and chips. The signs on the walls were in Irish.

The only other customers were a young family, father, mother, and round, potato-faced, happy toddler. He and I discovered we could play peekaboo around his mother's shoulder. He said something about me to his parents, who looked over, then laughed at him. (I'm guessing it was along the lines of "There's a funny lady." Look. "She's not funny -- you're funny!")

When we left, I said bye-bye. The family said something incomprehensible and long, that served as bye-bye.

We stopped in the grocery store for ferry snacks, and the clerk spoke to my companion in Irish. Companion apparently declined to get a bag for her purchases, walking over to me with full arms and a puzzled expression.

It was delightful, a step through the looking glass into another world.

The lesson? We could have been grumpy when things didn't go as planned. I was, in fact, wearing my cranky-pants as we parked the car, lamenting the short time we'd have on the island. "Well," my wise companion said, "There hours is better than not going there."


And being open to what the moment offers brings you unexpected delights.

Life is an auspicious coincidence.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The zen of air travel

I am on a lonely road, and I am traveling
Looking for some thing. What can it be?
I hate you some I hate you some I love you some
I love you when I forget about me
(Joni Mitchell)

Serious travel takes me to a zen state. I say this knowing something about Zen -- not a lot, but more than marketers who talk about the zen of yoghurt, for example. Serious travel, involving airports and and airplanes and ground transportation, is best dealt with by letting go of expectations, dropping preferences, and abandoning the concepts of good and bad. Getting frustrated about missing or broken planes only leads to suffering. You are in this airport now -- and for an undetermined number of hours, and no one will tell you how many hours that might be. They will tell you only what you could observe for yourself: you are in an airport and you are not inflight, even if the sign at the gate says the flight is on time for a time that has long passed.

See what I mean?

You can't take it personally. There's no god or karma that's going to inconvenience hundreds of other people to get back at you for something you did.

So you sit -- or stand in line -- with whatever comes and observe your reaction. How does the mind that is angry see things? And how about the mind that is simply aware?

No problems so far this trip. I'm just being at the airport.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The bartender of your mind*

I've been working lately with the Buddha's Third Foundation of Mindfulness -- aka Minfulness of Mind/Thoughts/Mind States or Consciousness of Consciousness, all ways I've seen the term citta translated.

The first foundation is mindfulness of body. Know that you are in your physical form and how that feels.

The second foundation is feeling tones. We find what's going on pleasant or unpleasant, or we're neutral.

The third is, traditionally, mind states -- what are the lenses that color your view? The Buddha identified lust, hatred, contraction, ignorance, and other states that affect how we perceive things. The idea is not (in this teaching) to judge particular ones as good or bad or to cultivate certain states; it's just to know that they're there.

The way to figure out the mind state that is coloring your view is to look at the thoughts.

Here are the first three foundations in action: You smell a hamburger cooking. The smell is merely an odor picked up your senses. You react -- it smells good/it smells revolting/eh. The thoughts coming rushing in: Mmmmm, hamburger. I'm hungry. Seared flesh! The horror! What's going on up there? (Pleasant/unpleasant/neutral)

The sensation sparks the feeling tone which sparks the thought which leads to action. In the worldly, untrained mind.

But if you are trained to be aware of thoughts rather than pulled around by them, you realize that you can choose how to act. And you can avoid the poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion -- along with the ramifications of eating everything whose aroma crosses your path or walking around feeling cranky about flesh-eaters foisting their smells on the world.

Try this:
After doing some shamatha meditation, invite in the thoughts. Let your awareness be like a bartender* and your thoughts like the customers. You welcome the thoughts in, make small talk, take their orders, serve them, and move on to the next thought customer.

You take a friendly attitude toward your thoughts. They belong in the bar of your mind, as much as your awareness does. You notice things about them -- do they come in a large chatty group? Are they combative? Gossipy? Is there one sitting off by the side, repeatedly trying to get your attention? What's that about?

You don't get overly involved with any one of them because you have a constant stream of thought customers coming in. You note which ones are regulars (habitual patterns), and which are newcomers.

You're aware of them, engaged with them, but you are not them. And from this you learn that you are not your thoughts. They don't define you.

Oh, and thoughts leave good tips -- though they tend to subtle and informational. They won't buy you a drink.

*If making your mind a bartender raises resistance, try a clerk at an ice cream shop, bakery, juice bar, lunch counter, or anywhere that one being is waiting on others.