Thursday, June 30, 2005

Vacation

I will be away from June 30 - July 16. Blog posting will continue when I get back.

Many blessings to everyone!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

About generosity

Here's a good quote from the works of Jon Kabat-Zinn. I don't know what book this is from as I got it off a website called Best Spirituality .com .

Generosity is another quality which, like patience, letting go, non-judging, and trust, provides a solid foundation for mindfulness practice. You might experiment with using the cultivation of generosity as a vehicle for deep self-observation and inquiry as well as an exercise in giving. A good place to start is with yourself. See if you can give yourself gifts that may be true blessings, such as self-acceptance, or some time each day with no purpose. Practice feeling deserving enough to accept these gifts without obligation-to simply receive from yourself, and from the universe.

I like the idea of starting the practice of generosity with ourselves the same way we're taught to practice compassion. When we start with ourselves then generosity does not become an occasion for personal deprivation but rather a way for everybody to benefit.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Monday Meditative Picture Blogging

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Another approach to loving kindness practice

Here's a process for practicing loving kindness meditation as suggested by Jon Kabat-Zinn in Wherever You Go There You Are:

TRY: Touching base with feelings of loving kindness within yourself at some point in your meditation practice. See if you can get behind any objections you may have to this practice, or behind your reasons for being unlovable or unacceptable. Just look at all that as thinking. Experiment with allowing yourself to bathe in the warmth and acceptance of loving kindness as if you were a child held in a loving mother's or father's arms. Then play with directing it toward others and out into the world. There is no limit to this practice, but as with any other practice, it deepens and grows with constant attending, like plants in a lovingly tended garden. Make sure that you are not trying to help anybody else or the planet. Rather, you are simply holding them in awareness, honoring them, wishing them well, opening to their pain with kindness and compassion and acceptance. If, in the process, you find that this practice calls you to act differently in the world, then let those actions too embody loving kindness and mindfulness.

Pay attention to Kabat-Zinn's advice, "Just look at all that as thinking." What he's saying is to treat your inner obstacles as thoughts -- that you can notice, accept without judgment, let go and then bring your mind back to the practice.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Freedom from grasping

Stephen Levine makes a very interesting observation in this passage from A Gradual Awakening:

Ironically, when we experience the depth of dissatisfaction in the wanting mind there follows a great joy. Because when we see that no object of mind can in itself satisfy, then nothing that arises can draw us out and we begin to let go because there is nothing worth holding onto. The more we see how the mind wants, the more we see how wanting obscures the present. To realize that there is nothing to hold onto that can offer lasting satisfaction shows us there is nowhere to go and nothing to have and nothing to be - and that's freedom.

I think everyone has experienced the freedom of letting go at some point in his or her life. The problem is that when we're untrained we often only let go only by accident or through extreme desperation. Cultivating a trained mind enables us to let go because we choose to do so. That's the freedom Levine is talking about.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Saturday dog blogging

Well, I'm going to be out of the country next Friday so I just couldn't wait to show you my big dog Izzy. Here she is:
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Real happiness

Here is another passage from The Essence of Buddhism by Traleg Kyabgon:

Spiritual practice is about being, or becoming, a different person; having a different experience of our own being. It has scarcely anything to do with what we have in terms of job, family, and so forth. This does not mean that we should reject our family in order to be spiritual, or that we should stop working and live in the jungle in order to be spiritual. Even the happiness that we may feel in the jungle will turn into unhappiness when the mosquitoes and the snakes start biting! Real happiness has to come from within, from having a greater understanding of ourselves. As our inner struggles and conflicts gradually lessen and we become more integrated, we gain a sense of peace. We will not stop having problems in life, because many problems come from the external world. However, the inner sense of integration enables us to deal with whatever arises in our life. This is the kind of thing we have to work with on the path of preparation.

We begin to realize where the real source of happiness lies, and this makes us keen to pursue the path. If we are not convinced, if we are not looking forward to our destination, the journey cannot take place.

What he's talking about, of course, is aspiration. We aspire for our true nature to be realized. It is important for us to have an unshakable conviction that this is, indeed, possible. Such a conviction will sustain us through every kind of challenge imaginable.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Cat blogging bonus

Well, folks, I just got a digital camera so as to keep up with the need for Friday cat pictures. Here is my very first attempt. It's Henry the Great!
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Friday Cat Blogging!

This is a blurry picture scanned from a print that I found the other day. But I love the expression on Leroy's face!
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A settled mind

Here's a passage from The Essence of Buddhism by Traleg Kyabgon about tranquility:

The meditation of tranquility teaches us how to become settled and calm and to concentrate so that our minds are not always reaching out, grabbing on to this and that, and becoming scattered. We learn how to focus our minds, to become centered. We also learn how to be present and not dwell on our past achievements, failures, regrets, or guilt associated with all kinds of things that we may have done or failed to do. Likewise, we learn how not to dwell on or feel anxious about the future: what we would like to achieve, the possibility of not being able to achieve our goals, the imminent obstacles that we can foresee, and so on. We can learn how to be in the present and remain focused. If we indulge in all these mental activities without focus, we lose our perspective and start to react to things more and more from habitual responses rather than from clear understanding. Through the practice of meditation, we can learn how to be attentive and in the present.

It's wonderful to have a strategy for interrupting habitual tendency. Without mindfulness we are taken hostage by habitual tendency, aren't we? But the mindfulness practice frees us and gives us access to our choices. At the end of the day, it's all about alleviating suffering. It's worth the work because this way we can find another way of living besides being imprisoned by repeated suffering.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Keen mindfulness

Here's a wonderful description of what happens when mindfulness is present. This is from A Gradual Awakening by Stephen Levine:

When mindfulness becomes very keen we can begin to see thoughts in a new way, literally experiencing them arising and passing away as though they had a frame around them. It's as though we'd taken a movie film, which we had been watching projected on a screen, and examined it frame by frame, investigating the discrete elements of what had previously been imagined to be a single, continuous flow. We see the arising and passing away of consciousness, of everything that we considered to be self. It allows a microscopic examination of moment-to-moment mind, of being, as it unfolds. Then, what is unconscious becomes conscious. Nothing is blocked and nothing is added, the whole universe presents itself as it will and we are graced to perceive it.

It's like standing on a stream bank, watching all the thoughts float downstream like bubbles. And. as we watch, it becomes increasingly clear that some of the bubbles are us watching the stream, that even the watcher is just part of the flow, and awareness simply experiences all that is.

This is very beautiful, very freeing. I really like the expression "keen mindfulness". Let that be your aspiration in your meditation today!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

Notice the little ants!
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Metta Prayer

May all beings be happy, content and fulfilled.
May all beings be healed and whole.
May all have whatever they want and need.
May all be protected from harm and free from fear
May all beings enjoy inner peace and ease.
May all be awakened, liberated, and free.
May there be peace in this world and throughout the entire universe.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Turning inward

One of my favorite slogans from the Seven Points of Mind-Training is this one: "Liberate yourself by examining and investigating." Jon Kabat-Zinn, in Wherever You Go There You Are, offers an exercise consistent with that teaching to be used when things aren't going just right or when we're not feeling just right. Here it is:

The next time you feel a sense of dissatisfaction, of something being missing or not quite right, turn inward just as an experiment. See if you can capture the energy of that very moment. Instead of picking up a magazine or going to the movies, calling a friend or looking for something to eat or acting up in one way or another, make a place for yourself. Sit down and enter into your breathing, if only for a few minutes. Don't look for anything - neither flowers nor light nor a beautiful view. Don't extol the virtues of anything or condemn the inadequacy of anything. Don't even think to yourself, "I am going inward now." Just sit. Reside at the center of the world. Let things be as they are.

This is a very powerful practice in acceptance. I recommend it highly.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Monday Meditative Picture Blogging

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Observing the mind poisons

Here's a great quote about the mind poisons of anger, greed and delusion:


Q: I can observe anger and work with greed, but how does one observe delusion?

A: You're riding a horse and asking "Where's the horse?" Pay attention.

-Ajahn Chah

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Encouragement for self-acceptance

Sometimes beginning meditation students think that a meditative practice will eliminate all uncomfortable feelings. They want everything to be peaceful, blissful, serene. But that's not only unrealistic, that's a form of grasping for the pleasurable states. Meditation, rather, gives us the skill to accept ourselves utterly as we are. Stephen Levine speaks to this in his book, A Gradual Awakening:

Coming mindfully into the moment is accepting ourselves fully. We know that there are feelings we don't know the root of, feelings we're not in touch with: "I feel a certain way, but I don't know why; I have this uneasiness, but I don't know where it's coming from - and, here I am, just open to it, just sitting with it." We can allow ourselves to stay soft with that, not to close in on it, not to cause resistance in the mind and body. It's all right not to know - it leaves room for knowing.

We can experiment with our practice to see what's going on inside ourselves. We can observe what anger feels like, what joy feels like, what separation from the flow feels like, what fear or worry feels like. We can see what letting go does. We can experience all of ourself. We make room for all of ourself and return wholeheartedly into the flow with a self-accepting mind not caught in judging other mind states.

I love that sentence, "We can experience all of ourself." This is why meditation is so profoundly healing if we let it be. Whatever aspect of ourselves we may have rejected in the past, we can now accept through meditation. May this happen for everyone who reads these words!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Everyday mindfulness

I often recommend that people select prompts from their everyday routine to help bring them to mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn has the same advice in his book Wherever You Go There You Are. Here's how he expresses the suggestion:

Try: To use ordinary, repetitive occasions in your own house as invitations to practice mindfulness. Going to the front door, answering the telephone, seeking out someone else in the house to speak with, going to the bathroom, getting the laundry out of the dryer, going to the refrigerator, can all be occasions to slow down and be more in touch with each present moment. Notice the inner feelings which push you toward the telephone or the doorbell on the first ring. Why does your response time have to be so fast that it pulls you out of the life you were living in the preceding moment? Can these transitions become more graceful? Can you be more where you find yourself, all the time?

Also try being present for things like taking a shower, or eating. When you are in the shower, are you really in the shower? Do you feel the water on your skin, or are you someplace else, lost in thought, missing the shower altogether? Eating is another good occasion for mindfulness practice. Are you tasting your food? Are you aware of how fast, how much, when, where, and what you are eating? Can you make your entire day as it unfolds into an occasion to be present or to bring yourself back to the present, over and over again?

Notice the ordinariness of these suggestions. This is about real life - not going off to meditate in a cave away from everyone and everything! These are practices we can apply right here, right now.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's a picture that Char Stone sent me. Char writes:

Here is E.T., my Devon Rex, who likes to make copies on my printer. He touches the buttons on the printer until it starts a copy and then watches it come out.
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Wanting mind

Here's another way of looking at true freedom as expressed by Stephen Levine in his book, A Gradual Awakening:

At the base of the conditioned mind is a wanting. This wanting takes many forms. It wants to be secure. It wants to be happy. It wants to survive. It wants to be loved. It also has specific wants: objects of desire, friendships, food, this color or that color, this kind of surrounding or some other kind. There's wanting not to have pain. There's wanting to be enlightened. There's wanting things to be as we wish they were.
...
When we see the depth of wanting in the mind, we see the depth of dissatisfaction because wanting can't be satisfied: when we get finished with one desire there's always another. As long as we're trying to satisfy desire, we're increasing wanting.

Ironically, when we experience the depth of dissatisfaction in the wanting mind there follows a great joy. Because when we see that no object of mind can in itself satisfy, then nothing that arises can draw us out and we begin to let go because there is nothing worth holding onto. The more we see how the mind wants, the more we see how wanting obscures the present. To realize that there is nothing to hold onto that can offer lasting satisfaction shows us there is nowhere to go and nothing to have and nothing to be - and that's freedom.

The joy of simply experiencing the present moment as it is cannot be adequately expressed. I think Levine has come close, however. This is a beautiful passage.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Knowing ourselves

If we can reach the understanding of what we actually are, there is no better remedy for eliminating all suffering. This is the heart of all spiritual practices.
-Kalu Rinpoche, Luminous Mind

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The power of meditation

In the ongoing classes right now, we are studying a book called Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. Surya Das is a practitioner in the Dzogchen school of Tibetan Buddhism. Here is a Dzogchen teaching on meditation that emphasizes the importance of regular practice and long term perseverence:

In the beginning, meditative awareness is like a small flame, which can easily be extinguished and needs to be protected and nurtured. Later, it is more like a huge bonfire, which consumes whatever falls into it... Then the more thoughts that arise, the more awareness blazes up, like adding logs to a bonfire! Emaho!* Everything is food for naked enlightened awareness!

-- Dzogchen Master Jigme Lingpa


*"Emaho!" is Tibetan for "How wonderful!" or "Hallelujah!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The contemplative attitude

Happiness is an inside job. That's often hard for people to accept because we are easily conditioned to believe that if only we could change our outward circumstances we would be happier. Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks to this in his book, Wherever You Go There You Are:

Dwelling inwardly for extended periods, we come to know something of the poverty of always looking outside ourselves for happiness, understanding, and wisdom. It's not that God, the environment, and other people cannot help us to be happy or to find satisfaction. It's just that our happiness, satisfaction, and our understanding, even of God, will be no deeper than our capacity to know ourselves inwardly, to encounter the outer world from the deep comfort that comes from being at home in one's own skin, from an intimate familiarity with the ways of one's own mind and body.

Dwelling in stillness and looking inward for some part of each day, we touch what is most real and reliable in ourselves and most easily overlooked and undeveloped. When we can be centered in ourselves, even for brief periods of time in the face of the pull of the outer world, not having to look elsewhere for something to fill us up or make us happy, we can be at home wherever we find ourselves, at peace with things as they are, moment by moment.

This is so true. It's the reason I really value taking a meditation break during my day - especially when things get hectic. Through meditation I always know that I can "touch what is most real and reliable" in myself.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Monday Meditative Picture Blogging

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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

So you think you don't have time.

I think people often don't believe me when I tell them that 5 minutes of meditation a day will change their lives. But it's true. Jon Kabat-Zinn agrees as he explains in this passage from Wherever You Go There You Are:

For those who seek balance in their lives, a certain flexibility of approach is not only helpful, it is essential. It is important to know that meditation has little to do with clock time. Five minutes of formal practice can be as profound or more so than forty-five minutes. The sincerity of your effort matters far more than elapsed time, since we are really talking about stepping out of minutes and hours and into moments, which are truly dimensionless and therefore infinite. So, if you have some motivation to practice even a little, that is what is important. Mindfulness needs to be kindled and nurtured, protected from the winds of a busy life or a restless and tormented mind, just as a small flame needs to be sheltered from strong gusts of air.

If you can only manage five minutes, or even one minute of mindfulness at first, that is truly wonderful. It means you have already remembered the value of stopping, of shifting even momentarily from doing to being.

What happens when we meditate for just five minutes is that we have interrupted the flow of habitual tendency that typically controls our minds throughout the day. That is a major shift. This is why five minutes a day everyday is much better than a hour once a week.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

On loving-kindness

The Dalai Lama frequently says, "My religion is kindness." Here's a beautiful passage by Stephen Levine from his book A Gradual Awakening about just that:

The power of loving-kindness is so great that when we concentratedly send it out to another, they often can feel it if they are in a quiet place at that moment. It is a tangible but subtle energy which can be consciously directed, much like that quality of care which is the principal element in healing.

As practice continues to cultivate an openness of heart, we begin to experience the incredible power of this love. And we see that with all our imagined unworthiness and fear, with all our doubt and desire, it's hard to be loving all the time. But it's harder not to be loving.

I really like that last sentence. If we realize that choosing not to love is actually hard on us in a deep way, perhaps we will not choose that unloving path. Just let go of resentment and wish for the other what you wish for yourself: happiness and well-being.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Making our "self-talk" skillful

I often recommend something I call self-coaching. That's a way of making the way we talk to ourselves wholesome and skillful. Many people have an unhelpful habit of negative self-talk. David Harp speaks to this in his book, The Three Minute Meditator:

Often we are not even completely aware of all of our thoughts. Many of us suffer from an internal monologue that runs intermittently, a critical, judgmental, internal voice that seems to love to offer gratuitous and usually negative comments. These comments slink through our mind half-noticed, and, like small leaks in the bottom of a large boat, often have a long-term or cumulative effect, which is not a pleasant one.

I used to use the first line or two of The Beatles song, "I'm A Loser" to berate myself with. Anytime I did anything that didn't work out perfectly, I'd subconsciously croon "I'm a looo-oo-ooser..." to myself, thus reinforcing my negative feelings.

Once I began to clear and to watch my mind through meditation, I was able to see what I was doing (at least sometimes), and began to let go of this self-hating habit. Before I started meditation I couldn't see it happening. I couldn't catch myself in the act, so I wasn't able to deal with this behavior.

I feel a lot better now that my mind is no longer singing that darn tune! You'll feel happier and more positive when you begin to quiet the chatter or your mind, too.

That's a good story, isn't it? Start noticing what you're saying to yourself and let go of critical and self-berating messages. Try saying, "Accept without judgment, accept without judgment," when that critical voice starts up. Make the commitment to give yourself lovingkindness and compassion in this way.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

This is Kato of Colorado Springs. Sent to me by Paul Rogers.
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Learning not to judge

Here's a paragraph from The Feeling Buddha by David Brazier. It points out the problem with trying to make ourselves special or different:

When we are able to see our own negativity clearly we will be less complacent and we will not stand in judgment over others. We will know that we too have all the seeds in us to be every possible kind of saint or sinner. We are not made of different stuff from the people we might choose to scorn. To be proud of ourselves while devaluing others is simply self-deception. If we have some special talent or some particular virtue, then we have it for a purpose, which is to benefit the world. If we see it as a platform from which inwardly to assert our superiority, we defeat our real purpose immediately.

Humility is an important aspect of meditative practice. That means not thinking we are less than others and not thinking we are more than others but simply being willing to take our place as a member of humanity - simply one of others. It has been aptly said that humility is not thinking less of ourselves but rather thinking of ourselves less.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

More about anger

Here is another passage from The Three Minute Meditator by David Harp. This passage speaks to the importance of compassion for ourselves when we're overcome with anger:

For me, frustration often leads to anger. When business dealings, relationships, or other events don't go the way I want them to, I first feel frustrated, then threatened by my own lack of control. Almost instantaneously the feelings of frustration and fear turn into anger, as my mind attempts to cover up these insecure and painful feelings with more aggressive ones. Acting upon these aggressive feelings, I may then lash out at myself, or at loved ones, without even knowing why.

But when I can recognize the initial frustration and fearful feelings as they arise, I can meet them with compassion. A moment of compassion meditation will often break the chain of frustration-to-fear-to-anger, and allow me to face the frustration and fear directly. It's not easy to face up to my own inability to control people, events, and things. But I'd rather directly face these feelings and the pain that they bring, than encounter the far greater pain of the misdirected anger, with its warlike attack on myself or others.

Even if I do get angry, I may be able, after a moment, to remember to be compassionate towards myself, both for my pain, and for having become mad. All humans feel anger and must somehow learn to deal with this emotion. Feeling compassion for my anger is far more healing in the long run than feeling guilt for my anger, or feeling angry at myself for my anger. Feeling compassion for myself allows me to "watch the movie" in my mind and step outside my old knee-jerk reaction of pain, anger, and self-hate.

I so agree with this. When I feel strong emotions like anger I coach myself with the words, "Accept without judgment." Of course, by the time I remember to do the self-coaching, I may well have already judged the emotion. That's when it's important to remember not to judge the judgment! Whenever mindfulness returns, that's when we stop judging. Accept whatever came before and give yourself lots of compassion. Remember, compassion is the sincere wish that suffering be alleviated. You can give yourself that, no matter what. It helps if we remember that continuing to judge is a sure fire way to prolonging the suffering.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

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Conscious driving

Today, I picked up a book I haven't looked at for some years but that I've always really valued. It is The Three Minute Meditator by David Harp. Thumbing through it, my eye fell on this exercise:

Driving is one of the most hazardous things we do on a daily basis. Yet often, as we drive, our mind is lost in the past or the future, far from a clear focus on the manipulation of tons of iron at high rates of speed. We talk, listen to the radio, eat, drink or smoke, keeping "half an eye" on the road and other traffic.

In conscious driving, we focus our attention exclusively on the elements important to automotive safety, asintently as though we were Monte Carlo racing drivers, participating in the race of our lives. But intead of concentrating on speed alone, we pay attnetion to many factors: the road in front of us, the positionsof other cars near us, our speed, driving conditions, and road conditions.

Should any thoughts not germane only to safe driving enter, we notice them and gently return our attention to our driving. If this exercise seems, for any reason, to be unsafe, please don't do it. but I am convinced that if more people did focuse their attention exclusively on their driving, that the highways would be much safer places.

Of course, this was written before cell phones hit the scene so today we have that distraction as well as the ones Harp has mentioned here. What would happen if we all decided to practice conscious, or mindful, driving? We would actually get in a lot more mindfulness training quite easily and we would be safer as well.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Tuesday meditative picture blogging

I forgot to do Monday Meditative Picture blogging yesterday. So I'm making up for it today! Here's one that I really love:
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Wisdom words

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason, and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

~~ The Buddha

Monday, June 06, 2005

Steadfastness and clear seeing

I often remind classes that mindfulness meditation is not the same thing as going into a trance. We don't want to lower our awareness but rather help it to become clearer - more finely tuned. Pema Chodron speaks to this in her marvelous book, The Places That Scare You:

So whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to "stay" and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What's for lunch? Stay! What am I doing here? Stay! I can't stand this another minute! Stay! That is how to cultivate steadfastness.

Clear seeing. After we've been meditating for a while, it's common to feel that we are regressing rather than waking up. "Until I started meditating, I was quite settled; now it feel like I'm always restless." "I never used to feel anger; now it comes up all the time." We might complain that meditation is ruining our life, but in fact such experiences are a sign that we're starting to see more clearly. Through the process of practicing the technique day in and day out, year after year, we begin to be very honest with ourselves. Clear seeing is another way of saying that we have less self-deception.

That's so important. When we let go of self-deception and deeply know that this is not something we will intentionally choose, we lose all fear of what may come up in our meditation. Then we will know a freedom possible no other way.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The value of patience

When I was in the convent, the older nuns used to offer some really valuable advice about spiritual development. They would say, "Don't pull yourself up by the roots to see how you're growing." Often those of us new to the life would yield to the temptation to engage in an unskillful kind of introspection. I observe that now sometimes with people who get impatient about their progress. Lama Surya Das speaks to this issue in his book, Awakening the Buddha Within. This passage is from the chapter on "Right Effort":

We all have instant-coffee mind today: What we want, we want now. Just add hot water, and it's ready. But in the spiritual dimension, however urgently you may feel the need to progress - hasten slowly, and you will soon arrive. Pulling upon the flowers with your hands every day does not help them grow more, and may even harm their natural blooming process. On the other hand, skillful nurturing with the right combination of water, air, sunlight, and fertilizer can maximize their innate growth potential. This wise gardening method is not unlike the appropriate effort that is just right for individual spiritual growth and personal development.

One of my own meditation teachers, Rob Nairn*, often emphasized the importance of meditating just to meditate - not to gain any results. It's true that results will slowly happen but attachment to results sabotages the process because it focuses on the future instead of letting the mind rest in the moment. Just be with what is and accept what is. Then let the progress take care of itself.

*All of Rob's books and videos are available at the Center

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Impermanence

In all the classes this week we've taken a look at the importance of meditating on impermanence. The passage I'm offering you today is from A Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Practice by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche. Unfortunately I'm not able to link to a source for this book as it is not formally published but rather photocopied and spiral bound. The book is a transcript of talks given by Ringu Tulku. We can get copies at the Center by ordering from a Buddhist book store in Albuquerque, however. Here's the passage:

How do you meditate on impermanence? There are many different ways or different methods. First, contemplate the impermanence of the outside world, and then contemplate the impermanence of the beings living on it. In respect of the outside world, you can think of two more levels, that is the impermanence of the world in general, and then the impermanence of objects in it.

Firstly, think of the world, how it has changed since the beginning of time, how it was formed and how it will disintegrate in the end. This great earth, which we inhabit; the sun and the moon which we know so well, there will come a time when they too will disintegrate and vanish. Even within this universe, the solar systems, the planets and the stars - not one of these things is permanent.

Secondly, there are not only these great changes, but there are so many small changes, like the changing of the seasons, the change from day to night, from sunshine to rain. There is no pause in time; every moment brings change. Therefore, think of these things, that nothing stands still in space, everything is changing all the time. Try to think of these things and understand that this is how to meditate on the impermanence of the outside world.

Now think about the beings on this earth; they are also impermanent. We can look around us and see other beings changing, we can see them growing older, we can see them dying. Things like that should remind us how impermanent everything is. We can also think of our own death, our own impermanence. In these two ways, we gain understanding and make ourselves more conscious of the nature of impermanence.

I find this to be a very consoling practice. Whenever I catch myself worrying about what is going on in the world and what is happening to the earth, I meditate on impermanence in this way. It is a very effective antidote to anxiety and it brings true perspective and equanimity.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

This picture of Leroy was taken some years ago in the old Center - in the sun room which was my office at the time.
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Photo by Ellie

Anger and self-acceptance

I suppose the most difficult task I face in working with people is inviting them into radical self-acceptance. I don't know why people think that they will improve themselves if they don't accept themselves. But many people do think that way. Of course all that does is keep them stuck because it reinforces judgment and the only way to make effective changes is to let go of judgment. Stephen Levine speaks to this in A Gradual Awakening:

We don't have to be afraid to see anything. In a clear seeing of anger or fear or insecurity or doubt, each thing is defused, it doesn't beg for expression, its reactive power is dissipated. Mindfulness will cut through it. And the mindfulness weakens the force of its arising in the future, even though it may have such potency that it stays for a while. As we experience alternate moments of mindfulness and anger, we begin undermining the power of the anger.
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The nature of the mind is such that when awareness is present it displaces the kind of grasping that breeds frustration. We cannot have awareness and grasping active in the same moment. They don't fit in the same space. When we're not mindful, when we're identifying with the thought, which is forgetfulness, the opposite of mindfulness, we spin out. When we're mindful, each thought arises and passes away, to be followed by another - there's no stickiness. So when we're mindful of anger, it won't stay. We don't suppress it, we don't act it out. We're just mindful of it, experience it, and watch it come and go.
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Coming mindfully into the moment is accepting ourselves fully. We know that there are feelings we don't know the root of, feelings we're not in touch with: "I feel a certain way, but I don't know why; I have this uneasiness, but I don't know where it's coming from - and here I am just open to it, just sitting with it." We can allow ourselves to stay soft with that, not to close in on it, not to cause resistance in the mind and body. It's all right not to know - it leaves room for knowing.

Leaving room in our consciousness is so liberating. Having our mind crowded with judgments is just the opposite: it restricts and imprisons us. Complete self-acceptance truly is the way forward because it is non-grasping. Think about it. Refusing to accept yourself is an intense form of grasping. And that will only drive our afflictive emotions in deeper.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

True peace of mind

Today I picked up a book I've shared with you before: How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald. I found a wonderful passage explaining just how and why ego-cherishing is such a problem. Here it is:

It is self-cherishing that motivates us to take the biggest piece of cake or the most comfortable chair in the room; to push to the head of the queue or drive as if ours were the only car on the road; to do what we feel like doing without considering how it might affect others. Self-cherishing operates more subtly, too; it lies behind our irritation, pride, jealousy, anxiety and depression. In fact, just about every time we are unhappy or uneasy it is because we are overly concerned with me. We feel that unless we take care of ourselves we will not be happy. In fact, the very opposite is true. Ego's appetite is insatiable - trying to fulfill its wishes is a never-ending job. No matter how much we have, ego continuously grows restless and looks for more. We never reach a point where we feel ultimately satisfied, when we can say, "Now I've had enough."

If, on the other hand, we can turn our mind around to think of others and put their needs and desires first, we will find peace. There is a serenity that comes from truly cherishing others. By acting always according to what is least disturbing for others, ego is gradually subdued and our life and relationships take on a new dimension.

But the attitude of cherishing others is not based on disliking oneself or suppressing one's feelings. It is developed by gradually coming to recognize that everyone needs love and wants happiness, just as we do: that every being in the universe is part of one big family, that we all depend on each other, that there is no such thing as an outsider; that self-cherishing brings problems and cherishing other bring peace of mind.

That last paragraph is so important. Please notice what this is not saying. It is not saying that we should become martyrs and put ourselves down and cherish a self-image of always helping others. That is just another ego-trip. No, McDonald is talking about the real thing: wanting the same love and happiness for others that we naturally and rightly want for ourselves.

A great meditation to help us cultivate a sincere interest in the well-being of others is metta or loving-kindness practice. Start with yourself by saying, "May I be happy. May I be well. May everything be well in my life." Then think of someone you love. "May s/he be happy. May s/he be well. May everything be well in her/his life." Then slowly expand the circle of lovingkindness until you are able to include even difficult people in your well wishing. Finally include all beings. This is a powerful way of interrupting the dynamic of ego-grasping and can provide nearly instant relief from suffering. It is a way of both appropriately taking care of ourselves and others.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Transformation

It's very important in the meditative process not to become attached to a particular outcome. But it's seductive to do so. One of the things I remind myself of is that my life will simply unfold and, if I accept this, it will unfold without my suffering over it. Charlotte Joko Beck speaks to this in her book, Nothing Special:

Transformation is allowing ourselves to participate in our life right this second. That's scary business. There is no guarantee of comfort, of peace, of money, of anything. We have to be what we are. Most of us, however, have other ideas. It's as though we are a tree that produces leaves and fruit of a certain kind. We want to produce this because it's comfortable. Transformation, however, is to produce what life chooses to produce through us. We can't know what this is going to be. It might mean any kind of a transformation -- in the work we do, in the way we live, in our health (it might even get worse, not better.)
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The way of transformation requires an impeccable warrior - which is not the same as being a perfect warrior. Instead, we constantly do our best, working with specific care. Instead of resolving, "I'm going to be aware," we need to resolve, "I'm going to be aware specifically when I do that." Instead of trying to work with everything at once, we work on one or two items at a time, maybe for two or three months, and just keep pounding away. If we let even one thought go by, such as "Oh, I'm really a hopeless person," without being aware of it until afterward, then we want to sit up a little straighter and try again. We need to apply ourselves steadily, to build up muscle for the long, hard journey. In the end, we realize that it's not a long, hard journey, but we won't see this until we see it.

This second paragraph reminds me of the slogan from the Seven Points of Mind Training, "Always meditate on what causes resentment". That's what it means to work specifically. This way we cultivate observer consciousness about how our mind really works - not our fantasies about how we wish it would work!