Saturday, October 3, 2015

Meditation is Easy for Old Folks

I have been re-reading the Teachings of Ajahn Chah. Such a delight and food for one's practice . . . I was especially interested in what he had to say about aging and mindfulness practice. A common view is that one should undertake mindfulness at a young age while one's health is still good. Ajahn Chah takes another stance, that I find worth sharing for the many older folks interested in taking up mindfulness practice. Here are some excerpts:
Older persons, who often can’t sit very well, can contemplate especially well and practice concentration easily; they too can develop a lot of wisdom. How is it that they can develop wisdom? Everything is rousing them. When they open their eyes, they don’t see things as clearly as they used to. Their teeth give them trouble and fall out. Their bodies ache most of the time. Just that is the place of study. So really, meditation is easy for old folks. Meditation is hard for youngsters. Their teeth are strong, so they can enjoy their food. They sleep soundly. Their faculties are intact and the world is fun and exciting to them, so they get deluded in a big way. For the old ones, when they chew on something hard they’re soon in pain. [...] When they open their eyes their sight is fuzzy. In the morning their backs ache. In the evening their legs hurt. That’s it! This is really an excellent subject to study. Some of you older people will say you can’t meditate. What do you want to meditate on? Who will you learn meditation from? This is seeing the body in the body and sensation in sensation. Are you seeing these or are you running away? Saying you can’t practice because you’re too old is only due to wrong understanding. The question is, are things clear to you? Elderly persons have a lot of thinking, a lot of sensation, a lot of discomfort and pain. Everything appears! If they meditate, they can really testify to it. So I say that meditation is easy for old folks. They can do it best. [...] You have to see it within yourself. When you sit, it’s true; when you stand up, it’s true; when you walk, it’s true. Everything is a hassle, everything is presenting obstacles – and everything is teaching you. Isn’t this so? Can you just get up and walk away so easily now? When you stand up, it’s “Oy!” Or haven’t you noticed? And it’s “Oy!” when you walk. It’s prodding you. When you’re young you can just stand up and walk, going on your way. But you don’t really know anything. When you’re old, every time you stand up it’s “Oy!” Isn’t that what you say? “Oy! Oy!” Every time you move, you learn something. So how can you say it’s difficult to meditate? Where else is there to look? It’s all correct. 
So now, you have no excuse!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Time Is Not the Problem

Whenever I say I did not have time to meditate today, that is not true. Rather, it is that I did not use my time wisely. If I pay careful attention, and I add up all the minutes I spend each day on Twitter, Facebook, the Huffington Post, and late night TV, I come close to one hour at least, which is a good amount of time that could have been spent on mindfulness practice.

Apparently, I am not as bad as most . . . A survey earlier this year shows that the average time spent online is 6 hours, out of which 2 are spent on social media and microblogging. This is insane. We are spending almost one full day out of our week idling away on the phone or the computer. Not only is it valuable time that could be spent otherwise, starting with mindfulness practice, but the activity itself of constant checking for the latest updates does not give the mind any chance to rest in between necessary daily activities.

I do not have yet a solution, for I am as addicted as anyone else. I just want to put it out there, in an effort to start becoming more aware, and reclaim precious mind. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

6 Ways to Be With the Breath

Listening to one of Ayya Khema's many excellent recordings, I was reminded that there is not one but at least six different ways of being with the breath during awareness of breath sitting practice. Here they are:

1) Counting:
In your head, count one on the in-breath, one of the out-breath, and repeat until you get to ten. Then start over . . . Any time a distracting thought interrupts, or you loose track, just go back to one.

2) Word:
If you don't like numbers, use one word, the same one on each in-breath and each out-breath. You can use the word 'peace' for instance, or any other that works for you. 

3) Image:
If you have visual mind, imagine the breath coming in and out as an ocean wave or a cloud. When coming in with the breath, the wave gets smaller. As it goes out,  it gets bigger.

4) Sensations:
Pay attention to the sensation of the wind of breath on the nostrils, or the throat, or the lung. Follow the breath in, follow the breath out. Make sure to continue to stay with sensations in the body. 

5) Phases:
If practiced already, you can notice beginning, middle, and end of each breath. 

6) Contemplation:
If you cannot work with the breath, look at the impermanence of each breath, the constant coming and going. 

My practice of choice is the sensation approach, focusing on the physical experiencing of breath making its way through and out of the body. I have found focusing on the larger sensations such as the rising and falling of the belly much easier to do than let's say honing on the sensations in the nostrils. 

Find the one that works best for you, and stick to it!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Why I Keep Going Back to Vedana

We are sensing beings. We sense, i.e. experience our environment through our five immediate senses, and also our mind. The quality of that sensing experience is called 'vedana' in Pali language, and it affects our life from the time we are born until our last breath. Vedana falls into three categories: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral, and we usually react to each type in a predictable manner. We want more of the pleasant, and we push away the unpleasant. The neutral is usually too bland to be noticed by our ordinary consciousness.  Now, why does it matter, you may ask? A great deal, it turns out. In my experience, vedana, and our awareness of it or lack thereof, can be the difference between a life liberated from the tyranny of conditionality, and a life at the mercy of circumstances.

Looking back, I see that my original motivation for taking up mindfulness practice came from a misguided view. I was suffering and wanted a way out, and had this understanding that mindfulness would be the way to one day start feeling peace, happiness, and bliss. While it is true that practice can bring some of those wonderful states, the paradox lies in the fact that wishing for those can actually be an impediment to freedom and joy. Only within the past few years, have I come to let go of such foolish wish, and instead reconcile with the truth that each moment is to be experienced for what it is. This has enabled me to more fully relax into each moment, no longer having to dread or wish away the inevitable, all the 's...' that always comes sooner or later. In relationships, it helps not personalize annoying encounters. This person was a pain, he or she caused me grief, and in the end, it does not matter so much. What does count is the recognition of yet another unpleasant moment, and my automatic reaction to it, the familiar internal clenching, the tightening against the experience. Mindfulness can help catch it before it gets too entrenched, and before the mind seals it with its share of stories about this thing, this person, this event. The mind becomes trained to tell itself, 'unpleasant, this is unpleasant', and to not make too big of a deal of it.

Now, the best way to loosen vedana's hold is not so much in the unhappy moments, but rather during times when all is well and we find ourselves really liking 'this'. Next time such a moment arise, pause and notice your body and mind's inclination to want to hang on. It feels so good, we want more, and we don't want the feeling to stop. We start grasping, and when the time comes and the goodness slips away,  as it is bound to, we experience suffering. The trick is in not hanging on so much to the pleasantness. That way we are less likely to experience vedana burn as I call it, the same way we won't get rope burn if we don't hang on to the rope when it gets pulled away. Every time, I find myself transported with euphoric feelings, the bell goes on in my head, warning me to not get so carried away. That moment that feels sooooo wonderful right now, that too shall pass. Which is not to say, that feelings get dulled, to the contrary. One can feel great joy, yet be loose around it. The mind knows and becomes more impartial regarding the happenstance of pleasantness or unpleasantness. The mind trains itself to cultivate the beautiful quality of equanimity.

Monday, August 17, 2015

With Mindfulness Practice, Less Is More

When all is practiced and done, less is really more. This morning sitting down for practice, I realized mindfulness practice is indeed very simple.

Only sit,
and follow the breath with awareness.

No need to control the breath,
as it happens all by itself.
No need to think about the breath,
only feel it come and go.
No need to control outcomes,
that is too much work.
No need to exert the mind
with extraneous thoughts.
No need to move the body,
pain is part of the ride.

Only sit,
and sense what arises.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Half Empty and Half Full

What do you see?

Conventional wisdom urges us to focus on the full half. After much contemplation, I am arriving at a slightly different viewpoint:

To not gloss over the empty half.
To fully acknowledge it,
but not let the mind linger too long.
Then, take a step back
and challenge oneself to also see
the other half, no matter how hard
it may be. Because there is always
a full half. Two halves, and a dance
to be held with complete awareness.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Another Invitation to Love

Grief as I felt it this afternoon was of the more subtle kind. Nobody had died. Instead, I had been reminded of a painful bond, a loss not clearly visible to the outside world, but very real nevertheless. Heart aching still, I got to see up close again, the suffering that comes when love gets thrown back onto itself, with no one to respond at the other end. This is where mindfulness practice is put to the test. Mindfulness helps one to not wallow in self-pity and despair. Instead, one can investigate the full impact of hanging on to the idea of love on one's own terms. One can feel the physical pain from grasping, and make the connection with ancient wisdom. 

Every time I fall into that place, I feel compelled to revisit Ayya Khema's Metta talk. And each time, I come up with another treasure. 

There are six billion of us, so why diminish ourselves to one, two, or three? And not only that, the whole problem lies in the fact that because it is attachment, we've got to *keep* those one, two, or three in order to experience any kind of love. We are afraid to lose them: to lose them through death, through change of mind, to leaving home, to whatever change happens. And that fear discolors our love to the point where it can no longer be pure, because it is hanging on.

Grief begs us to listen to the suffering within, and to slowly let go of the cause. Life is too short to waste one more moment in self-inflicted misery. True love is limitless and independent of external conditions.