Monday, January 31, 2011

This Is How It Is

Discovered, this quote from Suzuki Roshi, up on the fireplace mantel in the dining room at the Zen Hospice Guest House:

Suzuki Roshi's Quote - Zen Hospice Guesthouse
I am with you, Roshi . . .

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Price of Exclusion

I have been meaning to write about this experience for a while now . . .

When I was working at C-2, the old hospice ward at Laguna Honda Hospital, there was this woman, Gloria, who demanded a lot of attention from the volunteers. "Volunteer! Volunteer! Volunteer!" She summoned us constantly. At first, I didn't mind. I sat by her bed, listened to her stories, helped her with her meals, fetched her coffee . . . Whatever Gloria wanted, whenever, I would do for her.  This went on for a few weeks, until one day, my patience ran out, and I no longer felt like responding to Gloria's imperious calls. I started trying to avoid her. This was hard, since her bed was one of the first ones in the ward, and I had to pass her to get to the other residents.  I figured if I looked straight ahead, and moved fast with an air of purpose, I would be saved. That worked to some extent. Of course, walking back, I had to deal with the Gloria problem again. I found myself hoping that she had fallen asleep, or was engaged with another volunteer, or a nurse. She catched me some times, still. "Volunteer!" and I usually came up with some excuse. "I am busy with another resident. Let me get someone else to help."

An interesting thing happened meanwhile. The more I shut off Gloria from my world, the more space she took up in my mind. I started thinking about her often, and with great aversion. While on the ward, I could feel the constriction in my body, as I overheard her voice. "Volunteer!" . . . My heart was sealed shut, and I did not like the feeling. Of course, I could have taken action, and opened up to her again, but I didn't. The aversion had made too much of a dent, and had left a permanent mark. My heart was not so elastic, that it could bounce back to its original neutrality.

As I look inside, I find many such blemishes, some more recent than others. And I am learning a big lesson. That closing the heart is no longer an option, for the price of exclusion is simply too high. The solution lies in catching the first inklings of  'I don't like him, or her',  before they get a chance of  settling into the heart.

Keeping one's heart open, always . . . 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"I Shouldn't Think"

"You mean, I shouldn't think" is one common misconception about sitting meditation.

Actually, it is and it isn't.

When sitting perfectly still, and there is nothing else to be experienced but the breath and raw physical sensations, thoughts from the self-making mind are indeed irrelevant. That they do happen in the not yet purified mind is part of the process. Hence the answer to the novice's comment, no, and yes. 

Wanting empty mind right away precludes one from the chance of ever experiencing empty mind. 

Tonight, sitting by the fire, there was only the experience of subtle breath, and heat seeping through the body.  Moments of purity, and vanished hindrances. A temporary bliss, not to be clung to . . . 

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Pain of Too Much Love

It pains me greatly when I hear family members insist on their loved one being treated a certain way that may not be in that person's best interest. I have seen this happen a lot either at hospice or in long term elder care communities. 

Once, I watched a granddaughter shake her dying grandmother out of her quiet repose, pinching her cheeks, and yelling in her ears to please respond. Soon, the mother arrived and did the same. Hours ago, I had been sitting with the old woman, breathing with her and holding her hand, as she lied in her bed very peacefully. Mother and granddaughter eventually decided to pull their loved one out of hospice so that she could continue to receive more aggressive cancer treatment in the hospital. The woman died a few weeks later. 

Another time, a daughter dictated a grueling care regiment for her frail mother that left the ninety year old woman too exhausted and depressed to eat or participate in her favorite activities. I wondered why wouldn't the daughter want to listen to the staff's recommendations? Why impose daily showers? Why demand more medications, with the unfortunate consequence of adverse side effects? Why obsess over the frequency of her mother's bowel movements? Why insist on a rigid nap schedule? Why? 

In each case, well intentioned family members whose idea of love got in the way of their loved one's peace and well being . . . In each case, a person too powerless to voice her own needs, who got subjected to unnecessary suffering in the name of love. 

It would be too easy to blame the families. Better instead, try to educate them on the real needs of their loved one. And at a minimum, hold them in one's heart, with compassion and loving kindness for their own suffering. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Beyond the Inner Prison

Something had to be done. I could no longer bear the anxiety inside. I did what I usually do in such situation: a collage. 

The images jumped at me, quick. A men's prison, an anxious looking woman, her black purse thrown over her shoulder, some blue sky, and a bird. Cut away, the glass windows in the ceiling of the prison. Sky now visible, and one bird. Woman looking up towards the sky. Above and behind her, a tough looking man looking down in her direction.

A perfect image for how I felt, trapped inside some high security prison with no chance of escaping. I taped it on the wall above my desk, next to the big Buddha. 

Inner Prison

Looking at the picture, I started to 'see' another much larger reality. That of blue sky, unlimited, with the bird flying, free.  I felt a shift inside. Becoming like the sky, with breath flowing in and out, no longer hindered. Fear melting, and replaced by a deep calmness that could not be touched by outer ripples. No longer wishing for, or away. Just being breathed.

What is your inner prison? How can you become free?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Online Versus Live Sangha?

Yesterday was the weekly Monday night sitting and Dharma talk at IMC. It had been a long time since I attended. And I was struck by the importance of sitting and talking with spiritual friends, in a physical sense. Sensing the proximity, hearing the sounds of togetherness, and the footsteps of Gil walking to his seat after we were all settled in. Later, listening to his talk about Buddha meeting Buddha, and then the ensuing questions, and reactions from the community, my community. Seeing the faces, many of them familiar. Engaging in conversations afterwards, about past and future retreats, and progress and challenges along our respective paths. A whole experience I had been missing . . . 

I thought I was happy with just doing daily sittings at home, and engaging in online conversations with my spiritual friends here, and on Twitter and Facebook.  I thought I was getting my feel of live sangha with the two work communities I am a part of. Communities where we do a short sit before we set out for the day, and we strive to do good. I thought I was set . . . Sitting the other night amongst the IMC sangha, made me realize there is no substitute for an open Dharma practice community such as IMC, whose sole purpose is to cultivate spiritual friendships amongst fellow travelers. 
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was living among the Sakyans. Now there is a Sakyan town named Sakkara. There Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, "This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie."[1]
"Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.
"And how does a monk who has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, develop & pursue the noble eightfold path? There is the case where a monk develops right view dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion, dependent on cessation, resulting in relinquishment. He develops right resolve ... right speech ... right action ... right livelihood ... right effort ... right mindfulness ... right concentration dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion, dependent on cessation, resulting in relinquishment. This is how a monk who has admirable people as friends, companions, & colleagues, develops & pursues the noble eightfold path.
"And through this line of reasoning one may know how admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life: It is in dependence on me as an admirable friend that beings subject to birth have gained release from birth, that beings subject to aging have gained release from aging, that beings subject to death have gained release from death, that beings subject to sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair have gained release from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. It is through this line of reasoning that one may know how admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life."
~ Upaddha Sutta; SN 45.2 ~ 
Because the body and our relationship to it play such an essential role in our unfolding along the path, it only makes sense to also pay attention to the embodied aspect of our spiritual friendships. If the Buddha was to live in our times, I am pretty sure he would be on Facebook, and Twitter, and blogs, AND I have also no doubt that he would insist on maintaining a live practice community. 

What is your experience of online versus live sangha? I would love to hear.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Relaxed or Unbroken Awareness, Which is Best?

I need to thank Katherine Rand for bringing this awesome pearl from J. Krishnamurti under the light:
You cannot keep a mechanism working at full speed all the time; it would break up; it must slow down, have rest. Similarly, we cannot maintain total awareness all the time. How can we? To be aware from moment to moment is enough. If one is totally aware for a minute or two and then relaxes, and in that relaxation spontaneously observes the operations of one’s own mind, one will discover much more in that spontaneity than in the effort to watch continuously. You can observe yourself effortlessly, easily, when you are walking, talking, reading - at every moment. Only then will you find out that the mind is capable of freeing itself from all the things it has known and experienced, and it is in freedom alone that it can discover what is true ~ J. Krishnamurti, Fourth Public Talk, Brussels, June 23rd, 1956 ~
To be contrasted with U. Pandita's diktat of unbroken continuity:
Persevering continuity of mindfulness is the third essential factor in developing the controlling faculties. One should try to be with the moment as much as possible, moment after moment, without any breaks in between. In this way mindfulness can be established, and its momentum can increase . . . Apart from the hours of sleeping, yogis on retreat should be continuously mindful. Continuity should be so strong, in fact, that there is no time at all for reflection, no hesitation, no thinking, no reasoning, no comparing of one's experiences with the things one has read about meditation — just time enough to apply this bare awareness.
Often, I have considered taking up U. Pandita's challenge. Come June every year, the Burmese master travels to the Tathagata Center, only a few miles from where I live, to give a one-month retreat. I fantasize about a month of 'unbroken continuity' under his guidance. And end up not registering . . . Part of me used to feel that I was not up to the task for U Pandita's mindfulness bootcamp. 

Now, I realize how much ego was tied up in my fantasy. Less spectacular, and more real is Krishnamurti's idea of relaxed awareness infused with wise reflection. That, I can do, . . . and already do.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Just Do It!

Between sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful yoga, body scan, loving kindness meditation, mindful checkin, sound meditation, open awareness meditation, concentration practice, it can be hard to decide. What to do? and when? and how? Meditation is a little bit like being at a restaurant and having to pick from a long menu. 

This is why I find Ajahn Chah's instructions so freeing:
Just keep breathing in and out like this.  Don’t be interested in anything else. It doesn’t matter even if someone is standing on their head with their ass in the air. Don’t pay it any attention. Just stay with the in-breath and the out-breath. Concentrate your awareness on the breath. Just keep doing it. Don’t take up anything else. There’s no need to think about gaining things. Don’t take up anything at all. Simply know the in- breath and the out-breath. The in-breath and the out-breath. Bud on the in-breath; dho on the out-breath. Just stay with the breath in this way until you are aware of the in-breath and aware of the out-breath....aware of the inbreath.... aware of the out-breath. Be aware in this way until the mind is peaceful, without irritation, without agitation, merely the breath going out and coming in. Let your mind remain in this state. You don’t need a goal yet. It’s this state that is the first stage of practice. If the mind is at ease, if it’s at peace then it will be naturally aware. As you keep doing it, the breath diminishes, becomes softer. The body becomes pliable, the mind becomes pliable. It’s a natural process. Sitting is comfortable: you’re not dull, you don’t nod, you’re not sleepy. The mind has a natural fluency about whatever it does. It is still. It is at peace. And then when you leave the samadhi, you say to yourself, Wow, what was that?’ You recall the peace that you’ve just experienced. And you never forget it.
No need to complicate things. Just pay attention to the breath. In and out. In and out . . .  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The 'I' Problem

Soaking in the hot tub at the Y this morning, I felt the joy from body almost dissolving in the water. It could have been perfect, had it not been for a constriction in the body, and some disturbances in the mind. Thoughts around a constructed self that clearly did not belong to the situation, and yet kept insisting on visiting. I could not believe the stickiness of those thoughts, and was reminded once more of Ayya Khema's teachings: 
When we become aware how often the "I" gets in the way of our happiness, we will very likely become disenchanted with it and see that it is really not worth having around. This "I" is constantly creating thoughts and emotions which disturb our inner peacefulness. 
Disenchantment with the "I" is the first step toward letting go of our identifications and is bound up with effort. Even the effort itself is already a step in that direction. Whenever we give ourselves wholeheartedly to any wholesome action, the "I" shrinks.
Disenchanted, I certainly am . . . 

It's good to know the way out of the 'I' problem and the steps involved. First realizing the suffering attached, and then turning away from it by engaging the heart with wholesome actions. This is why well  understood service is so good. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Painting Dance

Ninety three years old. Gladys speaks so softly that it's hard to make up her words. I sit by her side, and ask  if she would like to paint. She nods a timid yes. When presented with an assortment of colors, her sinewy hands go straight to the green and blue tubes. No hesitation there. Her daughter told me she used to paint a lot "before". 

Watching the artist come out of Gladys as she effortlessly pushes her fine brush on the white paper is quite a treat. Something important is taking place in her brain, that's giving her back the confidence that normally eludes her. After one long green stroke, she lifts her brush and hands it over to me.

Gladys's painting dance with me at Zen Hospice
I look at her with surprise. Me? Does she want me to join her? She nods. I pick up where she started and complete the green line, then give the brush back to her. Pretty soon, she and I enter into a trance, dancing together in silence on an 8 by 11 sheet of paper. Until the whole surface gets covered. "It's beautiful" says she.

Being present for each other. It was beautiful indeed . . . 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Four Bases of Doing Good

Looking at the Buddha's list of the Four Bases of Power:

Desire
Persistence
Intention
Discrimination

I was struck by the applicability of such qualities to more mundane pursuits, such as working to do good.

For the last five months, I have been involved in a big project, and each step of the way, including today,  I have had to make full use of all four:

Desire, as in the passion to move mountains.
Persistence, as in the resolve to keep going regardless of obstacles.
Intention, as in the purity of the goal, and the process also.
Discrimination, as in the ability to sort through and decide.

Four inner qualities to change the world, in a good way.

Monday, January 17, 2011

When I Am an Old Woman

A Visual Essay on the Reality of Elder Care in America.
When I am an old woman 
and my mind is failing 
and I can no longer live at home 
I hope your will not put me 
in a place like this:


I  will not be guilty of crime, 
so why lock me up in a prison? 

When I am an old woman 
and my mind is failing 
and I can no longer live at home 
I hope your will not put me 
in a place like this:


I will still be fully alive and well,
so why treat me like a hospital patient? 

When I am an old woman 
and my mind is failing 
and I can no longer live at home 
I hope your will not put me 
in a place like this: 


I will be too set in my ways
to live in a dorm with a roommate.

When I am an old woman 
and my mind is failing 
and I can no longer live at home 
I hope your will not put me 
in a place like this: 


I have never been one
to care for big fancy hotels.

When I am an old woman 
and my mind is failing 
and I can no longer live at home 
I hope you will put me 
in a place like this: 


A place that feels like home, 
that’s what I want. 

PS - this poem was inspired by the awesome work currently done by Emi Kiyota in the field of mindful design and eldercare.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Letting Go, Naturally

A little bug got me down, flat in my bed for most of the day. Being sick is not all bad. It is a chance for the body and mind, both, to let go, and to feel the spaciousness that inevitably comes from surrendering. 

Letting go . . . Not a state that comes to us naturally in our usual every day consciousness. It requires much practice, paradoxically.

Hearing Ruth's words, still:


How much are you clinging at this moment? Can you feel it in your heart? And can you relax, just a bit?

The hard work of letting go . . . 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Giving up the Hope

I have been noticing a change lately.

Not much is different in my outer life. Same daily struggles at home . . .

The big shift lies inside. Heart and mind, both, are finally giving up the hope for better times.

Instead, there is only this moment to be in. Only this time to be enjoyed fully. Not a drop wasted. Unpleasantness, sorrows, disappointments, outer difficulties, all swimming alongside happier states, within a pool of overall gladness. And the resolve to not waste a single more moment, this moment.

It's taken a long while for me to really get 'it' . . . Happiness is about giving up the hope.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Man With a Briefcase

I noticed him from a distance. A man in his late forties, early fifties at the most, all dressed up in a business suit, and with a black leather case thrown over his shoulder. He was walking with a sense of purpose. A doctor seeing one of the residents maybe? I forgot about the man, and went on to attend the afternoon group. Sitting with the people there, throwing a pink balloon around, I felt my heart sink, and much unpleasantness. Judging mind was wondering, what was I doing here in the company of those whose minds were slipping? There was no pretense, no fancy talk, no opportunity for brilliance. Only laughter, and a pink balloon floating. The moment did not last long. I remembered why I had come, and how in this place, the real truth lied. The 'smart one' had to step aside, and leave room for just this moment. Another day of visiting a specialty eldercare community to learn about the subtleties of dementia care . . . 

I was about to leave and step in the elevator, when the supervisor warned me about the escape risks. "You need to be careful and not let any of the residents get in; some of them want to go home, others think they still need to go to work." She talked about the man with a briefcase, how he keeps on trying until 4 pm every day, then stops when it is no longer time to make it to work. Driving back, I kept thinking about the man. Such a poignant image of the persistent self, that won't quit even when it no longer makes sense.  The only difference between he and I, is I have the capacity of awareness, to know when to say no to the selfing mind.

"Whenever there is somebody, there is suffering."
~ Ajahn Sumedho, as quoted by Ajahn Anandabodhi, in her recent talk about 'Working with Self' ~

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This, Not This

Ruth Denison on Right Understanding.
It's been a while since I heard Ruth speak. Here she is, talking about right understanding:


The wisdom to know, 'this', 'not this' . . .

Often throughout a day, I come across such moments, when the road splits and I get to decide, this way, or that way. Private moments, private conversations, private decisions with consequences, big and small.

Some times, it's hard to know. The signposts are not clear about either destination, or there is not enough light. These are times to reflect, to listen to one's dreams, to gather more information. Standing still, waiting for the right time to act.

Other times, I find myself on automatic pilot, driving on a road I did not even know I was on. Needing to stop, to reevaluate the course. 

Or I want to see the whole map at once, and all there is is this small portion, this one decision that can be made. All others are to be put on hold . . . 

And then, there are those times, when the road is blocked. Obstacles inside or outside, or sometimes both prevent the possibilities of any further progress. One needs to have faith then, and trust in the inner process. I have had many such times in he darkness. In hindsight, these were the most transforming times in my life. Eventually, new roads opened up that were not visible at first.

What is your fork in the road presently? How do you decide, which road to take?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Some Facebook Wisdom

In an interesting case of synchronicity, all the messages from my wise Facebook friends this morning seem to concur. There is only this moment, and nothing else, and we are to live it with as much gratitude, interest, wisdom, and joy as possible . . .







    • One of my teachers says: ‘What’s the difference between someone who practices (mindfulness) and someone who doesn’t? A practitioner regards every experience with interest, as a chance to learn. A non-practitioner reacts with greed, hatred and confusion.’ Every experience is a chance to learn. We’re not here to try and have better and better experience. Every moment is an opening to awareness. And every moment of awareness is a potential gateway to freedom in that moment. And there’s only this moment.
      – Carol Wilson, “Putting Your Trust in Awareness”, a talk given 1 February 2010, who also happens to be here in Burma with me at the moment!

      54 minutes ago via Tumblr ·  ·  · View post


    • www.buddhistgeeks.com
      Insight meditation teacher James Baraz joins us to explore the many facets of joy, happiness, and well-being. We begin by finding out how joy became an important part of James’ practice, since in his early years with Buddhism he was, in his own words, “dead serious about practice.” It turns out th

      about an hour ago ·  ·  · Share

    • Learning is the first step in making positive changes within yourself. Other factors are conviction, determination, action and effort. Learning and education help develop conviction about the need to change and increase your commitment. Conviction then develops into determination. Next, strong determination leads to action: a sustained effort to implement the changes. This final factor of effort is critical.
      3 hours ago ·  · 

    • ‎"Not what we have but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance." ~ John Petit-Senn
      9 minutes ago ·  · 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Watching Our Words

Some Mindful Alternatives to Common Alzheimer's Speak.

Reviewing the New York Times articles from this past year on Alzheimer's, I tried hard to find some positive words, and encountered instead a language imbued with fear and coldness, and that dehumanized the persons living with the condition: 
They are 'patients', 'sufferers', 'victims', or sometimes just plain 'cases'. 
They are 'afflicted', 'demented', or 'suffering'. 
They are being cared for by 'caregivers'. 
They 'suffer' from a 'dreaded', 'terrifying', 'terrible', 'fatal', 'horrific', 'devastating', 'bad', 'debilitating' 'disease', called 'dementia'. 
They are being 'robbed' of all that matters most. 
They live in 'assisted living facilities'. 
They are 'stages', beginning, middle and end, early or late onset. 
They present 'behavior problems' -- they 'act out', they scream, they wander, they are 'combative'. 
They need to be 'managed'. 
They are a 'burden'. 
They have an illness that needs to be 'attacked', and 'beaten'. 
Having been around enough persons who live with dementia, I could see why. It is true, that left on their own, and not cared for properly, the ones whose thinking mind is slipping can present a scary picture. 


More to the point though, is the fact that our collective response to the condition is what creates that picture. In our efforts to move forward and treat Alzheimer's as a medical emergency, we have abandoned the earlier view of dementia as a natural evolution of aging. While scientifically correct, this new approach has also caused us to lose the human aspect. The culture change philosophy of elder care that has been making waves throughout long-term dementia care communities in the U.S. and other countries represents a step in the right direction. Attention to the language being used to think and talk about Alzheimer's and dementia should be a part of that movement. As shown by the New York Times, we are still far away from that reality. One small drop at a time, here is a list* of new words to use if we want to be kind and mindful of the persons living with Alzheimer's:

Respecting the person. 

May you too be an agent of change, and spread the good words about Alzheimer's and the persons living with it. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Driving Meditation

I have been doing a lot of driving back and forth to San Francisco lately. One hour each way, four days a week, have left me with plenty of opportunities for practice. I have tried before, but yesterday was a totally different experience, much more  complete. 

All senses engaged, I could feel the cold touch of hands against the steering wheel, and the persistent embrace of the seat around the thighs and upper body. Right leg was alive with subtle motions, pushing or lifting the foot. Meanwhile, left leg became sleepy. Shifting the attention to hearing, there were two loud sounds, of car breaking through the wind, and wheels hitting the asphalt, fast. Of course, seeing was engaged, although not all the time consciously. Other vehicles zipping by on each side, small cars ahead, all sorts of concrete structures, bridges, walls, buildings, and then the bay. And of course, the sky, kind of dull this time. Getting closer to the city, and slowing down with traffic, nose got into the scene, noticing at once the smell of banana peel, forgotten. And throughout the whole hour, thinking interrupting many times. Thinking about stories in need of more retelling, thinking about the day ahead . . . thinking redirected many times, back to awareness.

Driving meditation, a potentially rich practice for those of us with long commutes.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Warm Determination

This morning I tweeted:

'woke up feeling warm determination - these two words, borrowed from Ruth Denison, are amongst my favorites . . .'

Warm determination has become very handy to deal with a difficult situation at home. It has enabled me to stay calm, and to summon the strength needed to carry on and take some necessary actions. 

This note from the Dalai Lama, just found on my Facebook homepage,  came at the right time:
At a fundamental level, as human beings, we are all the same; each one of us aspires to happiness and each one of us does not wish to suffer. This is why, whenever I have the opportunity, I try to draw people's attention to what as members of the human family we have in common and the deeply interconnected nature of our existence and welfare.
Today, there is increasing recognition, as well as a growing body of scientific evidence, that confirms the close connection between our own states of mind and our happiness. On the one hand, many of us live in societies that are very developed materially, yet among us are many people who are not very happy. Just underneath the beautiful surface of affluence there is a kind of mental unrest, leading to frustration, unnecessary quarrels, reliance on drugs or alcohol, and in the worst case, suicide. There is no guarantee that wealth alone can give you the joy or fulfilment that you seek. The same can be said of your friends too. When you are in an intense state of anger or hatred, even a very close friend appears to you as somehow frosty, or cold, distant, and annoying.
However, as human beings we are gifted with this wonderful human intelligence. Besides that, all human beings have the capacity to be very determined and to direct that strong sense of determination in whatever direction they like. So long as we remember that we have this marvellous gift of human intelligence and a capacity to develop determination and use it in positive ways, we will preserve our underlying mental health. Realizing we have this great human potential gives us a fundamental strength. This recognition can act as a mechanism that enables us to deal with any difficulty, no matter what situation we are facing, without losing hope or sinking into feelings of low self-esteem.
I write this as someone who lost his freedom at the age of 16, then lost his country at the age of 24. Consequently, I have lived in exile for more than 50 years during which we Tibetans have dedicated ourselves to keeping the Tibetan identity alive and preserving our culture and values. On most days the news from Tibet is heartbreaking, and yet none of these challenges gives grounds for giving up. One of the approaches that I personally find useful is to cultivate the thought: If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. In other words, if there is a solution or a way out of the difficulty, you do not need to be overwhelmed by it. The appropriate action is to seek its solution. Then it is clearly more sensible to spend your energy focussing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternatively, if there is no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you cannot do anything about it anyway. In that case, the sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be for you. This formula, of course, implies directly confronting the problem and taking a realistic view. Otherwise you will be unable to find out whether or not there is a resolution to the problem.
Taking a realistic view and cultivating a proper motivation can also shield you against feelings of fear and anxiety. If you develop a pure and sincere motivation, if you are motivated by a wish to help on the basis of kindness, compassion, and respect, then you can carry on any kind of work, in any field, and function more effectively with less fear or worry, not being afraid of what others think or whether you ultimately will be successful in reaching your goal. Even if you fail to achieve your goal, you can feel good about having made the effort. But with a bad motivation, people can praise you or you can achieve goals, but you still will not be happy.
Again, we may sometimes feel that our whole lives are unsatisfactory, we feel on the point of being overwhelmed by the difficulties that confront us. This happens to us all in varying degrees from time to time. When this occurs, it is vital that we make every effort to find a way of lifting our spirits. We can do this by recollecting our good fortune. We may, for example, be loved by someone; we may have certain talents; we may have received a good education; we may have our basic needs provided for - food to eat, clothes to wear, somewhere to live - we may have performed certain altruistic deeds in the past. We must take into consideration even the slightest positive aspect of our lives. For if we fail to find some way of uplifting ourselves, there is every danger of sinking further into our sense of powerlessness. This can lead us to believe that we have no capacity for doing good whatsoever. Thus we create the conditions of despair itself.
As a Buddhist monk I have learned that what principally upsets our inner peace is what we call disturbing emotions. All those thoughts, emotions, and mental events which reflect a negative or uncompassionate state of mind inevitably undermine our experience of inner peace. All our negative thoughts and emotions - such as hatred, anger, pride, lust, greed, envy, and so on - are considered to be sources of difficulty, to be disturbing. Negative thoughts and emotions are what obstruct our most basic aspiration - to be happy and to avoid suffering. When we act under their influence, we become oblivious to the impact our actions have on others: they are thus the cause of our destructive behaviour both toward others and to ourselves. Murder, scandal, and deceit all have their origin in disturbing emotions.
This inevitably gives rise to the question - can we train the mind? There are many methods by which to do this. Among these, in the Buddhist tradition, is a special instruction called mind training, which focuses on cultivating concern for others and turning adversity to advantage. It is this pattern of thought, transforming problems into happiness that has enabled the Tibetan people to maintain their dignity and spirit in the face of great difficulties. Indeed I have found this advice of great practical benefit in my own life.
A great Tibetan teacher of mind training once remarked that one of the mind’s most marvelous qualities is that it can be transformed. I have no doubt that those who attempt to transform their minds, overcome their disturbing emotions and achieve a sense of inner peace, will, over a period of time, notice a change in their mental attitudes and responses to people and events. Their minds will become more disciplined and positive. And I am sure they will find their own sense of happiness grow as they contribute to the greater happiness of others. I offer my prayers that everyone who makes this their goal will be blessed with success.
I could not start the day on a better note. May your day be filled with warm determination also :)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

When I Was Four Years Old

Too funny to not share, this scene from this morning in the hot tub at the Y:

Sweet old lady soaking next to me: "When I was four years old I was sent away to overnight camp, and I had to share a cabin with three other girls I did not know, and they all knew how to swim; that did it, I learned to swim really quickly!"

Me: "I bet you are glad you did now"

Old lady: "Yes, I really enjoy swimming . . . I am 80 years old, you know! How about you, are you in school?"

Me: "Oh, no, I am too old to be in school . . . "

Old lady: "Do you work, then?"

Me: "Yes, actually I do a lot of work with elders, I help train care partners of persons with Alzheimer's"

Old lady: "Now don't you give me that Alzheimer's!"

Me: "I can't give it, but I sure wish I could take it back from folks who have it . . . "

Old lady: "When I was four years old I was sent away to overnight camp,  and I had to share a cabin with three other girls I didn't know, and they all knew how to swim . . . I learned to swim really quickly"

Me: glancing at other woman, smiling on my left. She signals to the old lady to get out of the hot tub. I realize she is the old lady's care partner . . . :)

Old lady: "Ok, got to go. I hope you didn't mind my rottenness."

Me: "Are you kidding, I enjoyed speaking with you very much."

Old lady: Happy, waves at me as she climbs up the stairs of the hot tub.

A sweet moment that made my morning :)

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