Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Peak Into Their Minds

One of the great privileges of being a psychotherapist involves having a peak into the minds of others. Hearing, seeing their inner suffering, I get to have a confirmation of what I have found in my own mind. The ordinary mind's got millions of ways to torture itself, and transform a perfectly fine moment into pure hell. I learn a lot from my clients. I learn to distrust thoughts even more. That which I think and feel, is a pure product of my imagination, a big cloud that can only be lifted through the suspension of thoughts. Everything else is but a succession of agitating formations, the results of underlying tendencies, long-time habits hard-wired into the brain from birth and beyond. Wanting, wanting other than present, or dreading the losing of what's here, a constant 'fuite en avant'. Living that way makes no sense. 

Back to the purity of breath, and body, and sheer sensing . . .   

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Simple Meditation

The elders at Grace Cathedral asked me if I could type something up after our session together. 'No tape, no computer, we are not that fancy!' For most, this was their first time practicing mindfulness, and they wanted words they could read to guide them at home. 

Keeping things simple, here it is:

Take a seat in a quiet place. Adjust your posture so that your feet are resting on the floor, and your back is straight but not tense. Rest your hands on your lap, and close your eyes. Take a few moments to settle in, relaxing any tension in the body. Then become aware of the breath wherever most prominent in the body. And start following the breath, in and out, in and out, etc . . . paying attention to the physical sensations of each breath. Whenever thoughts arise, as they inevitably will, simply notice and return to the breath. Whenever tension arise in the body, notice and relax as much as possible, then return to the breath. 

Easy enough to remember, and practice . . .

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sitting Together

Every morning, when comes the time to practice, I ask my husband if he wants to join. His answer is often yes. 

We head to my office. I sit in my favorite foldable chair. He likes the one by the desk. I set the  timer, thirty minutes, as usual. We acknowledge each other, and off we go, each into our own world.

Marriage as a built in community of practice. A gift.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Another Wave of Grief

I thought I was pretty much done, with grieving my mom. 

I was wrong. Last night, a wave came rolling in, as I let myself feel the whole extent of our conversation earlier that morning. The bitter sweetness in my mom's voice. She is slipping away, fast. Not singing like she did a few weeks ago, and barely responding when I try to entice her with her familiar tune. She has even forgotten to ask as she always did, 'when are you coming?'

It hit me.

I know grief is nothing else but clinging in its most extreme form, a denial of the reality of life and death, a desperate clinging to what cannot be had. I hear in my head the Buddha's admonition to Ananda:


"Enough, Ananda! Do not grieve, do not lament! For have I not taught from the very beginning that with all that is dear and beloved there must be change, separation, and severance? Of that which is born, come into being, compounded, and subject to decay, how can one say: 'May it not come to dissolution!'? There can be no such state of things. Now for a long time, Ananda, you have served the Tathagata with loving-kindness in deed, word, and thought, graciously, pleasantly, with a whole heart and beyond measure. Great good have you gathered, Ananda! Now you should put forth energy, and soon you too will be free from the taints."


This morning, nothing to do, but feel the feeling in the body, in the heart, and let it unfold, with great compassion. Just another wave . . . 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Putting Aside Greed and Distress

Taking the time to sit this morning, I find comfort in these words from the Satipatthana Sutta:

'putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world'

It works for me to know that this practice is about putting a temporary hold on the ordinary busyness. There is a time for everything. Right now, for the next thirty minutes, nothing to do other than disengaging the mind from all thoughts about work and other entanglements. 

I get to watch the mind's compulsiveness, the draw from sticky thoughts that keep on coming, and the resulting pain each time. 

Again and again, remembering:

'putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world'

Latching on to the breath for help. Resting the mind in the continuous flow in and out, and the physical sensations around each inhale and exhale. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

There Is Fear

Sitting this morning, I got surprised by the presence and the amount of fear, right here in this body. Had I not sat, I would not have even known . . .

From Ajahn Sumedho:
Many things that we are frightened of are really our best friends -- like fear itself. We are afraid of the unknown, but the unknown is the way to enlightenment. Not-knowing is what brings terror into people's lives. Many people spend much of their life just trying to find security in some form or another, because of fear. Fear drives them to become this, or get hold of that, to save up a lot of money, to seek pleasure or a safe place to live, or to find some ideal person they hope will make them happy forever. That is fear of being alone, fear of the unknown -- of that we cannot know. In meditation, when one is mindful, that very fear -- seeing it as it really is -- leads us into the deathless, the silence. Yet fear is something that we react to very strongly.
I could feel the terror emanating out of my core, coursing through my veins, almost paralyzing if not for the breath. No real thoughts to explain the fear away, but rather a vague sense of dread, about what could happen . . . to 'me'. And of course, not liking the whole experience. Noticing the wishing away. Mind trying a bit of loving kindness, a bit of focusing away, on to the feet. In the end, surrendering to the evidence of the moment. Fear from powerful undercurrents in the mind.
Just speaking from my own experience, I could very much see the first noble truth. It was not that I wanted a more depressing ideology to accept. I recognised that there was fear, uncertainty and uneasiness in myself. Yet the first noble truth is not a doctrine. It is not saying 'life is suffering', but rather it is just saying, 'there is this'. It comes and goes. It arises (the second noble truth), it ceases (the third noble truth), and from that understanding comes the eight-fold path (the fourth noble truth), which is the clear vision into the transcendence of it all -- through mindfulness. The eight-fold path is just being mindful in daily life. 
No 'I', no fear about the future . . . Right there, the source of the problem.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Practicing Not Self

Presented with many social opportunities, I have taken the habit of using those times of togetherness to practice, in another way. I call it 'not self' practice.

At the day program where I now go a few days a week, the entire time can become a meditation if  I choose to. Every elder, an unknowing teacher. Sitting quietly next to a person, or making small talk with another, I get to watch my own thoughts. I get to 'see' and feel the effect of the many 'I' centered ideas that cross my mind. Boredom, 'I' would like a better form of entertainment. Or 'I' bring a view of how things should go for the person in my care. Or 'I' doubt the value of such work, surely 'I' have important projects waiting at home. So many thoughts that have nothing to do with the reality of the moment . . . And each time, a subtle form of self-induced suffering, from letting the thoughting mill run amok and bringing in tensions in the body, and unnecessary stirrings in the heart. 

At a party, talking to a stranger with a lengthy story, same thing. I catch myself, being tempted to think about 'me'. 'I' am wasting my time with this person, whispers the small voice. 'I' want to go with my friend instead. Or, 'I' wonder what's in it for 'me'? It's all about 'me', and after a few such iterations, mindfulness stops the mind right in its tracks, and allows for redirecting.  Keeping mind on a leash has its sweet rewards. The pressure is off. Now, I can be fully present for whatever arises. I spend the rest of the night secretly observing mind at work, and saying thanks, but no thanks to all the other nascent 'I' thoughts. Such a lovely evening, it was . . . 

How are you with 'I' thoughts?  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Taking the Time For Practice

A grueling work schedule has made it harder to practice, lately. I have found, if I don't sit in the morning, that's it, I will not practice that day, at least not formally. Carving the time in the morning has become essential. Last night, I set my alarm thirty minutes early so I would get a chance to sit before the day takes over. 

Remembering the benefits from practice and what happens when  I don't, has been a key motivator.

Do you TAKE the time to practice? 
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