Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Gift of Family

Traveling with family, on far away trip as we are doing this week, has been an opportunity to practice not just mindfulness, but also loving kindness. Making room for five very different temperaments, with sometimes conflicting desires, and  throughout nonstop togetherness . . . Using breath,  mindfulness, on the spot insight, and will to love, to further one's capacity to love, and harmony in family unit.
The love that one has for one's family can be used as a seedbed to experience the feeling of lovingness. Then one can cultivate it, make it grow, spread it further. Only then does family love have its proper significance. Otherwise it becomes a hotbed of emotions - as it so often is - like a boiling kettle with the lid on. The loving feeling in the family must be used to cultivate that rure feeling of loving-kindess in one's heart, which is not depenent on conditions, such as 'my husband, my wire, my daughter, my son, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my father.' That is all 'my-making, and mine-making.' Unless we can transcend that and grow into unconditioned love, the family love has not been used for its full purpose. It has been used for ego support and survival instead. Since survival is a lost cause, it doesn't need our effort - from 'Being Nobody, Going Nowhere', by Ayya Khema.
Off to family breakfast at the hotel . . . :)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No Buddha to Be Bought

Visiting the Bright Hill Temple, under the guidance of our local Dharma friend, KS, I got all excited! Such a nice counterbalance to the orgy of shopping that characterized the last two days . . . This was my first   time  seeing a Buddhist temple in this part of the world. Bright Hill is very famous, because of its size and its beauty, and its role as a hub for Buddhism in Asia.

After visiting the Pagoda with the Ten Thousand Buddhas, KS told us to hurry if we wanted to see more of the temple, as it was going to close soon. What about the gift shop, I enquired? Would it still be open? My craving mind wanted a souvenir from the temple. I was hoping for a small bronze statue of the Buddha.

A familiar tightening in stomach alerts me to craving mind. Soon I become so preoccupied with reaching the shop in time, that I am having difficulty enjoying the rest of our tour. I start focusing, and being with the wanting. I realize the futile nature of my yearning. The Buddha is to be found within, just here as I mindfully become one with breath, and steps, and thoughts, and tightness. I feel almost relieved when we finally reach the shop, and are greeted with Closed sign.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Spell of Orchard Street

First day in Singapore. Both daughters wanted to go shopping. The concierge told us, Orchard Street was the place to go:

Dazzled at first, by the fantastic displays of Christmas lights, and the stupendous, monumental art installations on the sidewalks, our attention soon turns to the shops, many of them. I have never seen so many in one spot, and I wonder who is buying all these goods? I relish the sweetness of my daughters' company, and their happiness in this shoppers' paradise. For a while, I follow them in and out of the stores.

Soon, the mad scene becomes too much for my disenchanted self. I decide to let the girls continue their exploration, and to just sit on the red serpentine bench outside by the subway station. Taking in the moment. The deafening noise from cars, humans, and birds, each trying to outdo the other with even more decibels, leaves little room for breath. All the sensory overload cannot mask the feeling inside, however. Tight throat, and chest, and stomach. I feel trapped. Thoughts of being in a quiet place. A monastery would be nice. I notice the aversion. Healthy aversion to unwholesome environment.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Feeling the Fear

Woken up by fear in middle of the night. Only fear, breath, and loud noise from air conditioner. Fear, big, grasping me at the throat. Tightening the chest, and stomach. Another opportunity for lying down meditation. Staying with the fear, feeling it, completely. Until breath takes me back to sleep.

Nothing to fear, objectively. I am at Johor Pulai Springs Resort, Malaysia, in the midst of a fabulous Indian wedding, with nothing to worry about. Fear is all creation of mind.

Remembering passage from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, in Inquiring Mind, that I read in the plane over:
In meditation, there is wisdom and there is method. Wisdom allows you to see the true matter. Through wisdom you know what panic is; you see that panic is impermanence. But with method, meditation, you don't even have to ask the cause. You feel the panic and transform it - panic into shamatha, panic into loving kindness and compassion, panic into emptiness. So you don' have to ask why. It just transform directly. 
Feeling the fear . . . and breath.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Endless Spiral

In the plane, taking us from San Francisco to Hong Kong, with plenty of time to meditate, and doodle  . . Here is an endless double spiral, about what it feels like to go back and forth, between two worlds, up at the surface, outside, and down at the roots, inside.

Endless process.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Gift of Patience

Down, down, down, past the buzzing and excitement from Christmas dinner preparations, and getting ready for trip to Malaysia right after. Down, where all the familiar sounds in the house can hardly reach. Down there, I meet 'it' again. Ball in the stomach. Becoming larger, more intense, with each breath. Ball expands into large football, one end pointing to bottom of stomach, other one touching the base of my throat. Down, I also feel the positive energy from my teacher, Gil, and the support of his confidence, and the Buddha with all his marvelous wisdom, and the mother, who loves all, and can hold even the most unhappy child.  All three infusing me with the gift of patience, and faith, and great love. Ball shrinks back into stomach, and aims for the heart. Body softens, a bit. Surprise from coolness of tears, down right cheek. Not for long. Ball heads back to stomach, gifting me with its steady presence, once more, as I ready to surface again, into the whirlwind of a very busy day.

Patience, patience, patience . . .

Friday, December 25, 2009

May You Be Joyful, and At Peace

I got this wonderfully whimsical Christmas card from my artist friend, Ornella Aprosio, and wanted to share it with you:

Ornella lives in Florence. I met her during my last trip there last summer. The arresting sight of her   beautiful beaded jewelry, drew me into her gallery, as I was strolling down Via Santo Spirito. In the course of our conversation, I discovered that Ornella is a dedicated Dharma practitioner also.

May you all be joyful, and at peace . . . And more importantly, may you give yourself and others the gift of moment to moment mindfulness.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Down at the Roots

Yesterday was an intense day of practice, starting with half-day retreat with Gil, and continuing throughout the day.

Only a few minutes into the first sitting, I was hit with intense sensation in the stomach, again. Heavy, burning, scratchy . . . I gave it all my attention. By the time the bell rang, my whole insides were one big mass of pain.

Gil's short talk was about the Buddhist idea of 'mula', or roots. Here are my notes:
An important aspect of meditation is how, through the act of sitting still and keeping our mind of the breath, we get to see aspects of ourselves that we don't normally see. It is important to relate to what is happening with interest and curiosity. Looking to cultivate equanimity, balance and wisdom. 
Importance of getting to deeper motivations/structures that keep on operating underneath, and influence our lives in a profound way. For that we need to not spend too much time on surface issues, and instead look at root/core that keep operating, and that may be hidden from us, if we do not bother looking.
Most common roots quoted in Buddhist texts are greed, hatred and delusion. But there is a fourth one, just as important, particularly in our Western culture, and that has to do with our relationship to self, i.e. self-image, attachment to self, self understanding. Westerners tend to place lots of emphasis on personal psychological aspects of self, but one needs to go deeper, and approach self from more universal angle.
Need to consider how to meet activity inside and hold it in a useful way, with clarity, and equanimity, while supporting the mind as it gets quieter. Sometimes there is an urge to turn back, and give importance back to surface issues. What is wonderful about vipassana practice is that it is not about digging, but rather looking directly at what is happening, so that we do not limit ourselves with what is at the surface. 
During surface activities, one should raise the question of what else is going on? For this, one needs to stay quiet long enough.
"Become ruthlessly rootless" - Gil Fronsdal
The pain in the stomach, that keeps visiting, belongs to roots territory, for sure. Driving home from the retreat, I could feel it still, as I navigated the heavy traffic from Christmas shoppers. Frustration towards  clumsy driver ahead of me, ended up in stomach also. Surface frustration, root pain, became one and the same, and in process surprised me with unexpected insight. Pain in the stomach, that I carry around in the subterranean layers of my being, is in the frustration-hate-anger family. I felt it so clearly during that moment in the car. Later as I went about my day, I took it with me wherever I went, swimming, talking with family, at the grocery store, cooking. All day, I held it, with great compassion. Old part of self turned on itself.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No One Spiritual Practice Fits All

Gil's talk last night about spiritual practice really resonated with my own experience and what I have observed in my conversations, both off and online with other Dharma brothers and sisters. Here are my notes and reactions to it.
It is important to step back and look at how one's practice unfolds over time. One's spiritual practice is not a set thing. It keeps on changing, in a way that is unique for each of us. Very organic process. 
Our practice reflects the infinite number of relationships we are involved in at particular point in time: friend, parent, child, colleague, consumer, neighbor, etc . . . What we see in ourselves as a person depends on which relationship we are in. A holistic spiritual practice has to address all relationships in our life. 
Different circumstances at different points in our lives give us different things to work with. Our spiritual practice is often not our choice, rather is provided to us by life circumstances, e.g. parents needing to care for handicapped child. 
We also don't always know which phase in our practice we are in until we are done with it. Gil's own example of how his early years spent at zen monastery were about developing compassion, and not reaching enlightenment . . . 
Life experiences are important to find oneself, so that one can bring maturity into their spiritual practice. 
Some people need to go away and spend some time alone. Other times, they may  need to spend time in interpersonal realm. Path to freedom requires being free interpersonally. This may include exploring relationship with teacher. Another phase is path of service. 
 One has to be careful how to measure spiritual progress. You never really know from the outside how one person is doing. It can be that person needs first to develop faith, love of Dharma, and confidence for many yearsOther people listen to their teacher's promise of liberation, and then fail in practice because faith was not there. Sometimes people hit a brick wall because of wrong instructions. 
Teacher's role is to try to understand student's intentions, of which there are many. Study for intellectual liberation, so as to question beliefs and look at values. Service. Solitary practice. etc . . . Teacher should listen more deeply to what student think/want practice to be about. This involves discernment, which can be intuitive process. What is being asked of us? Importance of listening to the heart.
With age, priorities change also. As one gets older, and sees the end in sight, question is of how to address important things now. 
Spiritual life goes through all kind of phases. Can be cyclical. Sometimes one can start with  dramatic realization, then turn into a mess, because one was not psychologically ready. Someone else who has done inner work prior, and is better prepared, can sustain spiritual life. There are so many ways. 
Most important is to respect that we each have our own way. There are no fixed models. The only person who can really know what phase you are in, is you.
So liberating, and so right on! I know for myself, the path to Buddha's way has not been straight. It has involved many years of psychotherapy, working through the dark and bright spots in my psyche, along with a sampling of various religious traditions, akin to Ram Dass's version of spiritual materialism . . . followed by a disenchanted phase when I proclaimed to be done with spirituality. Artistic endeavors and other creative pursuits took over, providing an outlet for my inner life. Of course, my spirit was not dead, only dormant. Buddha's call came when I least expected it, when life circumstances presented me with a brick wall, and I had no way out but in.

The times spent going to Buddhist retreats years ago, and reading books from Jack Kornfield and al, had left an imprint somewhere in my mind, and this is where I went, out of desperation. The faith in the Buddha's way, I discovered then, is still shining, just as bright. I am learning to trust the feminine, intuitive self, more and more. Right now, it's telling me to keep on practicing mindfulness, diligently, simply . . . within the setup of my life as a householder. I am to keep company with other sisters on the path, and brothers who understand the way of the feminine. I am also to guard against the dangers of drying up my practice, with too much time spent studying the texts. This is a time for body and heart to rule over the intellect. Last, I am also hearing loud and clear, the call to serve, as in being an hospice volunteer, and helping the IMC sangha, and larger Buddhist community.

What is your path?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How Long to Sit?

Quickly dropping into depth where thinking mind has no hold. Feeling my way through semi-darkness, in between two worlds, outer and inner. Body no longer relevant. Only heaviness, and lightness. And breath, and white noise from heater. For a long time. Until I feel hard blow in stomach. Breathing the pain, with effortless effort. Becoming one with the searing, the leaded weight. Body struggling for some release, attempts to massage pain with a series of yawns, and swallows, and sighs. Each one, resounding large within otherwise stillness. The pain lessens, and makes its way to the throat . . . Bell ring interrupts.

I wonder. Should I have ignored the bell, and continued to sit with powerful presence? This is not my first encounter, and every time, 45' seems to be just enough time to get acquainted. What would happen if I sat for several hours straight? Would 'it' reveal itself some more? This is a question I need to ask Gil next time I meet with him.

Monday, December 21, 2009

What I Know About Rebirth

I just had an interesting exchange on Twitter, regarding rebirth. There seemed to be three camps. The believers, the agnostics, and the skeptics like myself. It all started with one innocent question to @ZenDirtZenDust and @DrumsofDharma, in response to one of their tweets alluding to the possibility of rebirth:

MindDeep: I do not believe in rebirth, do you?

bitterrootbadge: @MindDeep You seriously don't accept rebirth, or am I missing an inside joke?

bitterrootbadge: @ZenDirtZenDust No, good to be a skeptic, Buddha recommended. But the goal is to move from doubt to certainty, no?

bitterrootbadge: One big question: do we accept the Buddha's enlightenment as authentic and complete? And what he taught from that POV? Rebirth, karma eg.

DrumsofDharma: @MindDeep Of course, karma, rebirth, nondual reality, core Buddhist doctrines.

ZenDirtZenDust: @MindDeep I am a skeptic so I can't say I believe since it is far past my range of experience but possible.

ZenDirtZenDust: @MindDeep I am told that I am a bad buddhist sometimes b/c I refuse to take thing at face value.

ZenDirtZenDust: @bitterrootbadge Yes, A person should move if the evidence moves them. A static skeptic is sad. To be a skeptic is to strive to understand

MindDeep: question for Buddhist 'believers' - would you still practice if you did not believe in rebirth?

OhioBuddhist: @ZenDirtZenDust @MindDeep Remember the Law of Conservation of energy; nothing is destroyed. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm.

OhioBuddhist: @MindDeep Nature tends to repeat itself. It's an extrapolation- but we WILL find out the right answer some day!

crazywizdom: @MindDeep even for those with a belief in rebirth,it's still a late realisation that most practitioners will have no direct experience of

crazywizdom: @MindDeep I am agnostic regarding rebirth - I just don't know - but currently I'm very interested in what rebirth can mean without self :-)

OhioBuddhist: @MindDeep wouldn't call myself a 'believer', but I treat it like the weather report- it's probably going to happen but maybe not.

Ogamu: @MindDeep I don't care about rebirth. Someone once said I'd lived 311 lives. If so, I've been around long enough to get with the program!

Ogamu: @MindDeep Belief always implies a degree of doubt. Believe nothing, only know what you've experienced.

Whether rebirth is true or not, is almost irrelevant, as far as I am concerned. More important I feel, is to remain true to my own experience deep within, and to not fall into the trap of blind belief.  For this is how I understand the teachings of the Buddha, as stated here in his own words:
Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage or teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of texts, by logic, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think, 'The ascetic is our teacher.' But when you know for yourselves, 'These things are unwholesome; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practiced, lead to harm and suffering,' then you should abandon them - from 'In the Buddha's Words', by Bhikkhu Bodhi -
What is your view?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Gift of Old Age

It hit me last night, as I washed my face. There, close up in the mirror, in plain sight for me to see, the subtle pooling of tiny wrinkles around my mouth. Over the years, I have drawn much contentment from my youthful looks. Got good genes, that way! Still, time marches on, and old age is on its way. It's not just the new lines on my face. There are also the pains and aches, more frequent, more persistent. The having to give up certain favorite activities because of knees, then back,  . . .

To be confronted with the reality of old age, and more sickness, and death getting closer for sure, has actually been a blessing. It has brought a sense of urgency, and also greater reality, into how to view my life. A radical change of attitude was in order, and the only sensible way that spoke to my heart and mind, both, has been the Buddha's path.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Courage to Just Sit

I usually don't do well with Christmas. This year is even worse. I am going through the motions of  tree, gifts, and Christmas Eve dinner, long empty rituals, just to please the family. Sitting this morning, feels like one restless ball of nerves. Thoughts, scattered, zooming through. Heart, beating, real fast. Breath, disconnected from body, almost. All I can do is sit still. Being with craziness, and watching it settle some, with each new conscious breath. There is frustration, and fear, and sadness, and tiredness, . . . and patience too. Bell rings. Thought: sitting is a courageous act.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Scared Buddha, Calm Buddha

This morning, fear was back again. This time, however, I had Gil's words, to guide me. "Be a scared Buddha" . . . And so I was, scared Buddha, amidst passing interferences, from  insisting, controlling mind. Breath, as my friend, bringing awareness back to reality of now, over and over. Fear. Fear. Fear . . . Until all of a sudden, towards the end of sitting, no fear. Only breath, and deep calmness.

The mind thinks it needs to work harder than it needs to. I am realizing more and more, the power of simply being present to what is. Interpretation is best left to psychotherapy, and even there, not always.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Be a Scared Buddha

I tell Gil about the fear, that I felt this morning, while sitting. Big fear, causes unknown, more intense with the passage up and down of each breath. We talk about my relationship to it. How I have these opinions about fear, as something not good, to be rid of. That's how I feel deeply . . .

Gil's answer: "Be a scared Buddha."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Own the Darkness, Feel the Light

If I sit long enough, the sensation lets itself known, made up of frustration, dissatisfaction, right there in the pit of the stomach. It's been with me for the longest time, I feel. No matter how much I pretend otherwise, deep down, my attitude towards it, has been one of distrust, unease, or at best, tolerant coexistence. Not surprisingly, all my efforts at wishing the unpleasantness away, either through manipulation, or clever   labeling, have only served to strengthen it even more.

This is when a good teacher, along with timely study, can make a difference . . .

Last night, Gil talked about importance of two legs that allow one to walk well on the Buddhist path:

Analogy of clasped hand. If hand is clasped for a long time, it hurts. Hurt leads to desire of ungrasping. Once hand is open, one can either focus on pain one is getting away from, or one can focus on the wonderful feeling of open hand.

Similarly, the spiritual process can be viewed from many different angles. Two perspectives in particular should be considered:
1) samvega: feeling of profound dissatisfaction, associated with meaningless life and suffering, of being in the darkness.
2) pasada: feeling of profound satisfaction, associated to faith in possibility of light, and a whole bunch of qualities from the heart, such as clarity, purity, tranquillity, etc

The Buddha tended to focus more on suffering and how to get away from it (samvega), and less on light at the tend (pasada). While it is important to have clear understanding of conditions that cause the darkness, so as to find way to the light, it is also important to not dwell exclusively in the darkness. And vice versa, one is to not dismiss the inherent dissatisfaction with life's conditions, for the sake of  pursuing the light. Otherwise the risk is that one ends up walking lopsided on the path. Need to lean on both legs for balanced practice. (my notes from talk, not Gil's exact words)

Along the same line, when reading the Verses of the Elder Nuns, yesterday, I was struck by the constant interplay between darkness and light throughout their stories. Never one without the other.

This morning, while sitting, in the coolness of mostly breath, and hardly thoughts, I felt the presence  again. Things were different however. Gil and the Elder Nuns still fresh in my mind, I no longer viewed the abrasive sensation, as an unwanted intruder, but instead as a legitimate friend, to  include in my life. As I did, feeling dropped some of its gritty edges off, and transformed into huge desire, filling my heart with determination, and joy.

I was left with beautiful feeling of being reconciled with myself.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

In the Footsteps of the Elder Nuns

I have spent a lot of time lately, immersed 'In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon', by Bhikkhu Bodhi. This morning was the part where The Blessed One addresses householders, meaning lay folks like you and I. An interesting smorgasbord of patriarchal rants, mixed in with some good Dharma talk, which then led to an interesting thread on Twitter between @crazywisdom, @josephzizys, and myself:

minddeep: Continuing reading of 'In the Buddha's Words' - interesting to note Buddha's dated views on gender roles . . .
crazywizdom: although, to be fair, we don't know what the #Buddha said. We just have "the echoes of echoes" - as one C.19th #tibetan lama said
minddeep: I wish I could go back in time & hear firsthand what Buddha actually said, minus filter of male transcribers
crazywizdom: interesting #Buddhist text to be aware of is the therigatha - thought to be the songs of realisation of the 1st female arhats :-)
josephzizys: Here is the whole thing translated by one of the greatest Buddhist scholars of the Victorian era
josephzizys: And it is a fantastic and harrowing collection of real, humble and courageous womens experience of enlightenment.

Needless to say, I had to leave the Buddha, and spend some time in the company of the Elder Nuns, instead. And what a spiritual feast it was! Joseph was right. Ubbiri, the grieving mother,  Baddha Kapilani, the old woman, Vimala, the ex-prostitute, Mittakali, the wanderer, Canda, the homeless, Anopama, the millionaire's daughter, Gotami, the Buddha's stepmother, Gutta, the childless one, Punnika, the servant, . . . and my favorite, Mutta, the one who leaves her crooked old husband behind:
So freed! So thoroughly freed am I! 
from three crooked things set free:
from mortar, pestle,
and crooked old husband.
Having uprooted the craving  
that leads to becoming,
I'm set free from aging and death.
Women, young and old, rich and poor, single and married, with or without children . . . Women from all walks of life, who touched me with the rawness of their honest tales about their liberation, all told straight from the heart.  Ordinary women, just like me, who make the path to enlightenment, seem so much more approachable.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Deep Sitting, What It's Like

Mind prepped by earlier reading of Martine Batchelor's awesome book, "Women on the Buddhist Path", including stories from Ani Tenzin Palmo, Songgyong Sunim, and Ayya Khema, I set out for morning sitting.

Body relaxed, at one with breath,  there is dropping, quick, into space of great stillness. Outside sounds, heard, that's all. Thoughts, here and there, sliding. Going deeper, and deeper, inside.  Focus on breath, steady, easy. Thoughts gone . . . completely. Coolness enveloping whole body. And bliss. No words can describe, really. Losing sense of time. Oh! new sensation in stomach, noted, going along with each breath. Feeling weighty matter, in the midst of vastness. Curious mind wonders. Willing heart embraces. Leaded ball's got irritating quality, caustic almost. Each breath loosening the thing, until it transforms into bigger, amorphous mass, inside whole digestive system. Body coping with a few sighs, and swallows. Noticing interesting tension between easy, cool, relaxed quietness and tightness within the calmness. Meanwhile, staying with each breath. Bell rings.

Coming out of sitting, I notice mass still there inside, and residual grogginess from deep state . . . Temptation to analyze, withheld.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Intimate Walk With the Heart

Breath, breath, and steps, and the jingle from Bailey's tag. I have just set out for another fast walking meditation. Heart takes over, quickly with lots of emotion. Labeling mind pops in, wonders what's this? love, grief, . . . No, not the point. I remember Gil's instruction this past Wednesday:
Need to focus on body felt awareness. Take awareness into felt sense. Come down from control tower of attention. Do not hold oneself at a distance. Don't treat what is happening inside as object to manipulate, think about, do something about. And do not ignore control tower either. Make room for it in awareness. (Not exact words, just my notes)
And so I just walk, with the thing in my heart. Feeling it in its whole, inside the vast expanse of chest cavity. Heavy, deep breaths, from moving fast. Grateful for gift of friendship, presence to myself. Full heart, fleeting thoughts from fluid mind, blood flowing from energized body, rain drops, smell of rotting leaves,  comfort of Bailey at my side. . . All taken in. Heart wants to speak. Love words.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Middle of the Night Meditation

Awakened, I lay, frustrated about broken sleep. Then, I remember Ajahn Chah,
Don't think that only sitting with the eyes closed is practice. If you do think this way then quickly change your thinking! Steady practice is having the attitude of practice while standing, walking, sitting and lying down. When coming out of sitting meditation, reflect that you're simply changing postures. If you reflect in this way you will have peace. Wherever you are you will have this attitude of practice with you constantly, you will have a steady awareness within yourself. (from "Right Practice, Steady Practice", in Food for the Heart)
Mindfulness vow continues into the night, that's right . . .

Feeling tight stomach, clenched teeth. And fear. Thought of child traveling in risky part of the world, testing her newfound adult independence and honoring her adventurous spirit. I know I am supposed to set her free. Still, protective mother instinct was set in motion by message received yesterday from dear traveler. In the penumbra of the night, I remember the essence of the words from another teacher, Ayya Khema, as she talked about being pushed to the limits of her motherly love, from having to contemplate the possibility of losing her son, as he too set out to explore the world. (story from Ayya Khema's autobiography, 'I Give You My Life'). I realize I can hold the fear, and also surrender my need to control what I cannot control, i.e. my loved one's life. A bit soothed, I settled into breath. Easy. Thoughts now gone. Only breath, and Prad's breath, and otherwise utter silence. Feeling myself fading back into sleep.

"The attitude of practice" . . .

Friday, December 11, 2009

15 Great Women Buddhist Blogs

After two days of Googling the hell out of the Internet, and back and forth tweets on Twitter, here it is, finally, the promised list of 15 Great Women Buddhist Blogs - in no particular order:

108 Zen Books
Smilin Buddha Kabaret
Zen Dot Studio
Momma Zen
Jizo Chronicles
Becca Faith Yoga
Mama Dharma
Buddhist at Heart
The Asian Welder
Mama Om
Susan Piver
Mindful Purpose
Budding Buddhist
Dalai Grandma
Luminous Heart

How did I come up with the list? I looked for Buddhist sisters whose blogs reflected a deep commitment to their practice, and also to blogging. Women from all walks of life. Moms, activists, teachers, writers, artists . . .  A few, I knew already. Most of them, I just discovered. I hope you will enjoy 'visiting' them as much as I have!

If I have forgotten anyone, please add in comments section below.

Last, I need to thank Jack at Zen Dirt Zen Dust , for his generous help. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

In Memory of "Tito"

I hear Esperanza come in, and shouts from my office, "You can start downstairs". "No, she says, excuse me", and walks in. She shows me a piece of paper with a picture of a young man, and points to her heart. I can't understand her broken English. I read the paper. It is a funeral announcement. Her husband walks in, and explains to me, this is their son, "Tito" who died last Thursday. A brilliant student at University of Colorado, he apparently plunged to his death from a freeway overpass. The husband apologizes profusely for his wife not being able to clean our house this morning. The funeral is at 1pm. Could she come Saturday morning instead?

As I sat, I felt grief. Their grief, and also my own. Nothing else to do, but sit. And send much loving kindness towards Esperanza and her husband who got a double hit of tragedy this week. The loss of their son, and a $15,000 bill for funeral costs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Finding the Way Back to Feminine Self.

 Meeting Gil for weekly interview, I shared with him, last night's dream:
Sitting in a train, going to a vacation retreat run by two women who invited me. I get off, and start walking on an old, covered, arched bridge, over a big river. A man is helping me find my way. I marvel at the old slabs of stones covering the bridge. The man takes me to a coffee shop run by two women. The women will be able to help me, he says. The shop is in downtown Marseilles. It is early morning and the place is filled with customers. I look in my purse, for paper with written directions to the retreat place, and realize I must have left it behind. What to do now, I wonder. The women try to help me.
Gil's answer came, straight. Don't forget, you are already there. You are woman. The simplicity of his answer struck me.

I have been feeling a bit lost lately. Getting sidetracked by intellect, and need to show, once more, that I can hold my own, right up there with the Buddhist boys. Yesterday, while chatting with a group of women friends, about the small things that make up life, I could hear contemptuous voice.  This stuff's not important. I did not linger. Had to blog, and read, and work on a project, and meditate . . . Years of learning to devalue relatedness, for the sake of accomplishments. Years of forsaking my womanly nature, to compete in a patriarchal world.

I told Gil about the immense joy I felt, both times I had the privilege to listen to  talks given by monastic sisters at IMC. How differently they touched my heart, than the male teachers. Gil suggested that I switch to reading Dharma books written by women. Also the nuns from Saranaloka Foundation will visit IMC regularly starting beginning of next year.

Connecting with body and heart, is what journey is about right now. Talking with Gil, helped me find the directions I had forgotten, back to feminine nature.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Big, Fat Man

Woke up in the midst of a dream. I was in a support group. Not sure I was moderating, or just part of group. A big, fat man stands up. He is very unhappy about not having a job. I try to empathize with him, and relate to his powerlessness, and helplessness.

Still feeling the man's angst, an encounter with self seemed of the order. And so, I sat.

Surprised by immediate sadness, and tears, which I did not know were there. Sadness dissolves into heaviness on the chest. Shallow breaths, bump into what feels like a leaded cape. Same kind that's used during X-rays at the dentist. Image of fat man keeps popping up. Thought, I am him. Noting, thinking. Back to breath. Not sure which way to go. To keep breath inside the cape, or to direct it inside the cape itself? Either way, cape's feeling heavier and heavier. Wanting cape to go away. Noting the aversion, and craving for what is not. Body wavering between intense heat, and coldness. Feeling like such a mess. Thought, I might as well let go, and be with it all. Quiet house suddenly wakes up to morning noises. Dogs barking, doors slammed, loud exchanges, microwave beeping, dishes clunking, liquid loudly sipped . . . I have no room for patience this morning. Only frustration, from raw, not happy self. I feel urge to get up and tell all living beings in the house to shut the f... up. That's how annoyed I am. One good thing from anger, is heavy cape's gone. Breathing. I am a Buddhist. I am supposed to sit with the anger, and just breathe. Feeling soooo human. Breathing. Bell rings.

I have been taking on a lot of volunteer assignments lately, all for very good causes. Unconscious and mindfulness are stepping up their watch to remind me about my very human insecurities. My needs for validation, and security, and power. With concomitant feelings of depression, sadness, powerlessness, and rage. It would be easy to dismiss those as 'just clingings'. While that may be true in absolute, right now, the path calls for no less than total truthfulness, and continued investigation of various parts of the self, including the big, fat man.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Practice First, Study Second

Being zealous student that I am, I approached Gil, and told him I wanted to start studying original teachings from the Budha. No more feel good readings from contemporary teachers . . . Better go straight to the source. Gil suggested that I start with In the Buddha's Words, a book by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Another option would be to follow the syllabus from Sati Center Sutta Study Class, Studying the Words of the Buddha, along with two recommended books: The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, by Bhikkhu Bodhi, and Handful of Leaves, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Gil also advised me to not overdo it, two pages at the most each day, and to not get hung up on parts I don't understand.

Later, that same night, I had vivid dream:
I am participating in an experiment, in the countryside. First, I watch planes, as they drop seeds on vast areas of freshly plowed land. Later, land has turned into huge field of wild flowers. I marvel at the beauty of it all, and try to catch side view of undulating surface, from the road where I stand. I especially love the effect of the light playing through the rich yellow colors. Prad gives me a modest bouquet of yellow poppies he just picked from the field. All of a sudden, I remember I am supposed to do some research, involving two variables. I get preoccupied with who to submit research to? My old professor just left. I start looking for his replacement.
Danger of corrupting beauty of practice with academic striving. Study is a loaded word for overachiever that I am. I thought of Ajahn Chah, in Food for the Heart:
When people do a lot of study, their minds are full of words, they get high on the books and forget themselves. They get lost in externals. Now this is so only for those who don't have wisdom, who are unrestrained and don't have steady sati. For these people studying can be a cause for decline. When such people are engaged in study they don't do any sitting or walking meditation and become less and less restrained. Their minds become more and more distracted. Aimless chatter, lack of restraint and socializing become the order of the day. This is the cause for the decline of the practice. It's not because of the study in itself, but because certain people don't make the effort, they forget themselves. Actually the scriptures are pointers along the path of practice. If we really understand the practice, then reading or studying are both further aspects of meditation. But if we study and then forget ourselves it gives rise to a lot of talking and fruitless activity.
Hearing Gil and Ajahn Chah's wise words, loud and clear. Practice, practice. Study only as a way to support practice, not a distraction from it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pride, No Match for Mindfulness

Reveling in this morning's good mood, I sit. And notice joy from open heart, clear mind, and relaxed body. Breath coming, and going, free and soft. Like a feather, caressing my insides. Gentle tickle. Feeling like Rumi's Guest House. Nothing can disturb the calmness. Neither the sounds from breakfast being served in the kitchen, nor the throbbing in my teeth, still, nor the subtle internal changes from moment to moment, nor the passing thoughts. Feeling happy with myself. I could sit like this forever.

Not so soon, mind says. What is boredom that just came in, with thoughts of ending soon? Struggle ensues. Calmness a distant memory, already. Image of welcoming, all loving self, shattered. Thought, I need to regain control, and mediate internal fight. Make room even for unwanted guest. Breath to the rescue. Mind calming down. Heart opening, slowly. Awareness, adjusting focus to better see, and recognize newcomer. Sadness, depressed, lonely . . . Bell rings.

Remembering Gil's words to me, when I asked about pride. "Don't worry, mindfulness has a way of taking care of such thing" It certainly did this morning . . . :)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stop Whining!

This week's earlier surgery has turned me into a chronic whiner. I am so cold. My mouth hurts. I am tired. Eating is a drag. I can't sleep . . . Dear husband is getting tired himself. Of having to listen to my litany of complaints. He told me so this morning, gently. I heard him, and I agree.

Complaining is a form on unskillful speech, and a form of delusion. Sloppy mind hoping to relieve the pain, by sharing it with others. Forgetting that physical pain is for one to bear, alone. Wise mind knows better, and understands value of restrained expression.

Next time you experience physical pain, don't be like me. Instead, be gracious, and be a good company, to yourself, and to others. And more importantly, be grateful for pain, as opportunity to deepen your practice, noticing aversive mind.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hard Work and Reward from Right Effort

Inspired by today's Dharma Practice Day with Gil Fronsdal, on topic of 'right effort', I decided to go 'naked' on walk with Bailey. No audiodharma talk to keep me entertained. Only dog, and myself. I could feel vague unease. Best thing was to go and investigate. Right effort . . .

Boredom, feeling boredom. Maybe taking a different route will help. Bailey wonders what's up, wants to turn right, as usual. I pull at her leash, annoyed. Yep, there is frustration also. Boredom, frustration . . . and breath, and fast steps. Sound of quick breaths draws my attention, temporarily. And so does nature's call for Bailey. Trying to focus on the task of unknotting plastic bag from her leash. Almost welcoming the poop pickup. Anything to not feel the unpleasantness.

Wise mind intervenes, suggests mindfulness, instead of avoidance. Thought, I don't like this, turns into, I don't like being with myself. Oh! such an old feeling. I chronicled similar encounter on this blog, not too long ago. Something about self-love, talk with Gil about it. Importance of loving one self . . . Bailey, oblivious to the internal drama, turns back, and looks up, wanting to make sure I am still there. I mumble a feeble "Bailey", and reassure her with gentle tap on the head. Feeling summons me back, urgently. I get a clear sense of distinct physical presence. It's no longer just me and dog, but depressed, lonely, self also.

There is something comforting about the three of us taking a walk in the dawning darkness of this winter evening. It feels right, for one. Also, resistance has left me completely, and I am now willing to entertain my sad friend for as long as needed. Feeling the depression, completely with each breath, each step. Giving it room, as much as it needs. Not trying to understand where it's coming from. Breathing, walking, feeling the feeling. Until, I notice feeling gone. Only breath, walking, and dog pulling on her leash, wanting to go home.

Tonight, right effort was about honoring mindfulness vow, and favoring direct, mindful experience of unpleasantness, as opposed to escaping into false pretense of listening to dharma talk.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mental Noting During Meditation, a Double Edge Sword?

Just found this gem, from Marie Turco, on Twitter:

@mvturco i set out to see. I realize that i see what can be, not necessarily what is. i see color, angles, lines not walls, ceilings and tiles.

I was reminded of a story from Sylvia Boorstein, I read a while ago, in which her teacher asked her to let go of mental noting, and be instead with direct experience, unmediated by words. While noting can be an extremely useful tool towards moment to moment mindfulness, it is not without dangers. I saw for myself, during this morning's meditation:

Sitting, basking in gentle acceptance of now, I feel at one with each breath. Body, relaxed. Love feeling. Liking, not holding on. Sound erupts. Loud, of leaf blower. Gardener is back. Image of gardener outside. Leaf blower stops. Silence. Liking, again not clinging. Grateful for ease with breath, and body. Gentle, rhythmic sound comes in. Of rake. Gardener raking the leaves. Rake against sidewalk. Insight. Layer of thoughts on top of pure sounds. Gardener, leaf blower, rake, not part of now. Rather, results of thinking mind. Another sound, very close. From cleaning lady taking vacuum cleaner out of closet. Associations ensue, of similar times before. With resulting anticipation of future noise, from vacuuming, and possibility of feelings, from hearing vacuum. Thinking, naming mind at work again, making it harder for self to stay present. Surprise from silence. Breathing, that's all. For a while. Then noting familiar pain. Pain. Word itself causes retraction in body, and aversion in heart. Insight. To stay away from naming experience as pain. How about neutral? A thing in my side. Relaxing, breathing into tingling, sharpness, soon turns into tickling, interesting, pleasure, intense, dancing, alive . . . Thing dissolving. Attention back on the breath.

Realizing the difficulty of bare attention, and the power of words, no matter how well intentioned, to get in the way. At same time, thinking is also very much a part of awareness, and insight. Both points, noted . . .

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Practice? Just Because . . .

Body, tired still, from minor surgery, goes along with breath. Soft, unhindered inhale, followed by stillness, before long, deep exhale. Over, and over. Dropping fast, into space, where outside world fades. Sounds of dogs barking, and people talking on the sidewalk, noticed, that's all. Rather liking the ease. Lots of sighs, complete, to seal the calmness. Really liking the freedom. Noticing clinging, sleepiness also, that wants to take me somewhere else. Repeating, sleepy, sleepy, in between each breath. Thought, I did not know I was so tired. To stay with what is. Sleepy body, dulled mind. More thoughts, I wonder how much longer? Why even bother with this? What's the point of sitting? Noticing doubt, and resistance. Question: Why sit, now? Answer comes: Just because.

Remembering Ajahn Chah - in 'Food for the Heart': Whether you feel like it or not you should practice just the same: this is how the Buddha taught . . . Practice consistently, whether day or night, this year, next year, whatever the time... don't pay attention to thoughts of diligence or laziness, don't worry whether it's hot or cold, just do it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Gift of 'Unitasking'

Every day, I call my mother in the assisted living facility where she now lives, back in France. Every time, I struggle with staying present with her, as she keeps on asking the same questions, over and over again. Is everyone ok? When do I see you next? How is the oldest one (my daughter)? How is baby (my brother's child)? Boredom sets in, and I catch myself multitasking. Glancing at computer screen, checking on latest tweets, reading the news, . . . meanwhile talking to her. Today, I purposely resisted the urge, and chose to only be with her. And found a whole stack of emotions, underneath boredom. First, was aversion to situation, wishing for times past without Alzheimer's. Then, came sadness, from the irrevocable loss. Then, empathy for her, and what must be a terrifying experience.

Today, I make another vow. To 'unitask', as much as possible.

The Policy of Caring - by Jaye Seiho Morris

It is such a treat to be included in the Great Buddho-blogging Article Swap, sponsored by Nate DeMontigny, from Precious Metal blog. Today, as part of the swap, Jaye Seiho Morris and I are trading blogs. Seiho is posting on Mind Deep blog, and I am writing on his blog, Digital Zendo. I can't remember where I first 'met' Seiho first, Twitter, or this blog, but since then, he and I have been supporting each other with the gift of our spiritual friendship.

As people we hold any number of policies and rules, within our mind. For me, my experience with Zen (the practice of unifying the mind) gives me an opportunity to look, sit with and come to know my internal operating system. The one I've been spending a lot of time with on the sitting cushion is the "Policy of Caring."

Today if You asked me to summarize my Zen practice, "Learning to consistently express, a policy of caring" would be my answer. The attributes that I associate with the policy of caring are; Hope, honesty, active listening, kindness, mindfulness, open-ness of heart, attentiveness, fortitude and to be vested in each other. In applying the attributes mentioned above, we are enabled to see well beyond our own experiences and appreciate the life and effort of others.

Yesterday, in a comment to me, a person wrote something which deeply moved me. He said, "I have lived a fairly nomadic lifestyle over the past 3 years: 2 major moves for downsizing and financial reasons and many micro moves for abatement and PTSD issues. I"m still healing from some traumatic events (stalker, sexual assault, workplace bullying, financial hemorrhaging, getting robbed, loss of friends in the mess of it all, judgmental family members... 5 Christmas mornings alone (2 in hotels) and equal birthdays (Dec 26) and New Years eve's on my own. I have done alright with it... chosen my own company and blessed those whom I wished to be with but was not. "

In another instance, I know someone who struggles with the nature of a relationship to their significant other, unsure if the person will ever arrive emotionally. In another instance, a person verbalized anxiety and frustration in a job, feeling undervalued and unappreciated. I listened to someone scared their children would be upset if they couldn't give them the gifts they really wanted at Christmas. In still another instance, I encountered someone fearful they would not be able to stay sober over the holidays, because of feelings of loneliness.

Everyone seems to have something, large or small that contributes to suffering or a feeling of not being at home with ourselves. It's all there. The question is are we caring enough to see the person… hear the person… feel the person… take a moment to understand the person...

Once we recognize suffering, an opportunity presents itself for us to be an expression of caring. This can take on innumerable forms. Despite the many different ways of expression, the one thing they are have in common is moving off the sidelines, being engaged, reaching out and making an effort to connect hearts and minds. The gap and distance is shortened, if not dissolved altogether.

This is my point of appreciation, having the opportunity to write on Marguerite's blog today. Her efforts as a wife… a hospice volunteer… a writer… a friend… a human being…. and her willingness to discuss the process, especially as it reflects within her practice is a kindness that's not designed to be measured. It's a simple gift. It's "Shu Jo Mu Hen Sei Gan Do." In english this means, "However innumerable all beings are, I vow to help them all." Indeed simple but so very profound.

Put another way, it's the policy of caring, put into action. It is an effort that ripples out, through our lives, improving the texture and quality of This moment. As a human being, I continue to learn so much, by that paths travelled by others.

May All Beings Be Caring,

Seiho Jaye Morris, Friend.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Report on Mindfulness Vow

A week ago, I made the vow of day long mindfulness, spelling out my intention to be mindful, not just during formal sitting or walking meditation, but also throughout the days. A lofty goal, I realize, and one that I have been carrying around with me ever since. From intention, to actualization, the expanse is wide, eighteen hours, or 64,800 seconds to be exact. That's a lot of moments to pay attention to!

For now, I have focused on the low hanging fruits, those obvious moments that beg for mindfulness. Moments of waiting, at traffic lights, at the doctor's office, in line at the grocery store, . . . Moments at work, taking a break from the computer, or from reading a report, . . . Intimate moments, in bed, waiting to fall asleep, or waking up, in the bathroom, taking care of body, washing, brushing, showering, shaving, moisturizing . . . Moments of boredom, doing chores around the house, peeling vegetables, washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning, . . . Moments of endurance, swimming, running, walking, . . . Moments of indulgence, eating, listening to music, getting a massage, petting dog, . . . So many ripe opportunities each day.

Thinking of Sharon Salzberg's story, as told by Joseph Goldstein, in Voices of Insight:
Sharon came in for an interview (with teacher Sayadaw U Pandita), with a prepared report of her meditative experience, which was getting more silent and still. She bowed and began reporting. U Pandita interrupted her, "What did you notice when you brushed your teeth?" She hadn't noticed; she had nothing to say. He didn't want to hear anything else, so he rang the bell and she left. The next day, she came in, prepared to report what she had experienced when brushing her teeth. Sayadaw then asked her, "What did you experience when you put your shoes on?" She hadn't noticed. He didn't want to hear anything else, so she left. That was the end of the interview. This went on for weeks. Every day she would come in, and he would ask her about something else, until she was paying attention to everything she was doing. One thing was not more important than another.
I love that story.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Indian Wedding or Vipassana Retreat?

For weeks, I had been looking forward to upcoming 9-day End-of-Year retreat with Gil Fronsdal at Spirit Rock. Since I was going to be gone, Prad made plans to attend his nephew's Indian wedding in Singapore, during the same time. Going with his children. My daughter would enjoy time at home meanwhile. I would have plenty of time to see her before and after the retreat. It all worked out.

A few days ago, daughter decided to go to the wedding also, and join the rest of the gang. Things were different now, past tipping point where retreat made complete sense. What if I bagged the retreat, and joined them all? I started to look into other later retreat alternatives that wouldn't conflict with the wedding. It has been two days now, of tossing and turning idea in my head, and feeling torn, between pull from family ties, and urging from spiritual self.

Caught in a maze of conflictual intentions, and emotions, I put question out on Twitter:

dilemma: to go to Indian wedding w/ whole family, or attend 9-day Vipassana retreat w/ Gil Fronsdal? feeling torn . . .#buddhism

and got answers from Twitter sangha friends, Tetsubishi and TravisE:

Tetsubishi @MindDeep Gil does retreats several times a year. Your family's friends are only going to get married once (one hopes!) - why torn?

@Tetsubishi why torn? spiritual craving, that's all - craving, hmmm . . . #buddhism
Tetsubishi @MindDeep Many who benefit from GF's teachings never sit with him in person at all, whereas you do so almost every week. Craving? #tsk ;-)

TravisE @MindDeep They will hold other retreats. ;)

Yes, another lesson in not clinging, even to plan of Buddhist retreat. Going to the Indian wedding seems like the right thing to do . . .

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wisdom in Ordinary Moments

Being a householder presents one with many opportunities to learn, and grow. This morning, for instance . . .

Up early, I decided to take advantage of quiet house to sit. Oh! the joy of silence, and breath. Body, happy from restful night. Empty belly, roomy for breath. Only light click of clock, reassuring. Getting into a rhythm. Liking. Until, heavy footsteps. Tightening of stomach, in anticipation of more noises. Dammit, I did not anticipate. Clinging to hope still, that person will retreat back upstairs. Not so. Round of loud sounds, more frustrations, starts. Clean dishes put away. Dirty dishes being washed. Microwave door, opened, and closed, several times. Bathroom noises. Footsteps, heavy still, back and forth, outside my door. Frustration, mounting to outrage, almost. Awareness in high gear, watching, powerless. Temptation of judgement, withheld. Footsteps move upstairs. Only left, breath, residual frustration, and clock. Oh! the quietness, again. Clinging.

Yesterday, I tweeted: "how I understand Dharma: to not cling to, nor resist whatever each moment brings - how about you? #buddhism"

From understanding, to realization, lies a whole string of moments such as this morning. Ordinary experiences that jar the self, and need to be lived fully, in order for mindfulness to do its job.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Body, Breath, and Beyond

Body's become a wide expanse, ripe for exploration. This morning, sitting in quiet house, nobody awake yet, I enjoyed free flow of breath, belly soft. Loving sensation of whole body, relaxed and completely at ease. Thinking, this is how I want to feel. And almost at once, familiar tightening, in stomach. Tensing even more. Oh! no, not again. Image of balloon being squeezed in middle with each breath. Each inhale pushing its way through, fighting for space with unwanted balloon. Not helping. Balloon getting bigger instead, squishing each breath, more and more. Breath and balloon, fighting. Thinking I need to change strategy. Not fight with balloon. Breathing softly, with balloon. Melting into outer skin of balloon, until it dissolves completely. Feeling nauseous. Discomfort moving up to the throat, and the upper back and shoulders. Wondering, how much time left? This is hard work. Concentration waning. Back to breath. Relaxing into discomfort, and subtle changes, moment to moment.

Shrinking, reactive, aversive, closed, rigid self. Relaxed, expansive, fluid, open, natural self. And bare awareness. All three, present, playing out in body.

The closer I look inside, and 'see' rigid self at play, the more I get tired of being it. At same time, I need to be very careful to not reinforce unwanted part with more aversion. Similarly, I am aware of danger of wanting Buddha nature too much, and turning into yet another craving. A delicate balance to be found. Remembering Gil's words during earlier interview. No need to worry. Mindfulness usually takes care of that sort of things.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Facing the Obsolete Self

The fear is back. Huge, and threatening to invade my whole self. Anticipatory fear that has nothing to do with the reality of the moment, and is the result instead, of thinking mind, coalescing with old, obsolete parts, to create unnecessary aversion, and craving. Not wanting people to behave in a certain way, or certain situations to arise. Limiting acceptable options. Dysfunctional self is playing favorites. I don't want this moment, but I will take that one. And shrinks at the possibility of unpleasantness. Ironically, perpetuating a state of even greater misery. The whole setup does not make sense. And yet, I am stuck with it for now.

In his talk on "Self and Not Self", Donald Rothberg discusses the importance of deconstructing those unhelpful parts of the self, through the mindful experiencing of their effect in our lives. There are no shortcut. What I call the obsolete self, needs to run its course. At best, all we can do is hasten its demise, gently, mindfully, skillfully.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Faces of Spiritual Friendship

During Monday night's sangha meeting, Gil had us share in small groups, our experiences of spiritual friendships. Yesterday, I got a condensed dose of such friendship with not just one, but three very meaningful encounters, in support of emotional issue I have been struggling with. All with women. Different ages, different stages along the path, different venues.

First was a comment from long time online sister, Nadine, in response to my blog post. I came to know Nadine in the course of blogging at La Marguerite, the environmental blog where I kept green for several years . . . I have great admiration for Nadine's poetic talents, and for her courage in meeting the hardships that often come with being a true artist. Knowing that she read my story, and that she could relate it to her own life, lightened the burden of my fear a bit.

Later, was interview with Ines Freedman, one of IMC teachers. Ines was the first person to meet me back in July, when I finally decided to attend IMC. I still remember her talk, on 'Renunciation', and the joy of hearing her words, that spoke to my darkness. There was a way out, and she knew. Yesterday morning, I had expected to see Gil, as usual. Ines was there instead. Seeing her, firmly seated on her chair, I thought she looked like a female Buddha. Sharing my plight with her, I felt totally seen, and heard. With great ease, she helped me unknot the twisted mess of my emotions. I walked out smiling. A teacher can be a friend also.

Just as I was leaving IMC, I ran into Hillary, another member of IMC sangha. Hillary is the smile that welcomes all newcomers to our center. That morning I felt moved to stop, and respond to her inviting face. The time felt right for sharing stories about our lives as mothers and wives, and travelers on the path. Knowing that she, too, had had moments like the one I was struggling with, came as yet another gift of friendship.

The rest of my day felt so much lighter. To Nadine, Ines, and Hillary, I extend my deepest gratitude for the gift of their spiritual friendship.

What to Do With the Pitbulls?

Kept awake, part of the night with a series of two, very vivid dreams:
At the airport, going by security check with the children. Man has lots of old and young pitbulls with him. I am terrified, and hoping I won't attract the attention of the monsters as we check in with the man. The man does not seem to care. The children go ahead of me, in line about to board the plane. In our haste, we have forgotten two pieces of luggage right next to the man. I need to go back to retrieve them, and get close to the dogs again. Sure enough, the dogs end up following me . . . I am trying to figure out how to not get hurt by them and how to get rid of them.
With husband, we are walking on the street, and come across Dick R, and his family. They are playing, including with miniature pitbull puppy. The Rs are living in the same building as us. Pitbull puppy turns into whole family, with big dogs and some smaller dogs. Dogs make their way into our appartment. I am terrified. What to do? I want to slay them. Image of husband cutting up the dogs and turning them into tea sandwiches. The dog meat looks more like smoked salmon.
Dreams are a good way to shed light on unexplained, raw emotions. It is true, I have been feeling fear, a lot, these last few days. Fear of anger, my own, and even more so, others' anger. Fear of conflicts from day do day family interactions. Fear that's getting in the way of meeting each moment with calm, and ease. Fear, raw, of unmediated aggression.

Thinking of story of Buddha's subjugation of mad elephant:
Toward the end of his life the Buddha was aging and weary. His influence over the Sangha was waning accordingly. The monk Devadatta, his cousin, watched the Buddha's aging carefully, and decided to take over the control of the Order as his successor. Devadatta had the courage not to pursue his aim solely by intrigue, but to proclaim it openly. Once, when the Buddha was preaching before a large congregation, Devadatta got up and said to the Buddha: "Lord, you are now old, worn-out, an aged man, you have lived your allotted span and are at the end of your existence. Lord, may you be content to live in this world henceforth unburdened. Hand over the Order to me- I will lead the Sangha!" The Buddha declined, but Devadatta repeated his plea three times. This stirred the Buddha to a rebuke: "I would not even hand over the Order to Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, still less to you, Devadatta!" By his sharp reaction, the Buddha had made Devadatta his enemy.Devadatta, who was humiliated in public, planned a series of intrigues to kill the Buddha. The third attempt on the Buddha's life took place within the city of Rajagraha. Devadatta bribed with promises certain mahouts to let the working elephant Nalagiri loose against the Buddha.The mighty bull-elephant, which had already killed one person, stormed through the streets on the exact path along which the Buddha was coming on his alms-round. Throwing away a person with his trunk, the brute elephant rushed at the yellow-robed Buddha who, unafraid, radiated loving-kindness towards him. Then came the miracle! Suddenly the raging elephant became calm and peaceful, and knelt before the Buddha, who lifted his right hand and patted the animal's forehead. This is the well-known story of the Buddha's subjugation of a mad elephant in Rajagraha.
Loving kindness . . .

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mindfulness Can Be a Pain

Pain, physical pain, is in a category all of its own. Last night, during evening sitting at IMC, and earlier today, as I tried to go about my business, I couldn't help but notice, the dull, persistent ache in my back, real time. This is the beautiful thing about suffering in the body. Forced mindfulness. Of part in the flesh that hurts, and of reactive, unhappy feelings, and thoughts. I don't like this. I want pain-free body. Why now? I should have been more careful. Why did I insist on lifting suitcase? . . . . Craving no pain, resisting impermanence.

Remembering Ines Freedman's speech on renunciation, and her wise words about mindfulness and physical pain. To befriend achy spot repeatedly, using breath, and gentle acceptance. That works, up to a point. Pain not budging much, and neither is frustration. Thinking mind comes to the rescue, several times, taking body out of present, into another time, another place, where pain does not exist. Avoidance of what is.

Physical pain as teacher.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tending the Self

Yesterday's mindfulness vow still very fresh, I started practicing this morning. Waiting for my turn at the optometrist's office, usual impatience was replaced by gratitude for opportunity to sit. Feeling breath, settling in body, into myself really. Taking mindful attitude with me, as I sat in optometrist's chair. Driving home, I resisted temptation to turn on the radio, and focused on just driving, and breathing. Fear came, at red light outside of doctor's building. No idea what fear was about. Just breathing, feeling fear, and paying attention to the road.

Sitting in meditation seat, fear vanished, at once. Replaced by sadness. Easy breathing making room for tender heart. Some tears. Noticing pleasure of relief from tears. Dance with breathing, and thoughts. Aware of wanting more tears. Letting wanting take its course. Breath, gentle, massaging the heart, relaxing body and mind. Image of mother tending hurting child. Oh! the sweetness. Heart responding with even more melting, and opening. Feeling coolness, and peace also. Liking, noted. Inner calm, interrupted by sound of gardener, blowing leaves. Willing heart, unfazed, open still. Prad's call for me, chiming in. Feeling calmness, and love. Tended heart, happy. House quiet again. Boredom knocks. Wondering, how much longer to sit . . . Boredom, seen, disappears. Back to breath. Gentle, slow, easy breaths, each one caressing the heart, encouraging it to stay open.

It's only been two hours. Two hours since I woke up, of deliberate mindfulness, tending to self, meanwhile getting up, brushing teeth, getting dressed, making small talk with Prad, drinking tea, answering tweets, driving, visiting optometrist, and finally sitting. Feeling whole, and thinking about all the times before when I had opposite experience. Thinking of Seiho's post today, about the risk of "Fragmentation" in daily life, and the importance of keeping mindful connection with self.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Taking Mindfulness Vow, on Twitter

Was it the awareness several times during last night's party, of my lack of mindfulness throughout most of the event? Or the effect of my reading of Kamala Masters' coming into natural mindfulness with her teacher Anagarika Munindra? Or a slow unfolding into a new place of realization? All I know, is I woke with this morning with the firm determination to no longer be complacent about my mindfulness practice, outside of regular sittings. To make it even more binding, I made this declaration, about 8 hours ago, on Twitter:

"today, I publicly declare I shall pay attention to my breath more, and to the moment, no matter what time of day :) #mindfulness"

Not saying that I will be mindful 24/7 - got to sleep some of the time too! - , but at least, I am spelling my intention out loud, and that's big. Kind of like taking vows, in front of Twitter sangha community. @digitalzendo and @GeneManuel even retweeted my proclamation, so I have two witnesses at least, to hold me accountable.

Drinking afternoon tea, with new appreciation, from paying attention to the whole experience. Cup hot, cold hands, surprised by heat, all around, happy. Eyes, delicate steam, from milky surface, cross, for first time. Slow sips, stretched, lifting cup, meeting with lips, brew, swished, sweet. Deep inhale, bitter after taste, sweet. Exhale, grateful.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Who Is In Charge?

Sitting, ease of breathing soon gives way to pain in right middle back. I pulled a muscle a week ago. Pain becomes more intense with each breath. Throbbing, burning, radiating up and down whole right side. Meeting up other, chronic pain in lower back. And belly breath. New pain, old pain, belly breath, all three fighting for same space. Readjusting with each rise, and fall of diaphragm. I tell myself, to befriend the pain, all of it. Truth is annoyance, and wishing for pain to go away. Meanwhile breathing still, and staying with breath, when not subject to passing thoughts. Noticing how pain disappears in the midst of thoughts. Fear arises, at once. Huge, surprising. Trying to make sense, then deciding not now. With fear, comes a series of images. Obliterated castle, only contours still visible. Big old tree, turning into a dead tree. Thinking mind wants to interpret. Not now. Pain in body hardly there, anymore. Only fear. Monumental.

More and more, I get reminders of the reality of my fifty two year-old body, and of old age, and death approaching, surely. No matter how gracious I try to be about the whole thing, and pretend that, it is part of the course, and I don't mind aging, the reality is I am scared shitless. Facing my fear is one step in the direction of wisdom.

"If our body really belonged to us, it would obey our commands. If we say, 'Don't get old', or 'I forbid your to get sick', does it obey us? No, it takes no notice. We only rent this house, not own it." Ajahn Chah (as related by Jack Kornfield, in Voices of Insight)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nothing to Have

Last night was the annual Human Rights Watch Awards dinner at the Fairmont, in San Francisco. One of the highlight of the evening is the auction at the end. Prad was highest bidder for first item, a photo showing woman at decrepit maternity clinic in India. Proceeds to go to HRW Emergency Fund. I watched Prad as he raised his hand repeatedly as the bids kept coming. And I also watched myself, as I blurted out "You're crazy!". Prad's ease with the parting of his money, and my reluctance, made for an interesting teaching moment.

Over the last few days, I have had this automatic thought, "Nothing to Have". A spontaneous mantra, almost, that's taking more and more space in my mind, including this morning, during sitting. Breathing with ease. Body releasing into now. And mind repeating "Nothing to Have". A blissful state. Liking the peacefulness, and wanting it to last. Liking, wanting. Stomach interrupts, with tightness. Attention now drawn to constriction. Each breath, making room for the noose around stomach, and for feeling every bit of it. Noose moves up to head. Hmmm . . . this feels like yesterday. Headache again, and nausea. Left shoulder tense. Jaws clenching. Whole upper body's holding on, tensing onto itself.

"Nothing to Have". Certainly not money, and security. And also, other more subtle possessions, such as feeling of peace during this morning sitting. I like this quote from Joseph Goldstein, in "Voices of Insight": The Great Renunciation is really the renunciation of the paradigm of "having" as our deepest value.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Journey Into the Heart

More work with body today. Meditation led me to stomach, once more. Using each in and out breath to feel my way through the heaviness. Image of big rock sitting at the bottom of stomach cavity. Not easily digestible. Entering the rock, being the rock, inside and all around rough surface. Taking the time to explore. Sensation of rock expanding, and moving up oesophagus. Whole chest turns into warm mass. Breathing throughout, noticing most of the breaths, and some occasional thoughts. Energy moves up to top of the head. Feeling headache, and nausea. Breathing through, getting inside the brain, feeling tension there. Deep sigh. Bell rings, too soon, interrupting process. I decide to sit a while longer. Headache requires some more attention. Staying in the head, breathing into it. There is sadness, and tears almost. Headache disappears. Instead deep sighs, and sensation of expansion in the heart. Feeling the inside of my heart. So vast. Like a large room with lots of space to wander, and be. On the far wall, I 'see' spot. Looks like a sting. Small, compared to rest of wall surface, that is undisturbed, and smooth. Feeling love.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Body as Gateway to Self-Love and More

As soon as I start paying attention, the gnawing makes itself known. Starting in the stomach, then slowly making its way up, to the throat where it gets stuck. This morning was no exception. During the half-day retreat with Gil Fronsdal this morning, I felt it during both sitting, and walking meditations. A physical sensation, that went along with feeling of frustration, and recurring fantasies of being gainfully employed, doing good for the world.

During my interview with Gil, I shared earlier dream also. After a short investigation, it became clear this all has to do with my difficulties in loving self. Gil had me do a short guided meditation, starting with sensations in body. Feeling gnawing in stomach, completely, without commentary, letting it move . . . Feeling stuckness in throat. Gil asks what does it feel like? Image of a golf ball. Exploring the roundedness, the places of contact between ball, and throat. Ball dissolving. Gil asks again, what do I feel. Expansiveness in the heart, and tears. There was a lot more to it than what I relate here, including some thoughts that I shared and discussed with Gil as they came up. The overall experience was profound, and gave me a sense of the power of laser pointed mindfulness, using body sensations as gateway to deeply held emotions. Gil suggested I continue process on my own.

Gil expanded on self-love topic, during his mini-lecture. Here are my notes:

Story of King and Queen. The King asks the Queen, who she holds most dear? Myself, she responds. Disappointed King takes matter to the Buddha, who confirms it is indeed best to hold ourselves most dear. Story shows importance of self-love. Having very positive feeling about self, self-worthiness, self-respect, . . . is what allows us empathy for others' own worthiness.

Question is how to discover love for self? In typical Buddhist fashion, do not pursue ideal directly. Instead understand what are obstacles? Obstacles to self-love are all activities of the mind, that create ideas/feelings of unworthiness. These mind activities need to be put to rest. This requires clear seeing, and more importantly feeling effects of mind in body. Once obstacles fall away, this leaves room for something else to bubble up, not necessarily self-love. Could be some inner well being, purity that does not relate to self at all. Last, it is important to look at obstacles with kindness . . .