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 . . .

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

100 Plus Attachments . . . In Just One Day

Inspired by my latest post on clinging, I was curious to find how many attachments would arise in just one day. Here is the list, one hundred and more of them, so far, from the trivial, to the monumental:
  1. 85% dark chocolate
  2. achievements
  3. beauty
  4. bed
  5. bicycle
  6. birds
  7. bliss
  8. blogging
  9. body
  10. books
  11. brother
  12. car
  13. cell phone
  14. challenges
  15. children
  16. clean air
  17. cleanliness
  18. comb
  19. comfort
  20. computer
  21. convenience
  22. coolness
  23. creativity
  24. Dharma
  25. doing
  26. dreams
  27. dried mangoes
  28. dryer
  29. eating
  30. electricity
  31. fashion
  32. feeling good
  33. fitness
  34. Free People clothes
  35. free time
  36. freedom
  37. friends
  38. health
  39. healthy food
  40. home
  41. Huffington Post
  42. husband
  43. identity
  44. incense
  45. independence
  46. intellect
  47. intelligence
  48. joy
  49. 'just right'
  50. life
  51. Loehman's
  52. looking good
  53. love
  54. making collages
  55. meditation
  56. mindfulness
  57. moisturizer
  58. money
  59. mother
  60. my office
  61. nature
  62. no pain
  63. Nordstrom Rack
  64. NY Times
  65. organic fruit
  66. peace
  67. pen and paper
  68. pleasure
  69. private space
  70. quiet
  71. recognition
  72. respect
  73. routine
  74. running water
  75. safety
  76. salads
  77. security
  78. sex
  79. shampoo
  80. shoes
  81. sitting
  82. sleep
  83. sparkling water
  84. spirituality
  85. success
  86. swim goggles
  87. swimming
  88. swimsuit
  89. tea
  90. teacher
  91. thinking
  92. to-do lists
  93. toilet
  94. toilet paper
  95. toothbrush
  96. toothpaste
  97. trees
  98. Twitter
  99. walking
  100. warm shower
  101. warmth
  102. wash machine
  103. Whole Foods
  104. wisdom
  105. work
  106. . . .

Obviously, the goal is not to get rid of all these attachments - although for some, it may not be a bad thing. Rather, it's about being aware of each one as it arises, and having a different relationship to it, made of appreciation, gratitude, and ease. No clinging. Not being like monkey in this Hindu story - as retold by Jack Kornfield in his book, 'Soul Food':
In India hunters had a proven way of catching monkeys. A half coconut would be hollowed out and a hole made that was only large enough to let a monkey's open hand pass through. The coconut was then pinned to the ground and tempting food placed beneath. A monkey would approach, intent on getting hold of the food beneath the coconut, but alas as soon as it grasped the food in its fist it found itself unable to pull its hand and the food free of the coconut. Imprisoned it would stay, caught by its own unwillingness to open its fist.
Now, I want to know what is your list? :)

A Whole Meditation Experience

This morning, I decided, no sitting in the main house, and running risk of being disturbed by kitchen, other domestic noises. Instead, exile into small room in the back, where it's only me, and space heater. Settling into perfect position, feet parallel, aligned with hips, only smaller back touching, head resting straight above shoulders. Timer set to usual time. I close my eyes, and wait for breath to find its rhythm. Noticing some heaviness in the heart. Breathing. Heaviness. Breathing. And comforting sound of heater. Interrupted at once by roaring of lawn mower, right there, below window. Annoyance, then thought about irony of situation. Trading kitchen noises for lawn mower :) Liking mower better. Soon breathing with noise. Liking. Mower stops. Quietness, again. Grateful for calm, enjoying gentle breath. Really liking. Aware of clinging to quiet. Breathing some more. Thinking mind interrupts, with planning thoughts. Thought, thinking mind cannot stand emptiness, loves to fill in. Thoughts step aside. Breath. Gentle, slow rising of belly, then falling. And again. Distant call from bird, heard. Followed by image of bird, soaring. Thought, thinking mind adding its two cents to pure sound. Breathing, only noticing of breathing, for a while. Until lawn mower, strikes again. Short bouts. Getting comfortable with on-off sound. Liking dance of breath with lawn mower. Oh! full bladder's asking for attention. Given. Feeling expansion. Thought, I should not have drunk tea, how much longer before bell rings? Back to breath, in the midst of crescendo of sensations. Mower, bladder, heater, train, plane, dog all joining in for ultimate climax. Not loud enough, for each breath to not be felt. Bell rings.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hearing Anger's Call

By evening, the frustration I had felt during morning meditation, had grown into full blown anger. There was no mistaking. Body filled with hot energy, and insides seared with caustic brew, called for some urgent minding. Sitting in my favorite chair, eyes wide open, as I let myself feel the anger, completely, I heard a call to step out of my usual ways. There was light, and a loving presence that I had never before encountered. So excited I was, I had to share it in a tweet: 'sitting in silence, I almost heard the One whisper, I am here always - I swear, I did - anger was there also'.

Still fresh from this extraordinary moment, I fortuitously stumbled, upon these words from Jack Kornfield - from 'Letting Go into Our Freedom' chapter, in his book, 'Soul Food' -
In traveling this path of inner transformation, we are encouraged to let go of everything, to relinquish every form of clinging. We are encouraged to let go of preoccupations with the past, investment in the future, and clinging in the present. We are encouraged to renounce our images, expectations, fears, and guilt. We are taught that holding is the path to limitation, letting go the direct path to awakening. This letting go is what allows us to be fully present here rather than occupied with what was or what we hope for.

It may feel like a severe and formidable teaching. We may wonder if there will be anything of meaning left to us after this letting go. We may fear that we will be left passionless, empty, and directionless when we have let go of everything that used to define us. We have learned to equate being without with deprivation and being alive with loneliness. If this total letting go is the price of freedom, we may doubt if we are prepared or even able to pay it. Yet our openness repays us at every step.

In spiritual life there is no room for compromise. Awakening is non negotiable; we cannot bargain to hold on to things that please us while relinquishing things that do not matter to us. A lukewarm yearning for awakening is not enough to sustain us through the difficulties involved in letting go. It is important to understand that anything that can be lost was never truly ours, anything that we deeply cling to only imprisons us.
Yes, I have been trying to bargain with the Buddha. It ain't going to work. Anger won't let me.

I Want, I Want, I Want, . . .

Knots in stomach, tight throat, clenched jaws. Whole attentions is drawn to digestive system, while breath goes about its business. Soft, calm inhales, and exhales, moving up and down, through belly, past resistance of stomach, and oesophagus, and throat. Making room for reality of tightening, and holding on. I want. I want. I want . . . something. Not sure what, except 'it' is not part of present moment. Frustration. 'I want' becomes bigger and bigger with each breath. And so does dissatisfaction. Surge of activity in kitchen and unexpected noises threaten to push me over the edge. I want quiet. Not knives chopping stuff. Not microwave beeping. Not toaster ringing. Not spoon hitting bowl. Reality hits, along with foolishness of resisting. Stomach softens, throat relaxes. Kitchen quiet again. Front doors slams. Now, only ticking of clock, and distant hammering. And breath. Want still there, but more subdued.

Yesterday, during our neighborhood Dharma group meeting, Penny shared her experience from recent retreat, when she, for a moment, felt the bliss of being perfectly content with now, unburdened with weight of habitual wanting. So, there is hope . . . Of course, there is also the danger of wanting a want-free moment, turning into yet another want! :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Keeping It Simple, with Ajahn Anandabodhi

Still giddy, from morning spent with Ajahn Anandabodhi, at IMC. So much joy, I caught from the nun! I remember same exaltation after listening to another nun, Beth Goldring, a few months ago. This is proof enough for me, of the power of intense mindfulness practice . . . I am also left wondering what is it in particular, about women Dharma teachers that resonates so much with me?

Anjhas Metta and Anandabodhi, during visit at IMC

Ajahn Anandabodhi made one point in particular during her talk, that spoke directly to how I have been feeling lately:
The main thing is to be fully present in the moment. What is stopping me from opening to the moment? Possible obstacles, opportunities to practice:
  1. fear of what might happen in the future, in which case, one can just make room for fear and observe it
  2. difficulty taking in all beauty of moment, and possibility of opening to it
  3. challenging times, that can be experienced as opportunities to open the heart
In all, nothing to fear, every moment is good, and opportunity to learn and grow. Buddha points us back to life in this moment as it is.
It is so easy to get lost in the myriad of teachings, when indeed the task at hand is really simple. To be fully open to the moment. That's all.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Is Why Buddha Was Not a Woman

It's 'that time of the month'. This morning sitting was all about being with body, and accepting brain's temporary dullness.

Feeling every cell, each vibrating at seemingly different frequencies, and pushing against each other, from all the extra turgidity. Tendons stretching in odd places. Blood pooling down at the place where it all started. Feeling all of it, and at same time craving sharp mind, quiet body. Random thought, this is why Buddha was not a woman. Just a thought, judging. Flash of awareness: to be with what is, that is the work to be done. Not easy, given lowered state of concentration, and fragmentation. Whole body is buzzing with hypersensitivity. Thought, 'handle with care', and smile. Really, better go back to breath, or at least try. Breathing through every part of the body that's screaming for attention. Not liking, being mostly body. Wishing for a return, soon to a more balanced state. Craving, noted.

Woman's experience of body is so profound, and different from men. Makes me wonder . . . how do feminine physical experiences shape women's spirituality? and fit within the context of otherwise largely male influenced spiritual structures?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Truth of Who Am I?

I knew something was up, last night, before I went to sleep. A dark cloud, with 'who am I?' question written all over, threatened to take over my earlier good mood. I woke up with a dream:
In Paris, wandering the streets in the Latin Quarter. Prad is with me. I am completely naked. He, at least, has a blanket over himself. We pass by some student housing, and get mocked by some of the young folks there. I want to hide and look for refuge inside a building. I know I can't stay, and need to come out eventually. I ask Prad to share his blanket with me, to hide my nakedness.
Yes, I have been feeling naked, a lot, lately. No handy persona to hide behind, any more:

Strangers ask, what do you do? I say, I am in transition. Been doing a lot of meditation. Taking time to discern what to do next. All true. Response seems to satisfy questioners. I am the one who's struggling. Wishing I could rush to an answer, quick. Yes, I am a social worker. Or, I am starting a nonprofit. Or, even more dramatic, I am becoming a nun . . .

Instead, I am to follow the path of the heart, that requires no less than complete authenticity. At present, the truth lies in not knowing what other role to play yet, beyond that of wife, spiritual seeker, and hospice volunteer. And in knowing fully naked self, moment to moment.

Working the Mind Muscle with Meditation

This morning, I really became aware of the mind muscle, as I sat, and watched the ebbs and flows of awareness, moment to moment.

House quiet, except for comforting sound of space heater. Body sunk into chair, fading into almost nonexistence. Only movement of breath, belly rising, and falling. Small, shallow breaths. Noticing each one, even in the midst of passing thoughts. Image of dream, still fresh. Not now, I will attend later. Breathing, I say the word, with each breath. Still body, willful awareness, and loving heart, all working together to help birth mindful self, one breath at a time. Hard work. I can feel the strain. Not unlike feeling of body being pushed to its limits, during master's swim with coach Tim. Remembering Gil's talk, about each minded breath, being a tremendous gift. Tim, Gil, both helping. Nothing to worry about, just follow breath, and whatever else arises. Attention being pulled inward, away from outside body. Tension in neck, shoulders. Feeling as if flesh's left behind. Temptation to take a break. No. To keep working with breath, like midwife. Body sensations fading into background, again. Only breath. Oh! so soft. Getting into a rhythm. Bell rings. Not rushing. Winding down workout, eyes opening, body motioning, slowly. Mind tired, sharpened.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Coming Together

Inspired by my current reading of Joseph Goldstein's "The Experience of Insight", I decided to give his "Concentration Game" a try. It goes like this:
For every breath that you take count one. the next breath, two; up to ten. Not missing a breath. For each out breath, or falling of the abdomen, count one number. If you miss the count because you forget what number you're on-back to one. If you miss a count because your mind wanders and goes off the breath-back to one. Ignore everything else.
As I sat, dutifully counting each breath, mindful mind stepped in also. Keeping track of fleeting thoughts. Thinking. Breath . . . . Thinking . . . Ah! body protesting. Pain in the neck, the shoulders. Throat needing to clear, then forgetting, with breath. Thought, this counting breath is easy. Surprised. Breath, counting. Thought, is that all? Unpleasant feeling. Not sure at first, what's being stirred. Breath, breath, breath . . . Thought, what is the point? Ah, ah! doubt. Knowing mind makes room for courage to keep on sitting, and trust. Counting breath. Simple. Until bell rings.

A delicious convergence of practice, and knowledge of, and faith in Dharma teachings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Do Not Cling, Even to Sitting

What is slight discontent growing inside, I wondered? Something about being displaced, away from familiar home environment. Missing my office, little Buddha smiling next to stick of incense, door that can close and protect the sanctity of daily sitting. The weekly visits to IMC sangha, and the teachers' talks. My interviews with Gil. There are also the temptations right here, in Hawaii, where life's lazy and slow. I find my usual determination to sit, waning, as I wake every morning, to the sounds of tropical birds, and the sight of the distant ocean. My senses have taken over, and I feel at a loss. This morning, I tweeted to my twangha*:
"finding it a bit more challenging to practice while on vacation #meditation"
Quickly, @myMeditation and @Dhammagirl fired back in unison:
"myMeditation @MindDeep the vacation is the meditation. enjoy"

"dhammagirl RT @MindDeep: finding it a bit more challenging to practice while on vacation #meditation Let your vacation BE your practice...DG"
and helped me realize the true nature of my malaise. In one word, clinging.

* twangha = cyber Buddhist community on Twitter

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sleepy and Awake

Sitting, by lanai, eyes closed, I feel breeze's soft caress on my face. I could have sat this morning, but lazy mind thought otherwise. Now is after lunch, and sleepiness threatens to take over. Sleepy, sleepy . . . I keep repeating, in between faint breaths. Awareness does not have usual sharp quality. Craving being more awake. Noticing craving. Thought, should I even bother? What's the point of sitting, and being sleepy? No, to be with what is, regardless. Sleepiness, and dullness, that's what I get today. And breath. Thought of earlier readings, about forest monks being asked to sit through sleepiness. Thought gives me courage to continue sitting, and clarity. Dullness, and clarity, co-existing. Breath. Sleepy. Thought of dried mangoes. Wondering when Whole Foods will call, so I can go pick up newly arrived batch. Craving. I am stomach. Breath. Sleepy . . . Bell rings.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Beyond Words, the Power of Imagination

Right beneath the surface of Hawaii heaven, I found the hell of burning stomach, tight throat, clenched jaws, tension in the head, and protesting shoulders. A very unhappy body . . . and immediate aversion. Not wanting to sit, and feel the suffering. Thoughts coming to the rescue, in mass, to take me out. Awareness not fooled. There is no way out, but to stay, and breathe, and feel every bit of discomfort. Noting craving for more peaceful state. Constricted state makes it hard for breath to make its way through. Still, I try to work with each inhale, each exhale. This is all I've got. That, and trust in the process. Image of huge light grey boulder being pushed off a cliff, into abyss. I feel temptation to hasten the rock's fall. A last minute call, urges me to hold back. Might there be something of value, inside the giant stone? I notice a black hole opening into the stone. Bell rings.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sitting at Kailua Beach

Eyes closed,
breath's no match
for soft wind,
that insists
on tickling body,
head to toes.

Waves crashing,
against both ears,
almost drowning
"Mommy" shouts
from excited children.

Love's hand
resting on knee,
joins soft touch
from casual elbow,
to fill heart
with sweetness.

from pine needles,
with salty air,
to tease
ready nostrils.

solicit watchful mind,
all at once.
Startled self

10 Tips for Emotional Self-Care

Over the years, I have become pretty good at taking care of myself. Here are ten tips, that I would like to share:
  1. Take care of your body. Healthy body is good for happy heart, and healthy mind. That means, exercise every day, eat healthy, get enough sleep, and refrain from intoxicants.
  2. Carve out time for yourself. No matter how busy, how needed, remember that an empty cup cannot fill other cups. That means putting yourself first, some time, every day.
  3. Cultivate good friendships. A few grood friends can make all the difference in how you experience the inevitable ups and downs of life.
  4. Practice meditation. Such a simple, and powerful way to take care of your mental health. You can start with just few minutes a day, following set of basic instructions.
  5. Befriend your thoughts. Cultivate good thoughts, and use bad ones as thread of self-inquiry into old constructs that constrict you, and need to be disassembled, skillfully.
  6. Pay attention to your dreams. Those free pearls of wisdom, delivered to you, every morning, can shed light on your inner landscape, and expand limited ego perspective.
  7. Enlist help from a guide. Spiritual teacher, psychotherapist, life coach, . . . find someone in whom you can trust, and who can help you grow, and be happy.
  8. Live each day as if it was your last. Nothing like contemplating the very real possibility of death, to gain accurate perspective on how to live.
  9. Don't take life too seriously. Cut yourself, and others some slack. Make room for your 'badness'. Relax, and laugh. Perfection is a serious sin :)
  10. Cultivate gratitude. Notice all that is given to you, even the small things, and say thanks.
  11. Engage your creativity. You need not be an artist to be creative and play. Cooking, collages, painting, dancing, quilting, woodworking, programming, gardening . . . there are so many ways! (bonus tip :))
Any other self-care tips, anyone?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Taking the Time to Discern

On my way to Honolulu, sitting in the plane, I start thinking about the powerful photographs of hospice patients, we were shown yesterday. Image of myself caring for one of them. Quickly followed by thought of me as good person, doing good deeds. Awareness gets called upon, to examine what may be questionable intention. Up close, I can see desire to be good, to be perceived as a good person, is all about my need to be loved, and respected. Yet another craving, to be rendered harmless, through the power of attention.

I wonder, what other intentions lurk, behind my wish to do hospice work? First, is the desire to serve, and to carry out my Buddhist practice into the world. Being mindful is wonderful, but what good is it, if it does not translate into action? Second, is the conviction that serving the dying, can be a great gift to me. I can't think of a better way to be reminded, in no uncertain terms, of impermanence. Third, is my desire to be challenged, and not shy away from difficulties. Only, then, can I live out my passionate self.

Discernment. I was first introduced to the task, by Sister Irene Dugan, a wise old nun from the Cenacle order. To be clear about one's intentions can save one so much trouble. I know so, from the many occasions when I rushed to action, without the benefit of prior discernment. This time, I feel clear, and hence more free to pursue the good work I plan to do.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Buddha's Last Words

Tonight, as I regroup in the quietness of my home, following two intensive days at Zen Hospice, I reflect on The Buddha's Last Words - Parinirvana Sutra,
O bhikshus! Do not grieve!
Even if I were to live in the
world for as long as kalpa,
our coming together would
have to end.

You should know that all
things in the world are
impermanent; coming
together inevitably means
parting. Do not be troubled,
for this is the nature of life.
Diligently practicing right
effort, you must seek
liberation immediately.

Within the light of wisdom,
destroy the darkness of
ignorance. Nothing is secure.
Everything in life is

Always wholeheartedly seek
the way of liberation. All
things in the world, whether
moving or non-moving, are
characterized by
disappearance and instability.

Stop now! Do not speak!
Time is passing. I am about
to cross over. This is my final
So simple. So powerful. And a plea to live, and treasure every moment, as if it was the last. Taped on wall right above my desk, so I don't forget.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Closing the Fear Chapter With my Father

Today, was my first day attending the 'Providing End-of-Life Care' workshop, at Zen Hospice. The focus was on our personal experience of death and grief. Lots of powerful exercises to help us access our subterranean emotions. As I remembered my father out loud in the group, I became once more aware, of grief as a river that never stops flowing. It does not take much for the raw feelings to come back, in this case a mixed bag of love, and sadness, and compassion.

Calling upon my father's memory also helped me patch some of the holes in my story, particularly around fear, and anger, and my relationship to conflict. These are some of the words that I shared, and that made me realize why it is sometimes good to revisit old wounds: I recognize the limits of our love, of your love, of my love. And I understand. I carry you in my heart, every day, whether I want it or not. The bad and the good. My father was angry a lot of the times, and I was raised in a permanent fear of his next outburst. Still am. Only this time, it is the fear of conflict with other people in my life.

As I read the words, I felt something shift inside. The closing of the fear chapter with my father. At least for now.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh! To Be Fierce and Afraid . . .

Fear visited again this morning. A big presence, that could not be ignored, and that kept sending butterflies into my stomach. In French, fear is 'la peur', a feminine emotion. La peur does feel like a sister to me, a long time companion that is very much a part of my story. My relationship to it has not always been smooth. I even landed in the ER once, after a panic attack. I was sure I was dying, of a faulty heart. Let's face it, I am not particularly crazy about la peur, and wishes I could rid myself from her. The Buddha promises a fear-free life, out of samsara. I want that. An existence, that does not get rippled by all the dangers, real and imagined, big and small, that are a part of the human condition.

Grateful for quiet house, I settled in my seat, ready for a face to face encounter with the fear. Tear, one single tear rolling down from corner of right eye, surprised me. And so did, soft, almost sad, heart. Belly breath was right there, easy to follow. Soon, I fell into its rhythm, sinking, deeper and deeper, into a place where I could hear the outside noises, still, but that was it. No irritation, no enchantment, just neutral hearing of clock ticking, and car driving by, and the crows. Liking the calm of just breath, noticing the uniqueness of each inhale, each exhale, and once in a while, deep sigh. After quite a while, thought, humm . . . fear is not there, anymore. Then, almost at once, a few butterflies in stomach. Breath, to go back to the breath, and massage away the butterflies. Breath, moving through, up and down, through now thick cloud of flying creatures. Relaxing into the breath, focusing. Breath, and fear.

I pulled out this passage from Gil Fronsdal, on fear:
By observing the thoughts or bodily sensations that might be present, we step outside of the domain of the fear, and our identification with it lessens. One of the primary ways to investigate fear is to feel it in the body. There might be sensations of butterflies, tightening or clenching in the stomach. There might be a sense of painful vulnerability. If the fear is quite strong, it can be difficult to be with the sensations directly. In that case, breathe with and through the discomfort, as though the breath were a massage. Breathing with the sensations can allow us to move through the fear without being caught by it. If we have enough stability in our meditation, focusing directly on the bodily sensations associated with the fear can be very helpful. Anchoring the attention on the strongest sensations that manifest the fear helps us to disengage from the ideas and stories which activate fear. Most of the time during meditation, these stories are irrelevant to what is happening in the present moment. Holding the bodily sensations of fear in awareness helps to make room for the experience, which allows the bodily sensations to move through us. Much of the tension, tightness and constriction will begin to unravel as they are held with gentle awareness. The fear that many people in our culture experience often has little to do with imminent danger. Instead it frequently results from an idea, an imagination of what will happen in the future. This imagination fuels the fear, worry or anxiety. We can use mindfulness practice to start learning to pay attention to the patterns of thought that relate to our fears, to see some of the common themes about what we are afraid of, and also to begin to see what triggers the fear. When we start to recognize the patterns around our fear and to see what triggers it, then we can start to ask ourselves if these suppositions are actually true. In my practice, seeing that my projections and fears about a situation were often far different from the actual outcome helped me to overcome some of my fears. For example, once I spent two days worrying about a meeting, and then the meeting was cancelled. As this sort of painful experience happened not once, but over and over again, I slowly began to realize what a waste of time worry is! As I learned that my imaginings of the future were usually not how things turned out, my belief in the accuracy of my imaginings decreased. Certain kinds of wisdom arise only through seeing something happen repeatedly. Often we have to become very familiar with something in order to be free of it. I found this to be the case with worry. Another way to practice with fear is to look at the beliefs that support it. Even if we know what we are afraid of, we often don’t clearly see the beliefs that contribute to the fear. For example, you might know that you chronically worry about what people think about you, but not see the belief that you need to be and act a certain way in order to be accepted by others. Or perhaps you don’t see the belief that we are only validated through the eyes of others. The act of looking for these beliefs and then questioning them can begin to take some of their power away. The Buddha also taught loving-kindness practice as an antidote to fear. If you have difficulty being mindfully present with fear, you might switch to loving-kindness meditation for a while as a way of finding some spaciousness and calm. Then go back and investigate the fear. In meditation and in mindfulness practice, we are learning to replace fear with trust, not as an ideal or abstraction, but as a sense of self-confidence that arises from coming to know fear well. Many people have a fear of fear, a tremendous aversion to it, and don’t allow themselves to enter into it fully. If we simply allow ourselves to fully experience our fear, eventually we learn that we can do so without being overwhelmed by it. Trust develops, not from willing ourselves to trust, but from discovering for ourselves that we can be present for our experience and not over- whelmed by it. Many of us have been convinced – by our society, by our own experiences in life, and by our own logic, that we cannot trust our own natural state of being. We turn away from ourselves and our experiences. In mindfulness practice we are learning not to destroy or control our feelings, but to discover them and be present with them. We begin to see how they work when we enter fully into them and give them room. We begin to see how we create our emotional lives and reactions. In this process, we learn to trust awareness and direct presence more and more deeply. As we explore the layers of our fear, our trust expands into wider and wider circles of who we are. The process of awakening can be understood as ever-widening circles of trust. Awakening occurs when trust becomes all pervasive. We can learn to trust awareness, to trust being alive, without props, crutches, views or opinions. In the Buddhist tradition, such people are known as dispellers of fear. They give the gift of fearlessness. Fearlessness is not necessarily the absence of fear. It is a positive quality that can exist side by side with fear, overcoming the limitations arising out of fear. Such fearlessness can be a profound gift to the people around us. In developing the capacity to be fearless, we do it not only for ourselves, but for others as well.
To not fear, or despise, or ignore the fear. But instead, to make it feel welcome, along with other helpful qualities of trust, insight, fearlessness, mindfulness, loving-kindness, and patience. I particularly appreciate the tension of fearlessness, co-existing with fear.

Be fierce! - Christian Siriano (Project Runway fashion prodigy)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cling to Nothing

Calm mind. No thoughts, or hardly any. Body fading. Only breath, slow. And the feel of heart pulsing, all along. And the sound of clock, ticking, gently. Sinking, deeper and deeper, into concentrated state. It's bliss in there. Losing track of time. Jarring sound of front door, slammed, interrupts. Frustration takes over breath. Wise mind steps in. I was clinging to happy feeling, and quietness. Now, I am suffering the effect. Another lesson in impermanence, and the foolishness of clinging mind.

"Cling to nothing" - Achaan Jummien

Monday, November 2, 2009

Meeting the Fear

Fear. I could not ignore the feeling. Fear, insistent on staying. Breath, remarkably unhindered by the fear. Air moving freely, in and out. Fear and freedom of breath, co-existing, as I sat still. Some inkling of what fear is about. Lots of changes lying ahead, with various probability factors, all the way up to 99%, down to 1%. Possibility of unwanted changes is playing tricks on my mind. Insight. I am clinging to comfortable present, hence fear. Clinging, clinging, clinging. I repeat the word, with each breath. Fear receding, a bit. Thought, I am trying to manipulate the fear, make it go away. Aversion to fear, and now. Clinging to wish of a fear-free present moment. No, to make room for the reality of the fear. Feel it completely, with each breath, and in between each breath. Fear in solar plexus, in the throat, moving down all the way down each arm, to tips of fingers. Deep breath, sigh. One with fear, and freedom of breath. Thoughts about impermanence. From intellectual understanding, to acceptance, there is some way to go. Fear as part of the journey. Need to be patient, not crave promised happiness. Fear, and breath, for now.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

'Listening' Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness is not just a lonely practice. It can also take place in the act of active relating to another person. Today, as I went for a long walk with Prad and the dog, I thought I would use the time to see how much I could be present, with him. Listening, actively listening to his words, and the feelings behind his words.

It started off well, as I let him tell his story, and I responded, elaborating with some twist. Soon, however, judging mind interrupted and offered some discouraging thoughts, "I have heard this story before", "This is not very interesting", "I don't want to partake in idle speech" . . . excuses for listening heart to take a vacation. No, I would not indulge. Instead, continue to listen, and respond, out of loving, selfless place. Listen. Listen. Listening is hard. I noticed the I inside getting agitated, more and more, asking 'how about me?' Disappointed with myself, for being so I-centered, still. Oh! pride . . . and the unnecessary burden of judgement, this time towards self. At least, I was aware. I could talk to the I, and appease it, while I continued to go about my business. Listening, responding, being with Other.

Humbling practice in concentration, and mindfulness, and love. To be continued . . .

Spiritual Friendships on Twitter

Gil's talk today was about friendship. I paraphrase: "Good spiritual friendship is most important foundation for Buddhist practice". Gil quoted from the Buddha, the five conditions for a successful practice:
  1. to have good spiritual friends
  2. to be virtuous
  3. to be able to have Dharma discussions easily
  4. to be able to monitor one's states of mind
  5. to have deep appreciation of impermanence
Until Gil's talk, I never gave much thought to spiritual friendship, and I certainly did not expect it to be at the top of the Buddha's list . . .

Next, Gil went through the Buddha's description of qualities to look for in a spiritual friend:
  1. gives what is difficult to give
  2. does what is difficult to do for other
  3. can endure difficulties
  4. reveals personal secrets
  5. does not despise other because of loss or reversal of fortune
The Buddha considers two types of spiritual friendships: with peers, and with friends who are further along the path. Yet another list from the Buddha, this time aimed at lay people, categorizes loyal spiritual friends as follows:
  1. is a helper
  2. is same in happy and unhappy times
  3. points out what is good for you
  4. is sympathetic
Gil shared his own list of qualities to look for in a friend:
  1. acceptance
  2. warmth
  3. interest and care
  4. listens
As I listened to Gil's talk, I could not help but think of Twitter, and the spiritual friendships I have formed there, and how many of the exchanges I have had with my Twitter spiritual friends, meet most, if not all of the criteria from the Buddha and Gil's lists. I have come to rely on these tweets back and forth, with the folks in my 'twangha' Twitter list, as a source of steady support for my practice. Sure, the physical presence is missing, but that's not necessarily bad. The lack of physicality and historical context, helps keep our friendships focused on task at hand, that is, to stay on the path.

I am just wondering, for those of you with a Buddhist practice, who are also on Twitter, how has your experience been? Have you found Twitter beneficial to your practice? Have you made spiritual friends, of the kind described by the Buddha?

PS - 'twangha' = sangha, or spiritual Buddhist community on Twitter