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.