Monday, December 31, 2012

Loving Kindness For the New Year

After the retreat with Leigh, I came back in a state of love. That was four months ago, and daily loving kindness practice for two weeks straight had done its work of opening the heart. I came back determined to make loving kindness a part of my daily practice. I kept my promise for a while, and then time, or rather lack of it, and other more mundane preoccupations had the upper hand. The urge to cultivate love in the heart vanished, just like that . . . I continued to sit diligently every day, but only with breath as an object. Not surprisingly, the heart resorted back to its old ways of door closing at the slightest provocation. It does not feel good. 

At the eve of this new year, I wish to be in love again. I want to experience the state of unconditioned love so beautifully articulated by Ayya Khema in her talk about 'Metta'. A love that does not depend on others' love, a love that does not expect to be loved in return, a love that does not discriminate, a love that does not set conditions upon its expression, a love that flows freely out of the heart. 

The good news is that kind of love is not some unattainable goal. I found out during the retreat with Leigh, that love is a simple practice, accessible to anyone willing. To kickstart the process again, I shall start my sitting practice this morning with 15 minutes of guided loving kindness with Ayya Khema. She has many to pick from. My favorite one is the Garden in Your Heart

Join me if you wish, and give yourself and others the gift of love. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

No Way of Escaping

One, two, three, four, and a few more times this past week, I was faced with unpleasantness. It started with a lost piece of luggage, and from there manifested in various ways, some minor, some  not so.  Each time, I heeded Ruth's teaching on vedana:

If you are not aware of the unpleasantness it will snowball and leave the door open for more unpleasantness. If you are aware of the pleasantness, it will also snowball, but in the direction of more pleasantness. Two big reasons to be aware of vedana at all times . . .

I also remembered Rumi:

Don't turn your head. Keep looking
at the bandaged place.

That is where the light enters you.

I made it a point to not turn my head, and to keep looking at the bandaged place. And at the same time, I did not go as far as welcoming the unpleasantness with a laugh:

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Simply acknowledging the unpleasantness, and leaving it alone. Not turning away, and not embracing either.

Right now, there is unpleasantness, that's all. That is how life is, a constant roller coaster of pleasantness, unpleasantness, and more neutral states. We are all subjected to it, and our only freedom lies in not getting caught up in the angst from such a bumpy ride. 

Whether a suitcase at the mercy of Air France's very imperfect system, a constantly shifting relationship with  mother with Alzheimer's, a long held friendship threatened by cancer, precarious peace at home, a front door that won't open because of a key mistakenly left on the inside, the painful evidence of unreturned love from most dear one, the news of some nasty backstabbing at work . . . in each case, only one way but the recognition of the truth of the fourth remembrance:

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. 
There is no way to escape being separated from them.

Setting the bar low. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Lost Luggage, Gained Wisdom

A lost luggage, is all it took to show me the fragility of ordinary calmness.

At first, it was easy staying magnanimous. No suitcase showing up at Carrousel 30 at Charles de Gaulle airport was no reason to sweat it. I even joked with the baggage claim lady. My suitcase had not made it in the plane in San Francisco, but had been tracked by the Air France computer. It had been rerouted through Minneapolis, then Amsterdam, and was on its way to Paris. I was assured "It will be delivered later today or tomorrow morning at the latest. Just call this number to check."

Later that night, phone call to the Air France number was met with casual response. "It usually takes 24 hours." No problem, I told myself, it's only a suitcase, and I can wait an extra day. I washed my clothes in the sink, and was glad for the disposable toothbrush provided by Air France. 

The next morning, several phone calls, and the wait turned into 48 hours. My new hat and gloves, my two favorite pants, my precious pashmina shawl, I could not have, at least not until Air France got its act together. I made a quick run to H&M for an extra change of clothes. The suitcase was starting to take up a lot of place in my mind. I found myself getting restless and annoyed.

The day after, more phone calls, and still no luggage. From annoyed, I became frustrated and ranted at the Air France folks for not caring more. I had enough sense to realize the source. Attachment, attachment, attachment was the real cause of my upset. I could use this unpleasant occurrence to investigate the mind's trappings.  Wanting the comfort of being able to use my things as planned, and also mistakenly counting on the permanence of possessions. Both desires trampled by the reality of the lost suitcase.

By the third day it became clear, I better plan for the suitcase not showing up at all. I replaced my whole wardrobe. Some of the restlessness was still there, but not enough to spoil my time in Paris any longer. The mind was starting to relinquish its grasp on the idea of 'my suitcase'.

Six days later, the suitcase has not yet appeared. We are going back home tomorrow, and I have reconciled with the idea of my luggage lost maybe for good. Little time gets wasted thinking, agitating about the suitcase. A quick phone call to Air France this morning, that's all.

How much the mind adds to life's unavoidable unpleasantness!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Safety of Mindfulness

As I get ready to fly to France to go visit my mother, the word 'safety' keeps popping up in my mind. 

A note from my daughter on the kitchen table wishing me safe travels.

The horrific story of the Sandy Brooks shooting, and the shattered sense of safety it has re-awakened in our collective consciousness.

Safety as in loving kindness prayer:

May I be safe
May I be at peace
May I be at ease
etc . . . 

And last, and most importantly, the safety to be found in mindfulness practice.

Wherever I am, wherever I go, and regardless of external circumstances, dwelling in awareness is the ultimate refuge and protection from mind's troubled waters and from the unsatisfactoriness of an unpredictable world. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Body Can't Abide, Not Yet

I have been walking
on the edge of possibility.
To continue to grab,
as I have
Or to let go
of the painful grip?
The mind sees,
but the body can't abide,
or at least not yet.
Right now, it is just breath
and the evidence
of the power of mind's habits.
Nothing to do,
but watch with loving patience
and trust in mindfulness.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sticky Thoughts and Mindfulness Practice

Sitting, meditating on the breath, or the body, or another object, one gets a chance to become intimate with the mind. Sometimes, all is well, and there is peace, and moments of total ease with the present moment. More often, though, the mind is playing one of its favorite numbers, either wandering, or perseverating with troubling thoughts. The latter is the most difficult to deal with, and requires another medicine besides meditation.

Adapted from the root teaching on The Removal of Distracting Thoughts, are some clear instructions:

We are to reflect on the distracting thoughts. This is a different activity than meditation, and one that complements it. This reflection follows a five step process.

1) Substitution
When unskillful thoughts arise, one should, in order to get rid of them, reflect on a different object which is connected with skillful thoughts. For example, if one is overcome with thoughts of self-loathing, one can try to practice loving kindness, wishing oneself well. 

2) Reflection on cause and effect 
If the unskillful thoughts continue to arise, one should ponder on the disadvantages of unskillful thoughts. What effect do these thoughts have on me? How much misery is created as a result? How does it feel in the body, and in the mind? 

3) Distraction
If the unskillful thoughts continue to arise, one should endeavor to turn one's attention and reflection away from those thoughts. 

4) Investigation of the source
If unskillful thoughts continue to arise, one should reflect on the removal of the (thought) source of those unskillful thoughts. 

5) Forceful removal
If unskillful thoughts continue to arise, one should restrain, subdue and beat down the negative mind with the good mind. 

Closer to us, contemporary Vipassana teachers are dispensing similar teachings.

From U Tejaniya, in Awareness Alone is Not Enough, a teaching about difficult emotions that can also be applied to unskillful thoughts:

When trying to deal with an emotion you can ask yourself  four questions. 
1) First question: “When I am having this emotion, does it make my body and mind feel good or bad?” Does it feel pleasant or unpleasant? If you recognize the emotion every time it arises, and also recognize whether it feels pleasant or unpleasant in body and mind, the mind will start wondering whether it is worth having this emotion. Eventually your mind will realize that it does not have to live with this emotion. Once you know that something does not feel good, are you just going to keep indulging in it?
2) Second question: “What is the emotion about, what is it directed towards?” 
3) Third question: “Why am I having this emotion?” 
4) Fourth question: “Is having this emotion necessary or unnecessary?”

These questions support the practice because they create interest and encourage us to use our intelligence. The moment we get a real answer, when the mind really sees something, it lets go.

From Ayya Khema, in When the Iron Eagle Flies:

"What you could do at such time would be contemplation. Sit down where nobody will disturb you, and focus on the pain to find out its cause, why it should have arisen. Do not be satisfied with an answer such as "Because so-and-so said something"- that's only the superficial cause of it. That would have been the trigger, but there's no cause for mental pain unless there's something inside oneself that is reacting to that trigger. It is useful first to find the outer trigger, which is probably well known to you. It could be a sense of futility, anxiety about the future - any kind of trigger is possible."

"Then you need to find in yourself the reason for the reaction creating pain. The reason has to be "I don't want it the way it is." There can be no other."

But why don't we like it the way it is? Usually the answer is "Because my ego is not supported." The bottom line of the whole inquiry is always the "ego", but it's useless to say, "I know it is my ego" and then continue to have the pain. It is useful , however, to go through the whole process of the trigger, the personal reaction, the inquiry into the cause of the reaction and then the understanding that the reaction is our dukkha and not the trigger. I have a formula: "Don't blame the trigger." Never let the mind stay with the trigger; always investigate what and who is reacting. Unless we find the reaction to the trigger in ourselves, we are going to repeat the same performance with the same result over and over again, like a preprogrammed computer printout. Press the same buttons and the same printout appears, until we finally realize that it is nothing but a button being pressed, and that we don't have to have the same printout. We are in a position to be able to stop ourselves.

In the beginning that may be painful because we have to look at ourselves in a new way. We need no have this exaggerated idea of our own worth, nor do we need an exaggerated idea of our nonworth. We can learn just to accept the way things are. Sitting on the pillow at such a time is very good, but trying to meditate is often useless; contemplate instead. The subject of the contemplation is to be: "The cause of mental pain."

And also:

Some [feelings] are pleasant, some are unpleasant, some are neutral, but our reactions don't have to be preplanned, impulsive, instinctive. We can look at them with mindfulness and put the brakes on. Substitution is much easier than just dropping what is in the mind. Although dropping is the perfect way to get rid of clinging, it is more difficult because it is a letting-go aspect. In the beginning, substitution is a necessary response . . . When aversion, rejection, resistance, anger, jealousy, pride, greed, or craving arise within, we can take a moment to look at them mindfully. When we recognize their burdensome impact on us, we understand that we need not continue to let them exist. We can substitute compassion, or the idea that they are not important, or the understanding of impermanence, or corelessness. This is particularly true of anger, which makes life so very unpleasant for oneself and others. When we get angry with a person, we can ask ourselves first of all, "What am I getting angry at? Is it the hair, the nose, the eyes, or what? Am I getting angry at his words? If it is really unpleasant speech, it means the other person is unhappy. "Why should I get angry, then? Why can't I be compassionate?" If we can change our anger to compassion, we will feel good, the other person will feel good, and we will have taken a step forward on our spiritual path.

From Gil Fronsdal:

By sorting through the unwholesome and the wholesome, we can choose to cultivate the wholesome and let go of the unwholesome. If you feel an inclination to be generous, for example, you can choose to water the seed of generosity by following through on that inclination. You may be able to distinguish mean-spirited feelings and choose to let them go. With enough mindfulness and investigation, you can even choose which thoughts to pursue and which to drop. You may be able to recognize when you are thinking along unwholesome lines and choose to think about something more useful.

Since greed and aversion are deeply grounded, they do not yield easily; however, the work of overcoming them is not impossible if an effective strategy is employed. The path devised by the Buddha makes use of an indirect approach: it proceeds by tackling the thoughts to which these defilements give rise. Greed and aversion surface in the form of thoughts, and thus can be eroded by a process of "thought substitution," by replacing them with the thoughts opposed to them. The intention of renunciation provides the remedy to greed. Greed comes to manifestation in thoughts of desire — as sensual, acquisitive, and possessive thoughts. Thoughts of renunciation spring from the wholesome root of non-greed, which they activate whenever they are cultivated. Since contrary thoughts cannot coexist, when thoughts of renunciation are roused, they dislodge thoughts of desire, thus causing non-greed to replace greed. Similarly, the intentions of good will and harmlessness offer the antidote to aversion. Aversion comes to manifestation either in thoughts of ill will — as angry, hostile, or resentful thoughts; or in thoughts of harming — as the impulses to cruelty, aggression, and destruction. Thoughts of good will counter the former outflow of aversion, thoughts of harmlessness the latter outflow, in this way excising the unwholesome root of aversion itself.

Last, borrowing from the Vipassana tradition, and adapted for the Western psychology culture, are cognitive approaches to dysfunctional thoughts, that are now commonly used to treat depression. Cognitive therapy, and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) recognize the importance of becoming aware of negative thought patterns and approaching them in a way that loosens their grip, eventually leading to more skillful mind habits. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Slap In the Face

I am of the nature to grow old.
I cannot escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health.
I cannot escape having ill health.

I am of the nature to die.
There is no way of escaping death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are of the nature to change. There is no way 
to escape being separated from them.

I contemplate the first four of the five remembrances often. Yesterday went deeper . . . 

I spent most of Thanksgiving at the memory care community where I work part of the time. I had expected a joyful day.  I came out instead with heart filled with deep sadness. It helped that I had gotten slapped in the face, literally, by a still relatively young man, a resident with a case of early onset dementia, and lots of rage bottled up inside. Too much going on, too much noise, too many strangers visiting, a complicated family situation . . . he could not take it, and delivered me an unexpected blow, just after I had introduced myself to him. I did not flinch, and walked him to the table where a few relatives were to join him for a short lunch. He obviously needed space. I left him waiting alone. 

Right side of the head still burning, I went on and pretended nothing happened. The truth was, mind had been jarred, and questioned. The angry man had hit me hard with his suffering, and I had to face the truth of the four remembrances delivered right into my flesh, not just as thoughts to be pondered. Habitual, reactive mind revolted, and heart flinched at the very real possibility. Everywhere I turned, lonely souls reminded me, and even the ones with families visiting soon would be left also, back to living the end chapter of their lives in this place. I stopped being the one working there, and felt like almost one of 'them', with only years, and the randomness of fate separating us. 

Life, with its conventional narrative of past, present, and future, is rotten at its core. The story never ends well, and the only way out is through the dropping of the story itself. Each instant, a new moment, a new call to living.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Keeps Me Sitting

It's easy taking on mindfulness practice. It's another thing sitting day after day after day.

No one checking on you, no one encouraging, no immediate consequences one way or the other, there is only faith in the practice to sustain one's determination. 

The faith in question is not blind. Rather, it is faith informed by one's prior experiences with practice, combined with acquired wisdom based on the teachings. It's a bit like embarking on a road, and finding out that the map is proving accurate. From that realization, trust in the directions develops. The much desired end point and the higher road to attain it are worth all the effort. The alternative, the samsara route, is not one I want to stay on. There's got to be a better way to be in this life . . . The awareness of the pervasiveness of suffering is the other reason I sit every morning. The mind needs to be put to rest, and the only way is through proper seeing, substituting, and letting go, all best done during quiet, attentive sitting. 

What keeps you sitting, day after day after day? 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Appeasing the Mind

The ordinary mind can never get enough of thinking. Planning the future, rehashing past events, elaborating schemes to satisfy various versions of the constructed self, the mind runs amok with infinite thoughting possibilities . . . Now, whenever I sit to meditate, I have found an easy way to appease the mind. I tell it to just hold off for those few moments, and that it will be able to resume its fabrications afterwards. That may not seem like not much, but that small reassurance seems to do the trick!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Word For Word

Every time I sit down for practice, I remember these specific words from the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta:

Focused on the body in and of itself

- ardent, alert, and mindful - 

putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world [. . .]

Having gone to an empty building, [he] sits down [. . .], 

holding his body erect 

and setting mindfulness to the fore. 

Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out. 

"Breathing in long, he discerns, 'I am breathing in long'; or breathing out long, he discerns, 'I am breathing out long.' Or breathing in short, he discerns, 'I am breathing in short'; or breathing out short, he discerns, 'I am breathing out short.' 

He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.' 

He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.'

Each one of those points an essential instruction for sitting practice . . . No need to read long books, or listen to more teachings. One could spend a life time just practicing this. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Minding the Guilt

Guilt is an interesting emotion with many nuances worth exploring. 

Guilt came up recently in a caregiver support group I help facilitate. One woman felt guilty for not being there for her husband 100 percent of the time. I explained that we often set ourself up with unrealistic expectations of ourselves, 'should-s' that demand from us more than we can humanly give. And we end up with this yucky feeling in our stomach, a mixture of self-hate, confusion, and powerlessness. This is false guilt, a toxic emotion to be disposed of promptly as soon as we can see it for what it is.

Guilt can also be of the rightful kind. There are a few major decisions I have made in the past that have come back to haunt me, both in terms  of negative outer consequences, and also the pain from a tormented heart. There is no escaping such guilt. I have found it needs to be endured with great tenderness, and also the determination to learn from it. Rather than lingering in biting remorse, better yet is to mine the wisdom buried in one's earlier mistakes. Whenever guilt raises its ugly head, I meet it like this:

First, I feel the guilt completely, including the slew of other, all very unpleasant mind states attached, the sadness, the remorse, the regret, . . . I feel them all. Guilt is a blow to the ego. It crushes one's inflated view of one self, and as such, can be seen as a very good thing. Guilt opens one's heart.

Second, I move on to a state of self-compassion. I revisit what happened, and the circumstances that led to the original action. A state of limited consciousness and heart not being opened, for sure. I forgive myself. 

Third, I step out of myself, and I feel the pain of those I unwittingly hurt. I use that intimate knowledge to build up the necessary resolve to not repeat such hurtful acts. Part of that resolve is a renewed commitment to mindfulness and loving kindness practice, the two best safeguard I know against negative karma. 

Fourth, I take a forward thinking stance. The past is the past that cannot be undone. All I can change is how I think, feel, and act in this present moment. The opportunity to love is right now. Today is the first day of my remaining life.

How do you deal with guilt?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

6 Mindfulness Strategies For the Busy Person

It's been hard finding the time for formal practice. Work has not let up, and every day, same questions. What time to set the alarm? How much sleep do I really need? Does time spent meditating make up for loss in sleep? Do I meditate first thing, or wait until I come home, some time late? How long do I sit for? How about breaking into two smaller sittings? 

I finally have come up with a plan, and it's been working - sort of . . .

Here it is:

1. Set up my alarm to 6am every morning.
2. Always sit, no matter what. That part never changes day to day.
3. Depending on how early I need to leave, morning sitting practice may be 5, 10, 15, 30 minutes. I always set my timer.
   5 or 10 minute practice is simple awareness of breath 
   15 minute practice is loving kindness meditation
   30 minute or more practice is sitting with breath
4. In the case when morning practice is less that 30 minutes, I leave with the redoubled intention of using whichever ensuing activities as mindfulness practices: walking to my car, listening to Ayya Khema's talks while driving, walking from car to work, etc . . . I am also fortunate to incorporate mindfulness into my work, and get to have several 5 minute mindful check ins with the people I work with. 
5. I also try to make up at night with some loving kindness or simple sitting practice.
6. I use weekends to boost my practice with longer sittings, 45-60 minutes. 

How do you manage to squeeze in some mindfulness into your busy day?

Of course, the real solution lies elsewhere, in a rethinking of one's priorities. Not giving into the craving for more work, being content with less money, less accomplishments. Keeping it more simple . . .

Friday, October 12, 2012

Launching Mindfulness-Based Dementia Care at UCSF

'Mindfulness' and 'dementia', two words to do with mind:

dementia, from Latin word demens, which means 'without mind'

Mindfulness and dementia are not just connected in words. Mindfulness also happens to be a key element of successful dementia care, working on two fronts: 1) to reduce caregiver's stress, 2) to help the caregiver be present for the person in their care. Facts gathered by the Alzheimer's Association show the extraordinary stress suffered by most family caregivers:

• 61 percent of dementia caregivers suffer from high emotional stress.
• 33 percent report symptoms of depression.
• 43 percent experience high physical stress.
• 75 percent are concerned about maintaining their health.
• Dementia caregivers are more likely to have adverse physiological changes such as high levels of stress hormones, reduced immune function, increased hypertension, coronary heart disease.
• In the last year of their loved one's life, 59 percent feel they are on duty 24 hours a day.

This goes on for an average of 4 to 8 years post-diagnosis. It is no wonder 72 percent of caregivers express relief after their loved ones die. For professional caregivers and health care providers, the stress is also intense and can lead to burnout. 

Until recently, most mindfulness-based approach to dementia care referred to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for dementia caregivers. Having observed numerous times the unique challenges as well as mindfulness practice opportunities in dementia care, I realized the need for a mindfulness-based program specially tailored to dementia caregiving. Hence began the Presence Care Project, a non-profit initiative aimed at promoting a new form of dementia care training. In the Presence Care approach,  mindfulness, informed by experiential understanding of the person with dementia, becomes the foundation upon which a caregiver can rest, moment-to-moment, day after day, during the long journey of dementia. UCSF OSHER Center for Integrative Medicine has now taken on this new approach and recently launched its new Mindfulness-Based Dementia Care (MBDC) program.

MBDC builds upon the now very well proven model of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR),  and combines solo mindfulness practices, interactive mindful care practices, lectures, and group sharing. Throughout, aspects of mindfulness practice and dementia care are interwoven. The emphasis is on practice during and between classes. The end goal is for participants to experience a radical shift in attitude from mostly doing and reacting, to being skillfully present for themselves and the person in their care. MBDC is appropriate for the whole range of persons involved in dementia care: family and friend caregivers, professional caregivers, elder care professionals, nurses, doctors, and other health care providers. 

MBDC rests on this central premise: mindfulness, that which helps dementia caregivers reduce their stress, is also what can help them provide the best care for the person with dementia. 

The first series of 8-week classes is starting next week and will be taught by myself and Dr. Kevin Barrows, physician and director of mindfulness programs at the OSHER Center. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Man At the Grocery Store

During Ayya Khema's Flower Garden metta meditation, his face came up. An almost stranger. A clerk at the neighborhood grocery store. The nun asked that I pick up a beautiful bouquet of flowers from the garden in my heart, and that I hand it to the man. 

I felt the hesitation, the mind's reluctance, the heart closing its gate. The mind, my mind said, this man, you barely know him. He does not fit the criteria for so much love. A smile, a kind word, that you can give, just as you do whenever he rings you up and the two of you do some small talk. But boundless love, as much as you would give to your daughter, my mind had a problem with that. 

The mind's got ideas about what's needed to be worthy of my love. Never mind that we are the first one to suffer. Why not open the gates? Let it flow . . . 

Earlier today, I was listening to a talk from Ayya Khema, and she talked about how pretty much all of us are not capable of unconditional love. We've got limits, and the trick is in recognizing when we don't love, because then, we can change and correct our stinginess. We are in trouble if we delude ourselves into thinking that we love everybody. 

The man at the grocery store showed me the work I have to do still in the area of love. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Leigh Brasington on the Body Scan

I just reviewed my notes from Leigh's talk during the retreat about the body scan:
We start at the top of the head. Our job is to just notice the sensations that arise in various parts of the body as they are being scanned. Those include body sensations, and sometimes also emotional sensations that may be buried in the body. In some parts, we may not notice anything. We are mostly staying on the surface, and we go top down, and right left. When switching from one arm to the other, we put the attention out into the room and then back onto the other arm. Same with the legs. This order can be changed to fit one's preference. The sweeping just has to be systematic and cover the whole body.
It is not unusual to get nauseated the first time one does the body scan. It is actually a good sign that toxicity is being released from the body. It may happen once again at the most. 
35 to 45 minutes is optimal.
The body scan is a good practice when feeling agitated or sleepy, or when one is feeling least inclined to practice. Also, if one doesn't like the body scan, it is usually because of a lack of being in touch with the body, and of not picking up sensations.
Body scan, loving kindness, two great practices when the mind is dull, or not settled enough for 'just sitting' . . . One really has no excuses for not doing formal practice. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Don't Blame the Trigger

A wave of unpleasantness brought on by another person gave me much to work with this morning. It was hard not reacting to what at first appeared to be a very unjust eruption. The mind got going, and thoughts of all kind streamed in. Angry thoughts, hateful thoughts, annoyed thoughts, sad thoughts, I watched them all, and the pain from heart closing also. 

Half way through, I remembered Ayya Khema's admonition:

'No matter what, don't blame the trigger'

The angry one that I want to push away is just that. A trigger pointing to unresolved issues of my own. Sitting still, contemplating the whole mess, I started to see with great clarity the attachments, the hindrances, the ignorance. And I understood a little bit more what love means. Letting the other have his anger, not jumping to quick judgments, not being attached to the idea of peace, and keeping the heart door open, regardless.

Just a wave . . . 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Beginning and the End of Meditation

How one starts and ends each sitting are almost as important as the meditation itself.

From Leigh Brasington, instructions we practiced during the retreat:

5 things to do at the beginning:

  1. Gratitude to teachers, life circumstances . . . 
  2. Motivation - Why am I doing this?
  3. Determination - to use time wisely
  4. Metta, first for one self
  5. Breathing - in and out

5 things to do at the end:
  1. Recapitulation - review what contributed to quality of sitting
  2. Impermanence - reflect 
  3. Insight - what did I learn that is personal and also impersonal
  4. Dedication of merit
  5. Remember to be mindful and continue momentum throughout the day
I have developed my own, simplified version. Starting always with gratitude for the practice, then determining to set aside ordinary habits of mind, then metta, and then breathing. Then ending with reviewing highlights of the sitting, and determining to stay mindful. 

How about you?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Relative Time, Absolute Change

From the retreat I brought back these notes, from Leigh's lecture on 'time':

We look at impermanence, realizing that everything that arises passes until it eventually ceases to exist. We usually understand this on an intellectual level, but we need to 'see' it. It is so pervasive that we miss it. 
What is now?
What is the past? Just memories.
What is the future? Just fantasies.
The truth is, it's always now, and it's always changing. Time is just our attempt to measure the underline phenomenon of change. Time is an illusion, and a difficult one to navigate. We are always here, now. Our world is ephemeral.
It's all a sandcastle, guys. Every bit of it!

Now, try this practice, as I have:

Try walking without thinking time, and instead just 'see' change. Try being really present for the now. 

Mind blowing, literally!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Techno Meditation at the Y

Spinning, I never cease to discover new ways of taking care of mind and body together. This time, rather than wishing away the loud music, I switched to making it the object of my sole attention. Being - or at least trying to be - one with the music, eyes closed, I got transported for a moment, to another place, another time. Bodh Gaya, and the roaring chant of monks by the Bodhi Tree. 

Techno, chanting, same thing almost . . . An object of attention too compelling to be ignored. Hearing  taking over and drowning all the other senses, thinking included. Purifying the mind, one beat at a time.

Until  irruption of strong vedana from soothing music at the end of the class. Wishing for those moments to last. Knowing better than to cling too hard. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Deepest Attachment

Last night, I had a dream that I could not remember how to get back to my apartment. The general location, the complex, I knew, but the exact building, the unit number, I could not figure out. No one could really help me. I started to panic. 

Every day, I work with persons whose memory is failing them. I see what happens when one's mind can no longer be relied upon. The need to depend on others for the simplest tasks. The shrinking of life's possibilities. The carefully constructed self, taken away. And most cruel of all, the vanishing of awareness itself. 

No wonder, I am so freaked out about the possibility of losing my mind . . . The deepest clinging, that which causes the greatest fear in myself, and many others, is the attachment to healthy mind. Of course, being aware of this is critical to being fully present for those I spend time with. Not tainting our moments together, with this most deep attachment. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The 5 Benefits of Loving Kindness

Ever since I came back from the retreat, I have continued to open the many gifts from sustained metta practice. Walking in the world with one's heart open is a wonderful thing. Here is a list of the benefits from loving kindness practice, according to the Mettanisamsa Sutta:

Metta is good for sleep
Metta makes one likable
Metta is good for one's health
Metta is good for concentration
Metta is good for insight

How come it can take years for the mind to surrender to the heart? 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Joy of Rejoicing

Ever since I came back from the retreat, I have been delighting in the practice of mudita, or sympathetic joy. This is not an easy practice, for the mind's got strange ideas that can get in the way . . .

Leigh's talk was very helpful. Here are my notes.
First, is the common misunderstanding that one should only rejoice for others. This is overlooking the teaching of the Buddha, that says one should extend mudita on to all 'as on to oneself'. Hence, we start rejoicing for our good fortune whenever present. We need not be shy. We may say, 'May my good fortune continue and increase.'
Next, we also rejoice for others' good fortune, with all our heart. And we say, 'May your good fortune continue and increase.' We do so, guarding from envy, and the more subtle, near enemies of mudita, such as rejoicing through identification. Leigh gave the example of a mother who gladly rejoices for her son's success in school, but is unable to feel the same kind of joy for her neighbor's child's success.
I find mudita is really a mindfulness practice. 'Seeing' the mind's inclination to rein in the joy for oneself, for others, and seeing the suffering attached, the sometimes barely noticeable contraction that keeps the joy from freely flowing. 

How often do you rejoice?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Being Sick

Being sick, as I have been for the last few days, forces upon oneself the reality of the body. A cold, is all it takes to drive home the wisdom of the second remembrance:

I am of the nature to have ill health.
I cannot escape having ill health.

Head cluttered with fever, chest shaken with a relentless cough, limbs burdened with soreness, there is no room left for extra-thoughts. The mind can only attend to the present moment, the unpleasantness of sick body. Of course, the temptation is great to want to jump to aversion, 'I hate this', and its cousin, craving for the return to a healthy state, 'I want to be well'.

Being sick, one gets to practice mindfulness of vedana, using the bridge from the second remembrance to get one step closer to equanimity and acceptance of the inherently displeasing nature of this life.

Being sick, is a dress rehearsal for what it must be like at the time of final parting:

I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death. 

Lots of one's fears about death are born out of times when the body is well enough to leave the mind free to make up stories about one's dying. Just a cold is enough to make one realize what happens when the body breaks down. The illness takes over, and the unpleasantness is such that one becomes disenchanted with life. Letting go starts feeling sweet.

Follow Your Breath, Not Your Heart?

Another useful information learned during the retreat with Leigh:

If while sitting, you find yourself ever tempted to follow your heart(beat), as I have been in the past, DON'T. It could be bad for your health and mess up your heart rhythm. DO stick to your breath, or any other object of attention. 

That made sense to me. I tried to find some more information on this topic, but nothing came up. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Keeping The Insight Fresh

From Leigh Brasington, a comment made during the retreat:
When insight arises, that seems too precious to be lost, write it down, or better yet, write about it. Also, continue to reflect upon it. And last, share it with noble friends.
This is why I blog and tweet about my practice. And why I am so grateful for the conversations that take place here, on Mind Deep.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Garden in My Heart

Reminding me of Ayya Khema's 'A Garden in Your Heart' meditation, Monet's painting of a poppy field:

Almost like the one I 'see',  every time I look inside my heart. Except 'mine is more golden yellow, and filled with not just poppies, but also bluets, and daisies . . . Flowers from my childhood. 

What does your inner garden look like? 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Couch, Where Does It Come From?

Amazing, how quickly a sense of ownership develops . . .

During the retreat, I became fond of the blue couch, way in the back by the fireplace. I became used to turning on the side lamp right after breakfast. A cup of tea right at hand, armed with pen and notebook, I savored those times of mini-retreat within the retreat.

And I started to notice the angst rising each time I readied to move toward the blue couch. I had reasons, I had been disappointed a few times before. Someone had gone ahead of me and planted themselves right in my spot, or close enough that it did not feel so private anymore.

'I' had become very attached to 'my' space . . .

How does 'mine' develop? Going back to Leigh's talk on dependent origination:

Starting with the senses, in this case touch, sight, hearing.
Then contact with the whole couch experience, the softness of the couch, the dim light, the quietness.
Bringing up pleasant vedana.
Leading to craving for more of the same.
Then clinging to the pleasurable sense object, the couch.
Giving rise to sense of ownership, becoming the owner of the couch.
Then manifesting into declaration of this is 'my' couch, and the birth of identity as couch owner, 'I' own this couch.
This in turn paving the way for the inevitable death of that identity, once other person comes along to dispel assumed reality of 'mine'.
Leading to dukkha, suffering from not getting what I want and not being able to sustain assumed identity of 'I', the owner of this spot, on the blue couch. 

Craving, not self, dukkha, it's all connected, and we can do something about it. The trick is to be mindful, and know what to see when it happens. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Leigh Brasington, on Vedana

Every teacher, a different perspective on vedana. Here is Leigh's, as shared during the retreat - my notes:
Vedana is best translated as hedonic tone for all our experiences, either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. It can also be described as initial categorization of sensory input. We only experience one type of vedana at a time. Sometimes it may seems as if both pleasantness and unpleasantness co-exist but that is an illusion due to the rapidly changing nature of vedana. As important as vedana is, the Buddha only gives us one practice for it, and that is to know the tone of the vedana we are experiencing. Vedana falls into two types:
1. Sensual vedana, from external sensory contact - the 5 senses.
2. Non sensual vedana, from mental sense - that is generated by mind.
We often miss the initial vedana from external sensory contact and go straight to perception, then thoughts and emotions (the mental proliferations) that are arising out of perception, and are in turn generating their own vedana, what is called vedana of the mind or downstream vedana. It all goes very quickly. 
It is important to practice with vedana, otherwise vedana will run us by the nose. Our culture is not helping, as it reinforces our natural inclination to pursue pleasure, avoid pain, and assume we will live forever. If we are not careful, we start craving pleasant vedana and the absence of unpleasant vedana. The trick is to not get caught into vedana. There is a gap between initial sensory vedana and craving, i.e. dukkha, and in that gap, mindfulness can intervene. Lots of the vedana we experience is downstream vedana. Our job is to intervene at the external sensory vedana level, rather than waiting for the downstream vedana. It goes like this:
1. External contact from object, sense organ, and sense consciousness coming together.
2. Mental categorization from initial sensory vedana into pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. 
3. Perception, i.e. identification of what kind of contact, giving it a name.
4. Thoughts and emotions, lead to mental vedana.
We have control over perception, thoughts and emotions, and downstream vedana.
Vedana, it's so important! Whenever unpleasantness makes itself felt, I have learned to see it for what it is. A transient state, some of which I have control over, and the rest not at all. Same with pleasantness. And in each case, the potential for more unpleasantness, either from rejecting (the unpleasantness), or clinging (to the pleasantness).

Other teachers' perspective on vedana:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Opening the Heart Door

Following up on yesterday's post, is a practice I developed during the retreat. I call it 'Opening the Heart Door' practice. It is not easy, but well worth the effort. It goes like this:

Whenever meeting of thinking of someone,
get in touch with your heart place
and visualize the door of your heart.
Is the door open, or closed?
How much love does it let out, or in?
If open, notice the sweetness of a fully open heart,
and rejoice.
If closed, even if just a little, notice the pain attached.
How does it manifest in the body?
What are some contributing thoughts?
Angry, blaming, wishful, hateful,
name them all, one by one.
Thoughts about you, thoughts about the other person,
thoughts about the situation.
And then, comes the hard part . . .
Getting in touch with all the love in your heart,
practice releasing those thoughts,
and visualize opening the door.
See what happens, without judgment.
If necessary, contemplate new thoughts,
wise thoughts to replace the old ones.
And remember, it is up to you
to open the door of your heart.

This practice is particularly useful when dealing with difficult people. We can look at them as our most formidable love teachers. If we can open the door of our heart to them, we've got it made, as far as love is concerned . . . 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Necessity of Gladness

I went into the retreat wanting to learn the first levels of concentration practice, the jhanas as taught by Leigh, and Ayya Khema before him. At some point, it became clear that to persevere in that exploration would not be beneficial. I learned the hard way that the release of piti energy without enough pleasantness attached, simply does not work. Three sleepless nights, and a state of being on 24/7 demanded that all means be taken to return to my normal self. I walked, and I spent time in nature. I took long warm showers. I refrained from sitting too long and from counting my breath. I shifted away from pure meditation, and contemplated instead. It took me five days before I was able to feel like myself again. This is why jhana initiation should only be undertaken within the container of a long retreat and under the guidance of a teacher.

I followed Leigh's advice to cultivate joy, a missing ingredient in my overly busy life. Specifically, I was to do some metta (loving kindness) practice. The heart needed to be ready first before the mind could proceed any further. Besides practicing formal metta meditation, I needed to spend time contemplating the nature of heart. For that, I turned to Ayya Khema's illuminating talk on 'Metta'. Here are the salient points from Ayya Khema's talk:
  1. See the difficult people as opportunity to practice unconditional love
  2. Realize the faults we see in others are also our own
  3. Love without expectations of anything back
  4. Practice mindfulness
  5. Don't blame the trigger
  6. Let go of views and opinions about other people
  7. Just love, don't discriminate and know the difference between the two
  8. Practice self-compassion
The seventh point blew my mind:
Now we deliberately start every lovingkindness meditation with ourselves. Many people find it difficult to love themselves -- sometimes because they know themselves too well. [laughter] Which means that they're judging. We don't have to judge ourselves, we can just love ourselves. Judging ourselves and loving ourselves do not have to be in the same breath. We can first love this manifestation of universal existence which we call "Me." And then, if we really want to make some changes, we can find out what needs to be changed, but we don't have to mix up those two, we don't have to mix up our bad qualities with our love for ourselves. They don't have anything to do with each other. But because we do mix those two things together in ourselves, we do that with everybody else, too. They're quite nice, but... they've got all these other qualities which aren't that nice. Or we can see that they're ok, but only if they are just doing something that we're also doing, going along with our ideas. This is totally unnecessary. This is a totally different track -- the mind's track, that's where the mind comes into its own. That's when we are discriminating between that which we find useful and helpful, and that which we don't. But the heart has nothing to do with that. The heart just has to love; it doesn't have to discriminate. And when we can see the difference between the usual judgments and just loving -- not discriminating -- we have taken a very important step.
Being in a retreat environment, I had plenty of opportunities to figure this out. 

It did not take long for the mind to start developing ideas about other folks in the retreat, deciding which one 'I' liked, which ones 'I' didn't like, all without any word exchanged. Indications of partially closed heart, that let only as much love as allowed by long held limiting habits from the mind. Of course, the hope lied in the difference made by the mindful experiencing of the pain of a closed heart. During the retreat, I had the time, and presence of mind to really 'see' the heart up close. On the second before last day of the retreat, an insight arose that filled me with great joy, and that I sealed with those words:
'It is the mind that closes the heart. The love, all of it is in the heart, all along. It is up to me to notice whenever the mind starts closing the door of the heart. The same mind that closed the door can also open it. It is up to me to intervene and keep the door open, giving myself the sweetness of fully open heart. '
A radical shift had taken place, from believing that boundless love was out of reach, to feeling it right there in the heart, always accessible.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Spinning With the Four Elements

During the retreat, I got to practice mindfulness of the four elements, as explained in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutta:
[One] contemplates this very body — however it stands, however it is disposed — in terms of properties: 'In this body there is the earth [solid] property, the liquid property, the fire [hot and cold] property, and the wind property.'
Walking the Covered Bridge trail near Cloud Mountain, I noticed the earth against my feet, and I saw the tall trees, and the big rocks, standing still, weighed down with seemingly complete solidity. There was also the gently cool breeze taking turn with the hot sun against my cheeks, and the sight of leaves dancing with the wind. And in the morning, the dew from the blades of grass on the path, that made my feet wet, just a little. 

The four elements. One can decide on just one, and keep one's awareness on that one only. Or, one can  simply notice whichever is most prominent at any moment. 

This morning, back to my daily exercise routine at the Y, I played again with the four elements. Sensing the solidity of the bike handles under my hands, and the pedals supporting my feet. Feeling the rising heat from body working hard, and once in a while the cool air from the nearby fan. Breath getting increasingly labored, forcing more and more air in and out. And, after a while, droplets of sweat, to remind me of the liquid nature of this body. 

However your body stands, however it is disposed, it is always possible to practice the four elements. According to Leigh, this practice can help us break down the appearance of solidity in one's body, other bodies and other things. It is a tool for experiencing not-self. I also found it a very grounding practice. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Letting Go of the Broken Mirror

Small, broken mirror,
denies the possibility 
of wholeness.

How to rid oneself
of the faulty mirror,
that is the question?

In the frustration
of stuck-ness,
the possibility arises.

This poem, inspired by a dream I had during the retreat, and also Ayya Khema's talk on Metta:
Our surroundings, our environment, is like a mirror. We wouldn't know what the other person has unless we know it ourselves already. [...] As long as those traits in another person are very bothersome to us, we can be quite sure we've got them ourselves. We can be very grateful that we are given this learning opportunity to see ourselves as others see us. It's terribly difficult to see ourselves clearly, because the mirror image is only in other people. But it's very useful to see that, and then use that understanding about the other person, or the things we don't like about the other person, to check out ourselves. "Do I do that too? Do I talk like that? Do I act like that?" We should try to find these same things within. There's no blame involved. If we start blaming ourselves or others for all the things we do wrong, we'll never stop blaming. It's a totally useless activity, because for any negativity that we have an heap blame on top of it, it means we've then got two negativities. What we would like is to get rid of negativity. So intstead of blaming, we look at it, accept it, and change it. [...] Our work of the purification of our heart lies in our daily encounters with anyone, particularly human beings. 
Thanking the difficult people in our life for holding up the mirror that shows us our whole self.

All for the sake of pure love.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Gradual Training

We, Westerners, who are breathing the culture of popularized mindfulness, tend to overlook some of the necessary steps before and after mindfulness. I am thankful for Leigh's teachings on the gradual training that is to be undertaken by one fully committed to the spiritual path. I asked Leigh about the current mindfulness-based movement. Here was is answer:
The modern mindfulness movement is just a way to enhance your life. The question to ask ourselves [as raised by Tibetan master] is rather, "Do you want high quality samsara, or liberation?" Mindfulness as practiced by most Westerners can be a gateway drug to liberation. And one needs to also recognize its limitations.
Leigh based his talk on the 'The Fruit of the Contemplative Life' Sutta. Summarized below are the gradual steps (as translated by me in plain English):

1. Leading a moral life:
Following the 5 precepts of not killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and wrong speech. Practicing right speech, right livelihood, right action

2. Guarding the senses:
Being aware of sense contact experience and not letting it get out of hand, not letting grasping do a number on us. 

3. Practicing mindfulness:
Noticing what we do in our activities and various postures, including change points: sitting, walking, standing, brushing our teeth, driving, etc. Being aware of our body, our breath, our mind states.

4. Contentedness:
Being satisfied with little in the material world. This includes moderation in eating.

5. Abandoning the hindrances:
Noticing, and setting aside the 5 hindrances of craving for sensual pleasures, ill will and anger, doubt about the practice, dullness of mind, and remorse and restlessness.

6. Cultivating meditative absorptions:
Starting with the first four jhanas, and also possibly adding next four (or five). Developing one-pointed access concentration leading to altered states of consciousness and increased clarity of mind. 

7. Insight knowledge:
Seeing the world as it truly is.

8. Liberation:
Freeing ourselves from the prison of our ego-driven mind. This is what is meant by emptiness. 

A clear path, that can be undertaken by all, as long as the will is there, and also the presence of a skilled teacher, one who has already taken and mastered the various steps.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Noble Silence

Silence gives one the space 
to notice one's own thoughts. 
Silence puts one in touch 
with the reality of the heart, 
whatever it might be. 
Silence makes it easier 
to watch one's actions. 
Silence protects one 
from oneself. 
Silence of the human kind 
allows other living things 
to have a voice again 
- the birds, the air, the insects . . . 
even silence itself.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Re-entering the World

Upon returning from Cloud Mountain, my daughter had this cartoon from the New Yorker waiting for me:

Returning to the 'real' world after two weeks of noble silence has been, let's just say, weird . . . Our teacher had warned us. 

This morning, I woke up determined to keep the momentum from the retreat. Heeding Leigh's advice, I sat for forty five minutes, and I intend to continue every day. According to Leigh, it takes thirty minutes for the mind to settle, and the real benefit of the sitting only starts to kick in after that time. 

There is much I want to share about the retreat. I will parse it out over the next few weeks. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Finding Inner Joy

(This and the following posts for the next two weeks will be pre-scheduled blogs to keep some kind of life, here on Mind Deep, while I am away and retreating with Leigh Brasington at Cloud Mountain. Two weeks of noble silence, practice insight and concentration. A gift in the midst of what is a very busy work phase . . .

In honor of Ayya Khema, Leigh's primary teacher, I will feature some of  my  favorite videos of her.)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Very Nice Show

(This and the following posts for the next two weeks will be pre-scheduled blogs to keep some kind of life, here on Mind Deep, while I am away and retreating with Leigh Brasington at Cloud Mountain. Two weeks of noble silence, practice insight and concentration. A gift in the midst of what is a very busy work phase . . .

In honor of Ayya Khema, Leigh's primary teacher, I will feature some of  my  favorite videos of her.)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Loving the Meditation

(This and the following posts for the next two weeks will be pre-scheduled blogs to keep some kind of life, here on Mind Deep, while I am away and retreating with Leigh Brasington at Cloud Mountain. Two weeks of noble silence, practice insight and concentration. A gift in the midst of what is a very busy work phase . . .

In honor of Ayya Khema, Leigh's primary teacher, I will feature some of  my  favorite videos of her.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

All Heart And Mind

(This and the following posts for the next two weeks will be pre-scheduled blogs to keep some kind of life, here on Mind Deep, while I am away and retreating with Leigh Brasington at Cloud Mountain. Two weeks of noble silence, practice insight and concentration. A gift in the midst of what is a very busy work phase . . .

In honor of Ayya Khema, Leigh's primary teacher, I will feature some of  my  favorite videos of her.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Off to Cloud Mountain

(This and the following posts for the next two weeks will be pre-scheduled blogs to keep some kind of life, here on Mind Deep, while I am away and retreating with Leigh Brasington at Cloud Mountain. Two weeks of noble silence, practice insight and concentration. A gift in the midst of what is a very busy work phase . . .

In honor of Ayya Khema, Leigh's primary teacher, I will feature some of  my  favorite videos of her.)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Peak Into Their Minds

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

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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Simple Meditation

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

Keeping things simple, here it is:

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

Easy enough to remember, and practice . . .

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sitting Together

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

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

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

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Another Wave of Grief

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

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

It hit me.

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Putting Aside Greed and Distress

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

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

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

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

Again and again, remembering:

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

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

There Is Fear

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

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