Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Up in Heaven

Walking up the hill of Makiki Heights, I thought to myself, "This is heaven. I am in heaven." The conditions were just right: a fine tropical mist, vegetation wild with exuberant greenery and splashes of beautiful, colored flowers, birds singing opera, on the side of the road, fragant mangoes ready for picking, at the top, a touch of culture with the art museum,  here and there, glimpses of the ocean, in the distance, and hardly any cars to spoil the experience. Body was happy, completely. And so was mind. I was treasuring every moment of our walk, being grateful for the incredible privilege of being in this place, at this time. 

And the awareness of bliss (this right now), and misery (remembering other times), same thing. Either way, only temporary states, nothing worth getting attached to. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Through the Undercurrents of Mind

When in Hawaii, as I am right now, one gets constantly reminded of the need to watch for dangerous undercurrents. One can get lost in the sea, and if not skillful, never make it back even . . . Walking the long stretch of Kailua beach, I had plenty of time to feel and move through another kind of undercurrents, in the mind.  Working too much, not giving the mind enough opportunities to watch itself, was threatening to take me down, and I had to use all my acquired wisdom, and the power of concentrated mindfulness to get myself out. 

Walking, walking, and feeling each step, foot digging into the soft, cool, wet sand. Being with the unpleasantness of drowned heart. Watching the unwholesome thoughts that had been stirring for quite some time, and were at the source. Familiar, underlying tendencies that need to be caught over and over again, or even better yet, averted before they even get a chance to take hold. I had been negligent, and was being caught right in the middle. I had to be clever. Just like with the ocean, it was important to linger in the current for a while rather than trying to get out right away, a lost cause indeed. I remembered Ayya Khema's list, and saw this as an opportunity to better understand the mind, my own mind. Down the list I went, and found at the very bottom, a clinging to 'me', and the delusion of wanting life to unfold a certain way, 'my' way. Treacherous assumptions that threatened the possibility of peace and true happiness. 

Mind had to let go, and seize the first opportunity out. Amazed, I watched the whole process  unfold. Later in the day, I had dinner with a wise, old friend, a mad scientist who says it like it is. And I resonated with his point, about the fragile nature of our existence, and the need to live life fully, authentically, and without fears.

Do you ever get caught also? Which undercurrents threaten to overtake you most often?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Wish To Not Cling

Waking up this morning, I found a knot, a tightness right in my core. 

Still lying in bed, I told myself, 'Clinging, there is clinging'. And dropped down to the body, letting it relax one breath at a time. Not looking for a reason behind the tension, that would be putting a strain on the mind. Plus, it did not really matter, clinging is clinging is clinging. 

Still lying in bed, I wished to not cling for the rest of the day. Or more realistically, to catch the clinging before it even gets a chance to take hold. 

Noticing the movements in the body, noticing the movements in the mind. Tightness, no. Expansion and stillness, yes.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Playing With Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a serious matter, no doubt. There is also a real danger in taking one's practice too seriously. A persistent frown, jaws clenching, shoulders becoming stiff, shallow breath, knot in the stomach . . . these may all be manifestations of an overzealous attitude, a case of practice taking a wrong turn. U Tejaniya spends a lot of time on this, teaching about the right attitude:
You have to double check to see what attitude you are meditating with. A light and free mind enables you to meditate well. Do you have the right attitude?
There is a game I play often during practice, and that helps me stay light and concentrated. I call it playing catch with the breath. Sitting with the intention of resting in the breath, I allow myself to be surprised by each new inhalation. Over and over, breath out, noticing pause, and then, the delight  of breath coming in. Sweetness of body being breathed once more. Being grateful for yet another moment, alive. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Ten Knots That Bind Us

Often I find a knot inside, usually not far from the surface. I call it 'the' knot. 

Last night, I learned something new. During his dharma talk about The Ten Fetters, Gil talked about  fetters, as being knots that need to be undone if we are to find ultimate release from suffering. There is not one, but ten different kinds of knot:

First 3 knots are cognitive:

#1. Attachment to personality view
We need to drop the stories we make up about ourselves. Sense of self is part of developmental task, but it ends up getting convoluted. We get into comparison, into who likes us, who doesn't. We need to realize limitations of such selfing. It is a prison. 
(This is a big one for me!)
#2. Clinging to rules and observances
Meaning, precepts and religious practices. We run into problem if we cling to them as absolute. 
#3. Doubt
Knowing freedom is to be found outside the prison walls. 

Next 2 knots are emotional, and harder to change:

#4. Attachment to sensual desires
#5. Attachment to ill will
(Oh! yes . . .)

Last 5 knots relate to attachment to meditative experiences and more subtle levels of consciousness:

#6. Clinging to deep states of meditation
#7. Clinging to meditation experiences where body disappears
#8. Conceit (much deeper rooted than attachment to personality view)
When we compare ourselves to others in any way at all (better, worse, or equal). We need to let go of comparison altogether. We need to let go even of sense of being-ness (no I involved). 
#9 Restlessness of the mind
#10 Ignorance

Full enlightenment is the absence of knots . . . Enlightenment is a gradual process of 'seeing', feeling, and releasing the knot, one by one, through mindfulness, concentration, and insight. My sense is this is not a linear process. 

I have been feeling a knot most of today. A knot, to do with emotions. Not liking, wanting . . . 

Do you have a knot, right now?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What About Common Sense?

Common sense is not so common these days.

Tax money goes to senseless wars, no question asked,
but health care for all, that's another story . . .
why should 'I' pay for them who can't even hold a job?
Climate keeps on changing, and we are starting to see
more famines,  more floods, more hurricanes,
still, many continue to question the scientific truth.
Monsanto goes crazy with GMOs,
big oil companies continue their evil work,
and we forego our privilege of choice as consumers.
Young black men go to prison for some weed,
they deserve it, it's against the law,
meanwhile rich white guys appropriate billions, unpunished.
Birthers insist on all babies being born,
they also say young moms should be on their own,
never mind our already overpopulated planet . .
Bridges, tunnels, roads, our whole infrastructure 
is crumbling down slowly but surely,
and nothing's being done to fix it.
Science and art no more in our schools,
we are raising a generation
of uninformed citizens and unqualified workers.
Baby boomers are turning sixty five,
Medicare is running out, old age homes are too few
and not quite up to par, let us bury our heads in the sand.
We are going solo in a hurry, thirty percent of households,
yes, and deluding ourselves into thinking
'having MY space' is where it's at.
MacDonald's business is booming,
we can't get enough fast food, and we need to have bands
inserted into our stomach, or else we may die.
From one extreme to the other,
photoshopped models on the cover of Vogue
incite young girls to self-induced starvation.
We have gone out of our mind,
and we can't seem to be able to stop,
what shall it take?

Common sense may be our most precious commodity.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

In the Middle of the Desert

Out of nowhere,
a stallion came charging
that threw itself
on top of my back.

Woman body
no match for the beast,
it was clear
resisting was not the way.

A voice whispered
relax, relax,
relax and breathe
oh, so softly.

Let go of all,
including even
the wish for existence.
This is your only chance.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Being Present, Worrying About The Red List

Back in my days as a green blogger, I used to worry a lot about climate change. I even thought I could make a difference with my writings. After three years of working for the cause, I finally gave up as I realized the futility of my efforts. Talking about global warming in my little blog was no match for the dark forces of big oil and dumb mass psychology. I moved on . . . 

Once in a while though, a new piece of evidence comes out that revives my concerns again:

The picture is taken from Richard Pearson's recent New York Times article, Protecting Many Species to Protect Our Own
Nearly 20,000 species of animals and plants around the globe are considered high risks for extinction in the wild. That’s according to the most authoritative compilation of living things at risk — the so-called Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
This should keep us awake at night.
By generalizing from the few groups that we know fairly well — amphibians, birds and mammals — a study in the journal Nature last year concluded that if all species listed as threatened on the Red List were lost over the coming century, and that rate of extinction continued, we would be on track to lose three-quarters or more of all species within a few centuries.
We know from the fossil record that such rapid loss of so many species has previously occurred only five times in the past 540 million years. The last mass extinction, around 65 million years ago, wiped out the dinosaurs.
The Red List provides just a tiny insight into the true number of species in trouble. The vast majority of living things that share our planet remain undiscovered or have been so poorly studied that we have no idea whether their populations are healthy, or approaching their demise. Less than 4 percent of the roughly 1.7 million species known to exist have been evaluated.
It is often forgotten how dependent we are on other species. Ecosystems of multiple species that interact with one another and their physical environments are essential for human societies.
These systems provide food, fresh water and the raw materials for construction and fuel; they regulate climate and air quality; buffer against natural hazards like floods and storms; maintain soil fertility; and pollinate crops. The genetic diversity of the planet’s myriad different life-forms provides the raw ingredients for new medicines and new commercial crops and livestock, including those that are better suited to conditions under a changed climate.
We need markets that put a realistic value on nature, and we need effective environmental legislation that protects entire ecosystems.
Of course that last point assumes we the people are mindful enough of nature and of its importance for our survival . . . Once more, I wonder what to do? In particular, how can mindfulness be used to address one of the most inconvenient truths facing our human species? Can it?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Taking Proper Note

During formal mindfulness practice, one needs to take proper note of all that is happening in the mind, and particularly the hindrances, or else, the hindrances will keep standing in the way of inner peace. From Thanissaro Bhikkhu's Wings of Awakening:
There are cases where a foolish, inexperienced, unskillful monk remains focused on the body in & of itself—ardent, alert, & mindful—putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. As he remains thus focused on the body in & of itself, his mind does not become concentrated, his defilements [Comm: the five Hindrances] are not abandoned. He does not take note of that fact [does not pick up on that theme]. He remains focused on feelings in & of themselves... the mind in & of itself... mental qualities in & of themselves—ardent, alert, & mindful—putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. As he remains thus focused on mental qualities in & of themselves, his mind does not become concentrated, his defilements are not abandoned. He does not take note of that fact. As a result, he is not rewarded with a pleasant abiding here & now, nor with mindfulness & alertness. Why is that? Because the foolish, inexperienced, unskillful monk does not take note of his own mind [does not pick up on the theme of his own mind]  
[. . .]
In the same way, there are cases where a wise, experienced, skillful monk remains focused on the body in & of itself... feelings in & of themselves... the mind in & of itself... mental qualities in & of themselves—ardent, alert, & mindful—putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. As he remains thus focused on mental qualities in & of themselves, his mind becomes concentrated, his defilements are abandoned. He takes note of that fact. As a result, he is rewarded with a pleasant abiding here & now, together with mindfulness & alertness. Why is that? Because the wise, experienced, skillful monk picks up on the theme of his own mind.
SN 47:8
Sitting earlier, it became clear how my mind had become polluted with a string of angry thoughts. Sitting, I had the opportunity of feeling the heat, the unsettling, the constriction, the agitation in body and mind both. And I knew to focus on the anger itself, not its object. There was nothing to be done about the other person's behavior. I had tried before, to no avail. No, the only way lied within, in abandoning the raging train, and watching it go by instead. 

Of course, this is not easy. Hours later, I can still see the anger inside for the hindrance that it is. And I am still very much in the train . . . One needs to be patient with these things! 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Meeting 'The Dictator' Within

In college, I return to my dorm room, only to find my backpack missing. An FBI investigation shows the crime has been committed by some men from Wadiya, 'The Dictator's country. I am at a loss and in a state of panic. What to do without my identity papers, my glasses, my money? 

I greatly respect the wisdom of dreams. In this case, it was not hard putting together the story in the dream and the inner climate I found during sitting this morning. Body in a state of assault, mind scattered, heart shut off, anxiety, just like in the dream . . . A general feeling of disconnection, and of being lost. Thoughts racing about the many projects awaiting, the itch to leave my seat and get busy, and much stress from violence done to myself. Meeting the dictator within, the tyranny of extreme busy-ness that was robbing me from the ability to see clearly and to be myself. 

Making daily call to my mother earlier, I played the part of dutiful daughter but I could tell I was not being fully present for her. Mind was elsewhere already thinking ahead, and messed up heart had other interests. A lot went on during those few minutes with my mother, and her usual enthusiasm at hearing me was not there. I hung up feeling empty, a fraud . . . 

Today will be a time for making peace with 'The Dictator'. Noticing its effects, not giving into the compulsion to do too much, taking the time to just be, and devising a strategy for effectively doing my work without getting taken over by the driven-ness. I shall make a list, and decide on priorities, and take on one thing at a time, without rushing. Work as meditation, engaged in state of concentration.

Do you ever encounter 'The Dictator'? How do you know? How do you respond?

Friday, June 1, 2012

A House of Cards

One of the gifts from spending time with the ones experiencing old age, dementia, sickness and death, is the ongoing opportunity to come closer to the true nature of life. What set the Buddha on his path is good for me too . . . I now understand why the wise man recommended charnel contemplation as one of the mindfulness practices. It is one thing to read about death, and quite another to get close to it with all senses.

Seeing, smelling, touching, being in the presence of one whose body has become a worn out, pain-ridden bag of bones, I get to reflect on the destiny of 'this' body. Being in the presence of one whose mind no longer remember even the steps for basic activities of daily living, I understand that mind is not to be trusted. Sitting at the bedside of one at the verge of death, I get a glimpse of the unavoidable, all encompassing letting go awaiting. This is how things are.

Same with witnessing the many losses to be endured by so many toward the end of their lives, as they get 'placed' in assisted living or a nursing home. A place to call home, no more. The freedom to go as one pleases, forget it. The right to privacy, no, you are getting a roommate, one who may be dying right next to you in the middle of the night.  The pleasure of sitting in the kitchen, nose happily tickled by the familiar aroma of chicken soup simmering on the stove, not an option, you are now being wheeled from your room to the dining room three times a day and that's it. The need to feel useful and contribute to the world, what do you mean? you have paid your dues, now is time to be served and cared for whether you want it or not. A diagnosis of dementia, a stroke, a car accident . . . that's all it takes for one to lose all the basic constituents of one's ordinary well-being.

How precarious the nature of our day to day happiness, and how dependent on so many unreliable factors coming together in some kind of homeostasis! The house of cards could tumble down at any moment.

Ever since my grandfather's sudden death when I was four, I have had this felt sense of tragic unpredictability. An early brush with the First Noble Truth that has shaped my way of being in the world, very early on. Decades later, and rich with many more life lessons, I get a chance to reflect on the many ways that the mind wrap itself around the most inconvenient truth of impermanence. So many mind states, some wise, others not so much. Grief, loss, anxiety, depression, mindfulness, clinging, regret, remorse, anger, fear, patience, denial, avoidance, kindness, oblivion, compulsions, delusions, detachment,  busyness, . . . Finding, verifying the truth of clinging at the base of each instance of mind-created suffering.

I don't want to reside in the house of cards. I want to rest on rock solid ground instead. How about you? What is your relationship to the house of cards?