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: