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.