Monday, February 25, 2013

The Dangers of Wisdom 2.0

This year, I chose to not attend the Wisdom 2.0 conference, but I watched from afar, and glanced at a few of the live streams. Wisdom 2.0 always inspires me to reflect on technology and its impact on mindfulness, and vice versa. While a heavy user of tech, I am also very skeptical, and somewhat concerned about what it's doing to me, and the billions of other social media enthusiasts. And here's why . . . 

It is so easy checking my Facebook or Twitter. Feeling bored, restless, annoyed? Rather than sitting with the feeling, I find myself reaching out for the black thingy, typing in the secret code, and going straight for the four familiar icons, one after the other, the white envelope, the green bubble, the little bird that never stops tweeting, and the big 'f'. Past the transient relief, the initial feeling is still there, and the mind has grown even more agitated. That stuff is bad. Same addictive qualities as smoking, or drinking, or eating junk, with one major difference. The addiction is more subtle, and hardly recognized by the outside world. We live in a hyper connected world that demands workers to be in touch 24/7, and encourages friends to text rather that talk live.

Many times before, including on this blog, I have sworn to placing limits on my habit, and it has not worked. The reason: I have overestimated my willpower. Fast reward 2500 years, to the Buddha's teachings back then, about the need to give up "the taking of liquors and intoxicants, of that which intoxicates, causing carelessness", and also "singing and dancing, the playing of musical instruments and the watching of entertainments, which are stumbling blocks to that which is wholesome". It is easy seeing how those instructions directly apply to our tech obsession. Social media is addictive, it also dulls our ability to be mindful. And if we are really intent on the path, we would do well to abandon it altogether.

It's been interesting watching contemporary dharma teachers and monastics. Some have refused to touch Facebook and Twitter. Others have eagerly jumped in with both feet, at the risk of embarrassing themselves with sometimes unskillful public displays. Yet others have let their students manage their social media presence so they don't have to be tempted. The bottom line is we are all struggling to find our way through this revolution. As with everything, the key is to fumble with awareness, and to not underestimate the risks, nor our vulnerability to this new form of intoxication and entertainment. The role of monasteries becomes even more important, as places of ultimate refuge where the mind can be left alone, without the threat of uninterrupted chatter from our various 'networks'.

What is your relationship with social media? Are you hooked? Or are you able to use those tools without unhealthy clinging? If so, please share. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Finding the Breath

How we are with the breath, can make a huge difference in how we meditate.

Here are some of my favorites:

Follow the breath
Find the breath
Get in touch with the breath
Be with the breath
Turn the attention to the breath

And some common approaches that make me cringe:

Take a breath
Even out the inhale and the exhale

The breath is always there, going in and out at its own pace. Nothing to do, no place for 'I', other than the intention of stepping aside, and being with the subtle movements of the breath, moment to moment. 

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.'"

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mindfulness Pep Talks

Listening to Dharma talks is an integral part of my practice, albeit in a very loose way.

I usually do not listen to an entire talk, but snippets of it instead, enough to energize my daily practice. Five, ten, fifteen minutes at the most. I may take notes. Thanks to modern media, right at our fingertips is the living wisdom from so many awesome teachers. I tend to stick to Ayya Khema. With more than 400 talks on Dharma Seed, I have plenty to choose from!

Those daily reminders from my favorite teacher are like gold for practice. 

Last night, I picked up the following from one of Ayya Khema's talks. She was giving practical pointers for daily practice:
  • Every day, meditate for one hour in the morning, one hour at night. If you can't do an hour yet, do at least 30 minutes and always shoot in the direction of more time, not less.
  • Always sit on the same chair, at the same place.
  • Set your timer.
  • Sit until it rings, no matter what. 
  • Focus on the breath, and use labeling.
  • Use books and tapes judiciously.
  • Most helpful thing is at least one noble friend, someone who is just one step ahead of you along the path. That way, your friend remembers what it's like to be in your shoes. 
Today, I remembered and I found my whole day suffused with Ayya Khema's pearls of wisdom. Nothing like a pep Dharma talk to keep one's motivation going . . .

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A New Kind of Loving Kindness

In the midst of practice, I have discovered a new, more organic form of loving kindness.

No longer going through a suggested list: mother, father, those close to me, people I work with, people I see every day, acquaintances, difficult people, etc . . .

Instead letting thoughts about people come on their own accord, and each time, practice meeting that person with loving intention. Each time, getting in touch with the garden of flowers in my heart, and the same test. Can I hand out to that person a beautiful bouquet from the garden in my heart, wholeheartedly? Or does the mind object and ponders?

Not judging. Only an opportunity to investigate the state of my heart. How readily does it stay open? How many conditions are still stored in the mind?

Also seeing how much easier it is to just hand out the bouquet, without hesitation.

Training the mind, training the heart.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dementia Care and Not Self

Why dementia care is such a noble practice:

Not self in action . . .

And a great example of service as practice, and practice as service.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Vigilant Mind Keeper

Mindfulness practice is pretty simple: to watch the mind with as little interruptions as possible, and to filter the unwholesome thoughts that can have such disastrous consequences. As one becomes more refined in the practice, the definition of unwholesome thoughts expands to eventually include all thoughts. 

I heard before about the various similes that describe the mindful attitude, and one in particular has been resonating with the way I feel currently about practice. The image of the gatekeeper or the watchman speaks volume about the need to not let up one's attention. Trouble inevitably arises when one stops watching the thoughts arising. From there to moods, and then wrong action, it does not take much. 

It gives me peace knowing that is all that's required. To remember to watch the mind. That is our utmost responsibility, for ourselves, and also for those around us. The rest will unfold on its own accord.