Posted in meditation

Development and Acceptance

It’s a really good feeling sometimes when we think our meditation is working. If we’ve been struggling for a while and then we are suddenly able to stay with the breath or stay with our experience for several minutes, that can be a satisfying experience.

We spend so much time in the daydream, not being fully present that when we step into this moment it can be a shock to our system sometimes. And that can create it’s own problems. Once we have a moment of clarity, we might tend to cling to it. It can be very discouraging when some of our meditation sessions feel successful and others do not. It’s so hard to maintain a passive attitude sometimes.

What I want to encourage you to do is accept whatever your experience is in your meditation practice. This can be very challenging. We want to have feelings of satisfaction or frustration and just notice them, just be aware of them and be with them. If we attach a lot of significance to either experience, then our practice could suffer. We want to be with these feelings and not cling to the satisfaction but also not push away the frustration. The fact is that sometimes our sit will feel really successful and other times it will feel like a failure.

Your attention will improve over time. This is about training the mind. No one expects you to be great at this right away. No one is great at this right away. Our minds naturally wander and get lost. What we want to try to do is have a passive attitude so we aren’t really hard on ourselves when we get off track. We want to try to learn how to gently bring the mind back.

New meditators sometimes feel like their minds are just too crazy to meditate and that sort of misses the point. We’re not meditating because it’s easy to still the mind and be present. We’re meditating because it’s hard.

Hopefully with practice it gets a little easier to simply notice when our minds are wandering and to just bring them back to the present moment without getting caught up in it.

 

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Posted in anxiety

Stress

We often think of stress as something that happens to us, something out there that is disturbing our peace of mind. But is this accurate?

I’m getting ready to move and it’s stressful, as moving always is. It seems like there’s an overwhelming mountain of things that need to get done and I’m worrying about all that could go wrong. I’m doing this to myself.

It’s not really about what’s happening. It’s about my reaction to it. What I have is just a list of things to be done and it feels really long right now. But the truth is it’s not long. Everything I have to do is just one thing at a time. So, when we feel overwhelmed and stressed out about our to do lists, we can panic and get stressed out, or we can be mindful and aware of what’s happening.

We can just put one foot in front of the other and simply experience what we’re doing.

 


this was previous published on Patheos

Posted in tattooed buddha

Too Busy to Meditate?

Also published The Tattooed Buddha

There are a few things people often say in casual conversation when they find out that I meditate.

I want to be very clear, this is what gets said in general conversation, not in a teaching context.

“That’s so cool. I wish I could calm my mind down, but I can’t,” or some other version of wishing they could do it (because they think it’s easy for me, of course).

I find that question very weird, but there’s one I find weirder, and that one is some version of, “I wish I had the time. I’m so busy. I want to meditate but I have a very active life.” So, with that in mind, I’m going  to put on my meditation coach hat and answer the question:

“How does one make time to meditate in a busy schedule?”

Because that’s the answer. You have time for what you make time for. If someone says they don’t have time to meditate, I do not believe them.

I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve “fallen off the cushion” many times. I’m a normal person like you. I know that I should meditate every day, and I just don’t do it. There was a time when I did, and then I stopped for a while and then I started again.

And then I stopped for a while. Because the truth is, it is really easy to not meditate. We have ten million distractions around us all the time. But, if you don’t think you have time to meditate….you’re wrong.

You don’t have to dedicate an hour to the practice. Or even half an hour. Even simply sitting for five minutes a day can bring enormous benefit. Or, if that’s too hard, even once a week. The point is regularity. “This is when I do it and I always do it” matters a whole lot more than doing it a long time.

When I first started practicing, many years ago, I would just meditate when I felt like it. When the idea came to me to do it, I would do it. That, of course, led to not doing it very often. The thing is this, meditation is like any other thing that we’re trying to get better at. It’s just like going to the gym, or practicing guitar. You don’t just get it right away, and you don’t get better unless you practice over and over and over.

So, the important thing is routine.

So, what worked?

A few things have worked for me—one worked for a while and I’m glad it did, but it didn’t work forever and ended up easy to lose track of. That was putting it into my morning routine. Get up, go to the bathroom, take a shower, shave (this was before I had a beard), meditate, eat breakfast, go.

That was what I started doing many years ago, when I was a young, a college student. Long before the kids and the divorces and the career and the writing. You see, I started meditating before I had ever met another meditator. I didn’t want to do it in a group. I’m pretty introverted and quiet a lot of the time and I didn’t know anyone with this interest. So I quietly practiced on my own. And that worked for a really long time.

After the kids were around, I tried to set up a nighttime one too, shortly before bed. I just remember my son getting out of bed and coming to sit with me. And my daughter bounding after him. Some people think kids can’t meditate. Those people are wrong. That was a different world though. Distractions seem to be more powerful now. I don’t know if the distractions are getting stronger or if I’m getting weaker. But that was in the days before I even had a phone, let alone a magical box that could tell me anything in the universe. We have millions of ways to kill time and I wonder if we’re happier.

I don’t meditate every morning, but sometimes I think I should. I could lie to you and say that I do (you’re not going to fact check this). But I want to be real. I want to see the realest thing I’ve ever written and be even more real. Over the years sitting as part of my morning routine got harder and harder to do. That’s the truth. I don’t know why; I can’t explain it. It just got harder.

Here’s the other thing that works. And you may not be able to do it, depending on where you live: Find a friend.

Just like how going to the gym is easier with a workout buddy, meditation is easier when you aren’t doing it alone. I lead a live online meditation group once a week through Daily Dharma Gathering. Because I lead the group, I have to participate, obviously (I can tell you I’ve learned a lot more from teaching than I ever thought I would) and I go to a Wednesday night meditation group. That’s where the core of my practice is these days—sitting with other people. That is what I recommend, above all other things.

Now, some of you might live in rural areas or something, but an overwhelming majority of the people reading this live 30 minutes or less from a Buddhist temple or meditation center. They’re everywhere. And, look, there are things I really don’t like about Tibetan style Buddhism, but I still practiced in a Tibetan Buddhist temple for years because it was a place to go. I was able to ignore the bowing and chanting and other things that I think are nonsense.

So it doesn’t even matter if the place around you isn’t exactly what you want. The point is there’s a place to go sit. And if there are several around (there probably are) check them all out. Find the one you think is the best for you.

I think there’s something about our minds. Going out and doing it makes it more meaningful to us, or easier to stick with, somehow. There’s a special thing about meditating in a group. If I’m meditating by myself and I sneak a look at my phone or whatever, or stop the meditation early because I feel like it, no one knows. There’s no one to hold me accountable. But if I’m meditating in a group…there’s an element of peer pressure there. Shame is a great motivator. I can’t just check my phone during a meditation if I’m surrounded by people that are meditating. That’s embarrassing.

There’s one other option and that seems a little more daunting— starting a group of your own. You don’t need money to rent a place. You can do it in your living room or in a park or something. And, of course, at least one friend who’s dedicated to doing it with you.

For a while I meditated on my breaks at work too. People gave me the weirdest looks. I’m not sure I can recommend that one.

So, there you have it. If you truly want to meditate, make it part of your daily routine. If you want to stick with it, find a group to meditate with or a place that offers regular sittings.

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Posted in lojong

Lojong Point 3: Transformation Of Bad Circumstances Into The Path

This group of slogans is connected with the perfection of patience. This represents our forbearance, our ability to face the difficulties of life without letting them carry us away. The opposite of this is the poison of aversion. This is the capacity to experience difficult with strength and endurance.

This section contains six slogans.

11. Transform All Mishaps Into The Path

Whatever occurs in our lives can be transformed into the path to Enlightenment. Whether we have relationship problems, difficulties with our jobs, health problems…all of these can be just part of the path. Life is full of suffering. We can respond to it with wakefulness instead of despair. It probably sounds like trite self help, but, when people are treating us badly we can use that to help us practice patience. When we experience financial difficulty, we can use that to practice generosity, in the sense of letting go of things.

12. Drive All Blames Into One

Drive all blames into one means that our problems and the complications that are around us aren’t somebody else’s fault, especially in relation to our practice. All the blame can start with us. It’s not necessarily that everything is our own fault in a conventional sense, but we’re driving all blames into one so that we can enter the bodhisattva path. When we drive all blames into one we aren’t laying any of our emotional baggage or blame on anyone else. Because passing blame isn’t helpful. The reason we have to drive all blames into one is because we’ve spent our lives cherishing ourselves and reinforcing our egoic minds. Driving blames into one means we are taking full responsibility for our practice and our lives, regardless of who we could blame for our circumstances.

13. Be Grateful To Everyone

Everything is part of our spiritual journey. Without the world being how it is, there would be no opportunities for us to practice. All of our experiences in life are grounded in our relationships with others. So, the obstacles that others might present to us can be used for our awakening. This slogan follows number 12 for a reason. Once we have taken the responsibility for the circumstances of our lives, it’s easier to be grateful to others. Without others we wouldn’t have the chance to practice compassion or patience. So, everyone around is part of the path. This slogan is about cultivating an understanding that we aren’t separate from other beings. We are all one. So, gratitude is the only response that makes sense. Once we cultivate this kind of open hearted gratitude, we come to dwell in this sense of oneness.

 

14. See Confusion As Enlightenment And Dwell In Emptiness

In this slogan we are talking about developing a better understanding of the way we perceive things. We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are. We may not see our minds as Enlightened, but Enlightenment is our true nature and we can engage that. This slogan is founded in using our meditation practices to work with our minds. By practicing diligently we can come to realize that the essence of our being is Emptiness. On the cushion we practice mindfulness and awareness. While we’re practicing confusing thoughts come up and we can come to realize that our thoughts have no real origin, that there is no ‘me’ underneath to cling to. Dwelling in Emptiness is a powerful way to cut through our delusions and emotional baggage. We can perceive our ordinary confusion from a different point of view. We can realize that all of these thoughts and emotions are going to rise and pass away. There’s nothing to hold onto. If we can just pull ourselves away from our baggage and preconceptions for a moment, we can see things as they really are.

 

 

15. The Four Practices Are Great Methods

This slogan refers to specific things we can do in our daily life. They are in four categories: doing good, lay down your evil deeds, offering to demons, offering to spirits.

Doing good refers to relating to right action, the cultivation of virtue. When we cultivate virtue we are dwelling in basic goodness, the state of our true nature. We aren’t talking about doing good to receive some kind of reward, but doing good to establish ourselves as virtuous beings on the path.

Laying down our evil deeds starts with looking back at our pasts and seeing how foolish we’ve been. Everyone has a past, a history full of things that they aren’t proud of. The first step is to recognize what your issues are and get tired of them. The second step is to refrain from making the same mistakes in the future that we’ve made in the past. The third step is taking refuge. We are using the dharma to help us transform ourselves into the best versions of ourselves. The fourth step is developing a kind of openness. We don’t hate ourselves for what we’ve done in the past, but we are proud to be able to refrain from the same actions in the future.

Offering to demons is not something I take literally. This is where we appreciate our weaknesses and flaws. We recognize our weaknesses for what they are and acknowledge them as part of our journey, not as reasons to hate ourselves.

Offering to spirits is also not something I take literally. The spirits represent our basic awareness, our ability to be here and now in this moment. We realize our awareness is something we can cultivate and we appreciate that.

 

16 Whatever You Meet Is The Path

We have the ability to bring the awareness we are cultivating to any situation in life. The concept behind it is that we aren’t going to make enemies out of everything. Whatever comes up isn’t a sudden problem to be overcome or a positive thing to encourage us. Everything just is what it is. Whatever happens, make it part of your spiritual practice.

 

 

Posted in buddhism

The Power of the Dharma

Power in the Dharma

Practicing the dharma is powerful and it can bring us great benefit. When we are practicing we are engaging in a different way of thinking and seeing the world. I don’t mean to say that we are seeing the world in a magical or supernatural way. We are seeing the world in  a way that’s beyond delusion.

We are engaging the truth, reality as it really is. When we tune in to the dharma, we are entering the stream. The stream represents the Buddha and all of the other people on the path who have come before us, the scholars, masters, noble ones, and renegades who have made the dharma what it is. Getting in touch with the dharma is getting in touch with the real flow of things, reality as it is. Our practice is our way of tuning in to reality as it is. It’s special because the dharma changes us.

In our practice we are working on our minds. We are turning our focus inward to try to deal with fundamental problems that exist in our minds. We want to understand our minds and how they work. This is the power of the dharma. We are capable of discriminating awareness.

In our normal awareness we experience duality, both attachment and aversion. When we engage in our meditation practice our minds become harmonious. Meditation is how we free ourselves from delusion. We see through delusion and we see another way of looking at the world. Our minds can uncover this world of nonduality.

This is the power of dharma practice.

 

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Posted in meditation, Uncategorized

Simplicity in Shamatha

Shamatha is a simple meditation style. The point is to free ourselves from delusion. We dwell in delusion all the time, but as long as we understand that and cultivate discipline, shamatha can help us transform ourselves. It’s about being here now. When we aren’t fully present we make all sorts of mistakes.

Shamatha is based on stabilizing our body, speech and mind. We want to have mindfulness of physical experience, mindfulness of emotions, and mindfulness of discursive thoughts.

To free ourselves from delusion we practice. We sit and meditate. Through meditation we develop a state of awareness, both when we’re meditating and off the cushion in daily life. In shamatha we let go. We pay attention to the things that arise and we simply let them go.

In shamatha we are just dwelling in mindfulness. We are engaging in one pointed awareness. Mindfulness manifests in us in a sense that we are actually present in what we’re doing. We train our minds to just pass through, instead of attaching to them.

Our development of awareness is based on our mindfulness practice. We strive to be present, just being, just here. Shamatha is the point at which we behave like a Buddha. It is simple and doable. Being here without preconceptions or discursive thoughts or daydreams is possible. Mindfulness isn’t really religious or even spiritual, it’s just being here. As you go it becomes more natural.

Meditation is about experiencing reality in being as real as possible in our own existence. We train our minds to experience reality directly. By practicing meditation we are following the Buddha’s example and going through what he went through. It’s important to remember that he was a regular person like us, not a god or a spirit.

SIMPLE SHAMATHA INSTRUCTIONS

Set a timer. You want to set a time for your sit, rather than just sit until you feel like getting up.

Sit and arrange yourself. Posture is important. Your head and shoulders need to be straight and uplifted. Keep your back straight and never slouch. When we slouch we start to lose our awareness. Upright sitting helps our back be free of strain and helps us avoid sleepiness. Sit with your legs either in the half lotus or just the cross-legged position. Relax your eyes. Don’t focus on anything.

Put your hands in either the cosmic mudra or the relaxing mind mudra. The cosmic mudra consists of placing on hand on top of the other, face up. Gently touch your thumbs together, making a circle. The relaxing mind mudra consists of simply resting your hands on your knees.

Feel the cushion beneath you and make yourself as comfortable as possible.  Feel yourself breathing. Keep your mouth slightly open, so you’re breathing through both your nose and your mouth.

Feel the breath coming into and going out of your body. As we pay attention to the in breath and the out breath, we can feel our awareness expand. Every time a stray thought or distraction comes into your mind, bring your attention back to your breathing. Simply bring your attention back to your sensation of breathing every time a thought comes into your mind.

Just be here.


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Posted in diamond sutra, Uncategorized

Teachers Who Inspire

My study of the Diamond Sutra has made me think about the importance of having a spiritual teacher. We think sometimes about reasons to have a teacher and I think a teacher’s role in inspiring us is sometimes downplayed.

I’ll quote from the beginning of the sutra here:

“That day, when it was time to make the round for alms, the Buddha put on his sanghati robe and, holding his bowl, went into the city of Sravasti to seek alms food, going from house to house. When the alms round was completed, he returned to the monastery to eat the midday meal. Then he put away his sanghati robe and his bowl, washed his feet, arranged his cushion, and sat down.

At that time, the Venerable Subhuti stood up, bared his right shoulder, put his knee on the ground, and, folding his palms respectfully, said to the Buddha, ‘World-Honored One, it is rare to find someone like
you. You always support and show special confidence in the bodhisattvas. World-Honored One, if sons and daughters of good families want to give rise to the highest, most fulfilled,awakened mind, what should they rely on and what should they do to master their thinking?'”

That was probably an unnecessary long quotation. But, here’s what I have to say about it. At first it might seem like the Buddha didn’t do anything. But, that’s not the case.

What he did was engage his daily routine with complete mindfulness. As he puts on his robe, goes from house to house, eats, etc. he is being completely present in the moment. This kind of awareness is described in the Zen tradition. It’s said that chopping wood and carrying water can be spiritual practices if they’re engaged with total mindful awareness.

Anyway, the Buddha’s student Subhuti can see how serene and aware the Buddha seems to be, even in the midst of routine activities.

I imagine myself in Subhuti’s role, so I imagine him thinking, “The Buddha is Enlightened as hell. I should ask him for a teaching.”

And the whole sutra is about Subhuti asking for teachings.

Now, what does all this mean to me?

I’ve studied with a variety of Buddhist teachers. I have seen that it makes a big difference when I’ve met one that is fully present. It’s so easy to be out of this moment, with our minds wandering.

But when we see someone who is fully present in this moment, I think we can tell. We can be inspired by teachers like that, just as Subhuti was. And we can ask them for teachings, just like Subhuti did.

Teachers can motivate us if it seems like they are more present than we are.

Posted in Uncategorized

On Mindfulness

To be mindful is to simply be aware, as thoughts come without getting involved in the thoughts, not going off on a train of thought, not worrying about where a thought came from, but simply being aware that thinking is happening. It helps to make a mental note of ‘thinking’ every time a thought comes. Observe the rising of a thought without judging or reacting to it, without identifying it. Our thoughts are only thinking.

You will see that when we aren’t so attached to our thought process, that thoughts don’t last as long. As soon as we engage a thought with mindfulness, it disappears. Sometimes people find it helpful to label thinking in a more complete way, noting differing kinds of thoughts such as: ‘thinking’, ‘desiring’, ‘remembering’, etc. This can serve to strengthen our focus.

Try to note each thought the moment it arises. When thoughts are noted in this way they don’t have as much power to disturb our minds. Thoughts aren’t obstacles to our meditation, they are just an object of meditation, like the breath or a mantra. Make the effort to clearly note each thought and not get carried away by them.

If something comes into your mind, let it come in and let it go out. It will not stay long. Don’t try to stop thought, just let it come and go. Gradually, our minds will become calmer and calmer. Many thoughts come, but they are just from our own minds, which means they are under our control if we can just learn how to manage them.

This practice will bring about a state of balance and calm. Keep the mind aware, from moment to moment, of the thoughts that are arising.