Dukkhaboy

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“Clarity of mind” meditation

kathleen mcdonald

Overview

This is a mix of Kathleen McDonald’s “Meditation on the Clarity of Mind” Part 3 chapter 2 in “How To Meditate” and Pema Chodron’s ‘Using Thoughts as an Object of Meditation’ in “How to Meditate” p. 70. Any benefit this meditation brings is a result of the understanding and realisations of these two experienced and revered practitioners.

The philosophy behind this meditation (you don’t have to read this, you can skip to the meditation practice itself just below)

Thoughts are not solid. They are not real. The argument you act out in your mind isn’t happening and may well not happen at all. The fine meal you are dreaming of won’t be occurring until next week and when it does it won’t be like the dream you are having about it now anyway. Seeing thoughts like this helps us to escape from the ‘catastrophisation’ that goes on in our head, where we start to believe the negative storylines we invent so they become solid and real to us. We don’t have to deny them entry or squash them deep down to try to forget they exist. Nor do we need to smash them with a hammer or fight them to the ground. Instead we can lightly touch these thoughts, say ‘thinking’ to ourselves and let them dissolve away.

If we are free ourselves of adding a sense of solidity to things that have none we can start to also start to loosen the ties of our ingrained mental habits. When someone mentions our boss we don’t have to run down that overworn path of tales we, without fail, recount of what she will do and say to us. We don’t have to get lost in dreams of “if only” and “how marvellous it would be if …” Seeing thoughts, emotions and feelings as dreamlike relieves us of so much burden. We can begin to understand how all that we create in our mind is less solid than we give it credit for and then we can see how restricted we were, how we made such a big deal about something that does not need to have a hold over us.

Consequently we begin to experience how vast our lives can be when we don’t attach or push away from all our experiences as though they were solid and real. Right there lies true freedom.

The Meditation Practice Itself 

1/ Take up the correct posture via the 6 points we have already learnt. (See previous meditation instruction here if it helps)

  • Feet/Legs
  • Seat
  • Torso/back
  • Hands
  • Eyes
  • Face

“Bring ease to your posture. It’s so important not to get into a major struggle but to simply try to be as relaxed and comfortable as you can. In each of these six points, you want to embody a sense of relaxation, openness and dignity; you want to embody an expression of being awake and confident.” Pema Chodron

2/ Become mindful of your outbreath. The instruction is “Just be aware of the normal and uncontrived outbreath. Follow it, be with it; be aware of it. “ Spend about 5-10 minutes doing this or until you are fully relaxed and aware of the outbreath.

3/ Once your awareness has become sharp turn your attention to the clarity of your consciousness. Your consciousness, or mind, is whatever you are experiencing at the moment; physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, emotions. The nature of each of these experiences is clarity (like a still glass of water). Focus your attention on this clear, pure nature of the mind.

Thoughts will still arise and when they do let them pass through. Thoughts come and thoughts go. Just observe them. Take the same approach with physical sensations, feelings and emotions. They are clear by nature and without substance.

If this is hard at first meditate on a mental image of clarity … Imagine lying on a hilltop and staring up at a sky that is completely clear and free of clouds. Concentrate on this vast unobstructed emptiness, Imagine that it flows down and embraces you and your surroundings; everything becomes empty like space. Hold this experience; feel that the nature of your mind is like this clear empty space.

 

4/ When you finish dedicate any benefit you may have gained from this practice either to all sentient beings or to people you know who themselves are struggling; let go of the result of the meditation as well.

 

Resources:

Kathleen McDonald’s book can be found here

Pema Chodron’s book can be found here

Other sellers other than amazon are of course available

how to meditate pema chodron

 

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Your Less Than Perfect Holiday

pool

But my! Work is intense, packed to the gills, unrelenting and exhausting. Holidays are the beacon of hope; a future panacea of peace from the hurly burly of daily life.

But then the actual holidays are never just that. They are imperfect, frequently unsatisfying and most certainly not the answer to all our prayers. Even on the good days – those times we spent so long looking forward – nothing ever works smoothly. Reality never matches the future our internal monologue had asserted would be wonderful.

Buddha stated that this imperfection and dis-satisfactoriness (called dukkha) is caused by our grasping onto things, ideas and thoughts we think are solid and permanent but which never are. We have an active misunderstanding of how things are. Our thoughts come and go, they are just events, they are not solid and real. Now this is really good news: if thoughts are not me or you, it they aren’t actual things, then we can all be free from the overthinking that everyone does and no one properly admits to. Mark Williams says “This frees you up from the dislocated reality we have all conjured up for ourselves, through endless worrying brooding and ruminating.” (Mindfulness; finding peace in frantic world).

But it isn’t just the negative thoughts we can drop. A more realistic view of our mental activity doesn’t just mean we can begin to see debilitating self critical thoughts as just passing through. We can also avoid expecting everything to work out perfectly and imagining all will be well; that our holiday will match the brochure or the Facebook photos our friends shared from the poolside. If instead of clinging on to ideas we can learn to stop judging and comparing what is around us to how we think it should be, we can avoid narrowing our whole experience down to a competition our life can never win. Real freedom right there if we can begin to move away from being “compelled to draw only one preconceived opinion” (also Mark Williams from the same book) and allow ourselves the chance to experience what is around us just for what it is. Come on!  Leave those thoughts alone and be kind to yourself instead.

 

(Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book is available here )


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Waking Up

Ven Amy Miller

I heard the Venerable Amy Miller teach this week. She was talking about “Transforming Negative Emotions: Coping with Anxiety and Depression.” I really liked what she had to say about starting your day positively and thought it would be useful to anyone whether they were facing anxiety and/or depression or not.

She suggested four ways to set your mind off well early in the morning. Firstly, think about and be grateful for your life. Look at all the good things that are in it: you have a house, a comfortable bed, when you turn the tap water comes out and it is clean water free of diseases, there is food you can buy and you don’t have to dodge bombs and bullets on the day to the shop or market. Additionally, you have friends who support you, you live in an area with available health care. All these things (and you can probably think of many more) mean you have a fortunate life.

Then look at yourself. Think about your good qualities and abilities. Personally as I am British my culturally engrained modesty kicks in here, but she makes a good point. We all have things we contribute and do that make the world better for others. Maybe it is the skills you bring to your job that help others have an easier and more happy daily life or the care you give members of your family; young or old. These first two points are similar to a line of thinking and meditation in Buddhism called your “precious human rebirth”. Being grateful for all this, or even at first just aware of it, helps make the most of what we have and be happier in our own life and environment.

Thirdly she suggested we consider that we might die today. Now I am sure the first two suggestions make clear logical sense to all, whereas this one may seem at best odd and maybe even nuts to anyone not familiar with Buddhist philosophy. In the West and certainly here in the UK talk of and thoughts about death are avoided, shunned and left ignored. But if you can consider the fragility of your life in the first minutes of the day it lets you see how precious and wonderful it can be. By considering that this could be your final few hours on the planet you can make your day more purposeful and joyful. You can choose to live it with more awareness for how special and  invaluable it is. If you do this then you’ll not only be happier yourself but you will spread some of that joy around the people you connect with. Looking at the impermanence of our lives helps us live them more positively.

Finally she talked about setting a motivation of benefiting all people you meet during the day. This aim gives your time purpose and meaning and helps make yourself and others be happier. And if we were all able to that every day ….

If any of this strikes a chord with you Venerable Amy’s website with more talks, ideas for meditations (and without my misinterpretations) is here http://amymiller.com 


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Why isn’t my meditation working?

Firstly I bet you it is. May not in the way the amount or with the speed you want, but it will almost certainly be having a positive effect. So don’t worry.*

How long do you meditate a day? A week? How long each day are you NOT on your cushion? As Lama Zopa Rinpoche once said about our days, “30 minutes meditation and 23 and a half hours ego”. And unless you give up your job or go on a retreat this ratio is unlikely to alter much let’s be honest. So there are two options; 1) improve the quality of your meditation, which I am not skilled enough to write much on apart for the basics, which I already clumsily covered here or 2) Make your 23 and half hours become a support for your daily meditation.

Firstly, to be able to practice well it is necessary to have enough of life’s necessities not to have to worry about getting or having them. But also it is important not to have too much, or rather not to be too attached and involved with it all. To help concentration in meditation it is important to be content with life and possessions and not to have too much attachment to them. This will both lessen distraction in meditation and allow more  time for it to happen.

Secondly, a busy life will lead to a busy mind and a lot of conceptual thought arising. Personally, my job and family life means my days are packed and in the evenings I am worn out. Therefore I have found that a routine of morning practice before I leave for work can help lessen all that mind traffic. Also I like to have had breakfast before I settle down so that i am not worrying about my stomach!

Buddhist teaching also mentions leading an ethical life aids meditation. this of course is harder to change quickly. But to reflect on the motivation behind actions and words during the day greatly helps meditation by lessening strong emotions. This is best left for another day, but Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote wonderfully about this here if you want to read more about that.

Finally, I was lucky enough to hear Venerable Robina Courtin talk earlier this year. (She has an excellent website full of good stuff and links here ) I got the chance to ask her a question I said,  “I had been meditating for years and felt I was getting nowhere.” She replied:

  1. If we notice bad things we are doing or saying or thinking, this is positive and is progress
  2. We all have deep seated attachment so if our mind is calmer or concentrating better or more compassionate or wiser we then think, “Why aren’t I doing even better?” we are never satisfied
  3. So don’t worry, we are doing okay 🙂

 

*But beware: Whereas many religious and spiritual traditions including Buddhism emphasise the importance of concentration, in Buddhism concentration is only a tool, not the end itself. Concentration on its own, without compassion and wisdom is just another reason to be reborn in Samsara.

The majority of the ideas for this were gained from Geshe Tashi Tsering’s excellent book “Emptiness” and especially chapter 2


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Last days

Many Buddhists at some time will meditate on death. Tell that to a Westerner and their reaction is normally to screw up their face and say something like “gross” or “ewwww”. But there are many benefits to looking at it in this way. One of these is that it makes you think more about what you have right here, right now; a reminder of the preciousness of it all. Like a wake up call “Look around, ain’t this just great”.

Pretending that things won’t end when they obviously all do is just an unhelpful and, let’s face it, ignorant avoidance of reality. What is happening now is valuable simply because this is the only time it will ever happen like this. If you don’t reflect on the temporary nature of all that you have you will overlook its worth and beauty and be less likely to make the most of each opportunity.

Like all teachers across the country, I woke up this morning knowing that this week I go back to school. I am not asking for any sympathy after I’ve just had 5 and a half weeks holiday, but it is easy to slip into a low feeling as the end approaches. I didn’t do all those wonderful things I’d planned: I still haven’t tidied up that corner of the garden or read that long Russian novel or skipped through the sand dunes by the beach or whatever. But I cannot change that. It is done. The holiday is ending. The best and only ‘faithful-to -reality’ action to take is celebrate what I’ve got, make the most of what is left and enjoy it.


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Dukkha Dukkha everywhere (but don’t worry)

I am writing this on World Mental Health Day……… At the week end I hoovered and dusted the lounge. I am not someone who takes very easily to housework: in fact I should make clear from the start, that I dust very rarely indeed. I am a prone to laziness where i can grab it in my day. Not surprisingly therefore, I was very pleased with how the room looked at the end. But this satisfaction was short lived and, on reflection, had the seeds of discontent sown in it from the outset.

Firstly, straight after lunch an iPad, some colouring pens, a hair bobble or two and a DVD case had already been left across the floor and sofa by my children. I was angry because I had had hoped this tidiness would last. I had seen it as an achievement, a thing on its own and existant. There was a tidy room I had created. Since it is there, I felt it would remain so. Now I know that is stupid and if I had stopped for even half a second to reflect on that or if you had asked me “How long will your lounge remain like this?” I would have immediately admitted and seen it could not last. But intellectually understanding and fully knowing are different things. I have what Buddha would call ignorance. The tidying was done within the context of my ignorance and so there was  suffering. I couldn’t escape from that.

Secondly, my wife made no comment or words of gratitude for my cleaning (probably because she was so shocked I had actually done some!) This made me angry. you can see that I didn’t do the tidying just as an act to do because it would make others happier or as it would be a good thing to do; I cleaned partly for my own benefit, to feed my ego and to feel good about myself. So again the tidying was done within the context of my ignorance (this time in the form of pride and a desire for praise). So dukkha (suffering or dissatisfaction) was unavoidable from the moment I plugged in that hoover.

But in Buddha’s first teaching he taught the FOUR Noble Truths: there is suffering and there is a cause of suffering were the first two. If he had stopped there then Buddhism would be a dire belief system and to be honest the best thing would be to fill our sensory pleasures all day long. But he didn’t, for the 3rd and 4th Noble Truths are that there is an end to suffering and the method for that is the Noble 8-fold path. The more we can see the interconnectedness of all things and care for other peoples’ happiness, the more we will find true happiness ourselves.

So Buddhism is not in the end a sad and gloomy religion but a happy and positive one. I believe that on World Mental Health Day that is something worth investigating further.


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Unexpected Recognition

After a small health scare earlier this year, I decided that being fat and 49 was not a good enough investment for my future and have started to run. I don’t go far and I have had to find a flattish place to be able to do it as hills are a bit beyond me. At the weekend I did two laps of the park. As I struggled around the first one I passed 3 guys crashed out on the grass. It was about 10 am. They had a couple of beers left. I guess they were on their way back from the Solstice celebrations up the road at Stonehenge. I ran around them careful not to wake them up, but annoyed they were in my way.

On the second lap they were still there. One was sitting up. As I passed them he called out “Coming around for more? Well done mate”. Now I find this running hard. I don’t go fast and I am proud that I can now manage 2km without stopping: I am no Mo Farah. So I felt bloody great that he had noticed me (obviously not asleep as I thought) and commented and encouraged.

Alas a third lap is beyond my ability, so I didn’t get to see him to say thank you.

But I can let you know one thing: , unplanned, off the cuff praise to strangers has a wonderful, wonderful affect on the person receiving the accolade. For me,  just someone being aware of the effort I was putting in lifted my spirits.

So if you are wondering just how you could make tomorrow a little bit better, surprise someone with some unexpected recognition.

Right now I am planning how often I could do this in my lessons. How will it make my pupils feel? 🙂