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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Everyone Hurts

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My daughter couldn’t believe it. “You cried? At a song?”

Before I had children and my parents died I had only cried once at a song. I was at Wembley watching Live Aid and was walking back to my friends having pushed my way forward to get a closer look at Queen and David Bowie. The Cars “Drive” played with images from Ethiopia on the big screen. I had my back to the stage but could see the faces of those I passed as they watched the East African horror. I knew what they were seeing and I cried quietly to myself. I was only 18 and, to be honest, uncertain what to do with this emotion. Was I upset with physical sight of suffering; the beach ball bellies and matchstick legs, the flies on babies eye lids? Was it the unfairness of the world?  I had wiped my face clean before getting back to the group. Whatever it was, the crying was genuine, but my wisdom about it was very limited.

Now I am much older I can see both the start and end of lives. I’ve been in maternity wards and talked to funeral directors about flowers and hearses. I ask friends about the health of their frail parents and the exam results of their children.

People throw around lightly the idea that as you get older your experience makes you wiser. Maybe we have seen a situation play out before many times and can ‘intuitively guess’ what will happen next. But it would be a let down if that is all that we pick up. Instead, if we tried to learn from our own experiences maybe we could then more clearly understand what other people are feeling and going through. If  we opened up to our own emotions we would be able to see that everyone else feels the same kind of things too.

In 2004 or 2005 I was in the Guildhall Portsmouth to see Neil and Tim Finn perform. They played ‘Edible Flowers’ — a song from the album they were touring. I had listened to it a couple of times before, but that night when I heard it I sat in my seat and wept. The emotions I was struggling with about my own father’s recent death came through strong in the song and as they beautifully harmonised “Everybody wants the same thing/ to see another birthday, Look at all the pretty numbers/ scattered on the calendars” the tears involuntarily and without warning flowed. It was no effort at all to weep. I had no heaving chest. I felt a terrible sadness but without any sense of unfairness. Neither did I feel bad about myself. Instead of wanting to scream at the world and push it all away, there was a sense of connection. The song was beautiful and I wanted to make every moment of it holy.

In fact The Finn brothers expressing what they felt made my own emotions not only more real but also more natural. Looking back now I see that the music had done what any good piece of art should do and brought people closer together. My situation was so far from unique that it was better described as completely typical and just an unavoidable part of life.

So the pain and hurt I felt was not mine, it wasn’t me. I was not some person you could now solidly and permanently categorise as sad or hurt. Instead the pain was just pain. It came and it peaked, it dipped and it ended, the same as it does for us all. It is not so much that I felt loss but that there is loss. Life brings dissatisfaction, awkwardness and sadness. If we take the personal out of our suffering we see the emotions for what they are; a part of life. This wisdom brings two advantages:

  1. We can see that we are not this emotion we are feeling right now. We are not a sad person a useless person, an unloved person, a forever-making-mistakes person. These feelings of hurt are not personal; they are not us, they do not define us. We can step back and watch them rise and fall and pass and not limit ourselves by labelling the emotion as “me”. This wisdom allows us to be compassionate to ourselves
  2. We can see that everyone else feels these emotions, has this pain and goes through this hurt just like we do. By de-personalising the suffering we can empathise with others and help them with their bad times. This wisdom allows us to be compassionate to everyone else.

All the trash and the treasure/ all the pain and the pleasure.”

 


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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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So much stuff and so little space

Just 3 days at Amaravati monastery. Not a long time. People there have been in robes for decades. So hardly a bout of elongated austerity.

But after just the 72 hours, stopping at a motorway services and queuing for a coffee was almost a whole new experience. The all-areas assault of the senses. The jam packed fullness of everything and every place. The colours, the noise, the choice, the rush. There was no time and no space for anything else to squeeze in. So many colours of drinks and drink bottles. Not a worktop without a pile of cups or lids or snacks on it. No wall without a picture or four hung on it. The radio nudging in for when there was a part drop in noise. So so much to sense, to want and desire. No escape from it anywhere you look or listen.

Earlier in the week this was all unremarkable to me and yes, I know, by next week it will be again. But, by gum, if the Buddha is right and craving after stuff and contact with stuff is what causes suffering and discontent (dukkha), then this is a hard place and era in which to become Enlightened. 

Now give me my coffee fix. I’ve missed it in the last 3 days.


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There is suffering (and this is good news)

Man goes off to find the meaning of life. Man finds the meaning of life – he actually finds it. He has the answer. At first he chooses not to tell anyone else as he is not sure they will understand, but after a short while he remembers 5 old friends he left after a falling out; he thinks they might get it and decides to teach them.

So, after finding what life is all about he gives his first talk. He must have thought long and very carefully about what to say. If he were to pitch it wrong, to choose the wrong words his discovery might never get shared, might become lost again. So his opening point in his first ever talk after working out the meaning of life was …..

THERE IS SUFFERING

Now that may be perceived at best as dull or mundane and more likely as depressing. But really it is exactly the right starting point. Because he didn’t say “you will suffer” but “there is suffering” so it is not your fault you felt bad, you are not the reason things aren’t going 100% your way. We don’t need to blame ourselves when things don’t work out how we had wished. We can drop that train of thought we like to run about how we are no good, how we cannot cope, how we are a failure. Equally, we can release that string of ideas blaming our father, our boss, our education, that company or whatever else we like to rage against. They are just as much not to blame as we are not to blame. There is suffering. It is part of life.

And at that moment of noticing the suffering we can try two thing. Firstly, just feel that disappointment, that raw hurt; don’t let those thoughts run away with their “what if’s” and the “if only’s”. Instead we can notice them and let them go. Because right there is the chance to move on, to begin to release the untrue storylines of  blaming ourselves or someone/something else. And secondly we can realise that everyone else feels exactly the same in their lives. There is suffering for everyone. Understand that and compassion and love, empathy and care will naturally follow.

I think therefore Buddha chose wisely when he chose the very first part of his discovery to speak about.

(This post was inspired by starting to read Pema Chodron’s “fail fail again fail better”)


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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.