Dukkhaboy

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I know you

4+Victory+over+Mara Rigpa

Before Buddha gained enlightenment he vowed to sit under the Bodhi tree until it happened. No matter what. Not until his bum hurt or his knees ached. Not until he got a bit thirsty or his friends came round to call. Instead he was going to stay right there until he got it completely done.

But as he sat for longer and gained more and more insight, things got trickier. It was at then that Mara appeared. In Buddhist history/mythology Mara is the Lord (or demon) of death and the desire realm. His aim is to stop people reaching Enlightenment. He’s the kind of guy who delights in helping others fail, so he wanted to do anything to tempt Buddha away from his spiritual path. He plied him with images of riches and beautiful women, showed him the lands he could rule, but none of this worked. So his final trick was his sneakiest as he tried to convince Buddha that going for Enlightenment was all a waste of time and not worth the effort at all. “I mean what is the point? When you get there you’ll be disappointed and you’re not good enough to do it anyway.” 

There in the hours before his Enlightenment, supposedly at the peak of his spiritual path, Buddha experienced self-doubt, temptation, desire and distraction. Of course when we sit in meditation it is the same. Within a split second of hearing the instruction and guidance our mind is away, turning over old stories and running with future fantasies. When this happens the technique is to simply recognise that meandering, that mindlessness and return to the focus of attention. Pema Chodron suggests saying ‘thinking’ when we realise that has happened. I heard Mark Williams use ‘gently escort’ in his guidance. But any instruction to ‘return to the breath’ is just helping us to learn how our awareness functions; its patterns and habits, or as Christina Feldman calls it, ‘our whole world of reactivity’. It is said when Buddha was faced by this onslaught of his mind by Mara he simply said “I know you” to each new wave of attack and that to me sounds like the ‘return to your breath’ tecnique when it has been perfected.

In mindfulness we are instructed to be curious and open minded, to notice and accept whatever arises. Of course normally when something appears our familiar stories rear up and gallop down the same old rutted tracks and before we know it the autopilot of our mind has stolen us away from the present moment into some past story or some future possibility. But if we can do what Buddha did then we can learn to live in a way that takes power away form all these thoughts and self-uncertainty and live in a way that we our in control of our own lives. As Akong Rinpoche said “When obstacles arise, if you deal with them through kindness without trying to escape then you have real freedom.”

So there are three ways in which practicing mindfulness can help in achieving this. Firstly, we need some of that resolve learn and patience to want to change. Secondly, to pause and find a sliver of stillness in the daily hurly burley of our lives and the life of our mind. And finally when that develops we can start to recognise and understand how our mind works.

The good news is that every time we sit down to practice we will eventually notice that our mind has wandered – even if it is only when the bell rings at the end of the session – and then we can delight in having been aware and having found a pause from all that stuff and chatter. Even that one moment is a fabulous thing, because when we learn to pause and uncover a quiet moment out of the gusting wind of our minds, we can start to explore the habits and patterns that lie underneath. True self wisdom can start now. “Ah there I go again” strategising a future that will probably never happen or replaying a slight and an argument from yesterday” Whatever our particular well-worn paths, they will start to appear as we sit and patiently, deliberately, slowly notice them. Right there is what Tchich Nhat Hanh meant when he said “In the sunlight of awareness, everything becomes sacred.”

The book that prompted me to write this is Christina Feldman’s “The Buddhist Path to Simplicity” all the good points from this were generated by the 6th chapter on emotion.

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An Attitude to Meditation

how to meditate pema chodron

My favourite part of meditation is when I am not “officially meditating” and I notice that gentle and curious awareness I occasionally feel on the cushion arise during a different part of my day. Consequently I loved the chapter in Pema Chodron’s How to Meditate where she talks about are the 5 qualities to bring to your meditation that as a result you should also be able to see develop in your daily life from your meditation.

I also like them because they are a more detailed version of the three approaches she discussed in When Things Fall Apart: precision, gentleness and letting go. (I wrote about this here )

Below is merely some brief notes on what Pema Chodron said with a couple of my own small additions.

Steadfastness

  • It’s like a loyalty to ourselves or more accurately our experiences.
  • It’s an  approach “that whatever comes up, that’s ok”
  • Maybe you sit down and for 20 minutes your mind is a rage. Don’t be hard on yourself, you stayed with that for the whole session, so well done!
  • It’s a gesture of compassion to yourself

Clear seeing

  • In meditation we start to notice when we start to spin off into one of our chains of thoughts. This is clear seeing
  • By being steadfast we begin to see ourselves so much more clearly
  • This clear seeing includes our judgements, our patterns, our opinions, our defence mechanisms and our ingrained habits

Courage

  • The first two qualities lead to this one, but it grows only slowly
  • The courage to experience and not bury and deny  your emotional discomforts
  • The courage to not to cower before your emotional discomforts
  • The courage not to shift into a fantasy or a distraction before your emotional discomforts
  • If we get this courage we can get an insight into how we are or how the world is
  • We can have a minor change in our world view
  • This courage means we can ‘loosen up our conditioning

Being awake to our lives

  • Being awake to the present moment and all the surprises this will always bring
  • We say we like surprise and thrills, but …
  • This is being awake to the next (because there is always another one) embarrassing moment when we lose our composure and patience.
  • It’s about being more flexible and tolerant to the present moment.
  • And with it as a by product comes humour

No big deal

  • Just like that calmness you have when you say ‘thinking’ during a meditation session
  • Don’t make your problems so big you end up running yourself down and wallowing in them
  • Don’t make any progress feel so great that your pride gets in the way and knocks the stuffing out of your practice next time


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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.”