Dukkhaboy

Have felt worse


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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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Pre occupied

I heard a lovely take on this phrase recently from Ajahn Amaro abbot of Amaravati monastery (bio here) He was talking about generosity and how can be easier to give someone a physical gift rather than give them our attention and our time.

He described our inability to do the latter as being pre-occupied or ‘already full up’. In other words we are replete with ourselves and thoughts about ourselves so we cannot fit in time or thought for anyone else. We are unable to give or be generous because we are caught up in self cherishing thoughts

To jump Buddhist Traditions, Lama Zopa Rimpoche says “following self chasing thoughts brings only pain failure and disharmony” (from chapter 6 in Turning Problems into Happiness). Because our selfish mind wants us to be the best, smartest, most successful etc, when this does not happen we suffer from disturbing thoughts (called Kleshas in Buddhism) which affect our mind, ourselves and those around us negatively.

So being pre-occupied with ourselves is not a good way to be. Let’s see if I can  get of my own bubble and have a look at someone else’s. Should do me some good 🙂

(p.s. here is a second nice turn of phrase he spoke of later the same day)


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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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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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Bored

We all know how Vyvyan felt

Take a minute to picture this ….. Maybe at the weekend when you have no more work to do, when the chores are done, the washing put away, the children content, when you have nothing planned, no responsibilities and no deadlines. Maybe then you get to sit on the sofa for 5 quiet and peaceful minutes with no TV, no radio, no computer, no internet, no music and no book for distraction…. Doesn’t that sound good?

Or maybe imagine the same situation but instead of 5 minutes maybe 10. Or instead of 10 maybe 30 or an hour or even the whole day with nothing: uninterrupted and undisturbed stillness and inactivity for a day. Who could do that? Who would want to do that? How long till you were BORED of it?

In my first job I was bored. If I hadn’t checked the clock until after 09:30 I considered it a good start to the day. But they paid me and I quickly understood that the cash in the brown envelope given to me on Friday afternoon was compensation for my 37 and a half hours of boredom that week. That was the contract we had. And with the money I could buy myself away from boredom over the weekend.

Boredom is unnerving and scary. It is never invited in. It is no one’s friend. I was taught that boredom was a sign of failure. “If you are bored, it means that you are boring.” The insinuation being I should be able to use my own initiative to find something to do; something to cover over the boredom and if I couldn’t, well then I was the one to blame. In other words, the bored are lesser people than the not bored.

My boredom arises when things things aren’t going as I would like: which is either when a) I have to do something I don’t want to (“tidying up is SO boring”) or b) I can’t do something I want to do (“its so boring without my friends here”). Yet it is so stupid to try ironing out all the parts of my life that are not perfect, to rage against the changes and vacillations  when they will NEVER stop. Life won’t ever be perfect; there is dukkha and boredom is just one example that. So maybe there aren’t bored people and not bored people – all of us get bored

I have just started to look at my meditation as 20 minutes of boredom every day. Which has made me wonder if our life long boredom avoidance strategies are just skin deep, attachment driven, pointless chasing of distraction after distraction and pushing away of unpleasantness after unpleasantness. Maybe it would be better if we all just got a little bit more comfortable with our boredom, to breathe it in and let it go.

 


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Lazy Holidays – Trying not to be a monkey

So what do you do with yours?

I spend my work time imagining how great the holidays will be; how I will get down to basics, to what really matters and let go of all the crap. For a week or so, I won’t have to do those things that fill so much of my time. I will be able to read, sleep, meditate reflect and yes, even write a new post on this blog. But there again, on the weekly holidays Saturday and Sunday, I am no more likely to meditate than on a week day. right now, I have only sat down on my cushion on two of the first five days of this half term break.

I read this old article today in Tricycle magazine. It was an interview with Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo (nee Diane Perry). She nailed my problem when she said The crux of the matter is laziness. Even when we know what we should be doing, we choose what seems to be the easier path. We’re gods acting like monkeys.” 

I have the seeds of a plan though. Firstly, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo goes onto to say that “The thoughts are not the problem. Thoughts are the nature of the mind. The problem is that we identify with them.” This reminded me of how Pema Chodron described this fault in our lives “Its as if we have been kicking a spinning wheel all our life and it has its own momentum” The attachment to these thoughts is SO strong in my life. I identify with them. I consider them me. I want to protect them and my ego at all costs. This spinning wheel keeps turning in the early part of the holiday and only after a while can I properly turn to reflection and meditation.

The second part of my small plan is taken from the same Pema Chodron book as above, “Taking the Leap”. You can get a copy of it from here. Put simply it is to (a) get in the habit of noticing when we are hooked into these thoughts, into kicking that spinning wheel so it keeps turning so that (b) we can pause and “lean in” to the energy at that moment and “Abide with it. Experience it fully. Taste it. touch it. smell it. be curious about it”. In this way we don’t embrace or reject the thought or run with or feel guilty about our reaction to it. This means we can also (c) relax and move on so the whole process doesn’t become an “endurance test, a contest that you win or lose”

But I like this practise for another reason. It will keep me in touch with the meditation I (hopefully) did in the morning, so that its momentum is maintained, so that when the holidays come around I don’t at first feel such a strong desire to reject my thoughts and emotions (the shenpa as Tibetans call it) before I can get down to using the holidays in a much more productive and practical way.

After all, it is, as Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo said, practice that will help us most.