Have felt worse

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I came across this beautiful quote last week from Ajahn Chah

“If my mind doesn’t go out to disturb the noise,
the noise won’t disturb me.”

Was lucky enough to have week’s family holiday this Easter on the Dorset coast. So as not to be in the way of anyone else waking up I took to meditating on the beach. I thought it would be peaceful and quiet and conducive to some calm meditation. There was hardly any wind. However when I sat down on this all but deserted beach the first thing i noticed was that waves, even small lapping ones don’t ever stop turning over and over. With little sea noise I could also hear more gulls more clearly more of the time. This annoyed me

Fortunately, I was trying to get to grips with the basics of the ideas of emptiness and cause and effect, which I had been reading about in Geshe Tashi Tsering book “Emptiness” (preview here). I tried to reflect on the idea of all things being dependent on causes, parts and their relationship to other things and events. Because if you don’t go out to meet and disturb the noise by adding on your own stories and concepts to it then that noise is just a wave, just a gull calling. In the end neither has a concrete inherent part to it that I can get worked up about. Unless of course I choose to.

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A loverly meditation

Someone just shared this fantastic meditation with me. It is given by Ajahn Amaro who is an Abbot in the Thai forest Tradition of Buddhism. He is based at Amaravati Buddhist Centre in SE England.

He speaks wonderfully during this meditation about “Setting the intention to learn from whatever arises …. or however the mind is…… as things go in that direction we learn from that. If they go according to our wishes or …. if the mind is filled chattering thoughts, the body uncomfortable, with waves of agitated emotions… one after another after another then we learn from that.

Whether it is liked or disliked, wanted or unwanted, expected or unexpected. Everything will teach us if we let it…if we’re wise the painful and unliked difficult experiences will teach us as much as, if not more than, the wished for and likeable, beautiful experiences…. because then everything benefits us; the beautiful, the difficult and the neutral.”

Anyways I could write ALL the things he says, but it would be better for you to listen to the words as they were actually said on the video above


  • I found this meditation via the Facebook https://www.facebook.com/dailymeditation365/ which aims to share a mindfulness and meditation practice every day for 2017
  • I was lucky enough to visit there for a couple of days this Summer and wrote about my experience here and here

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Talking to myself

Many times I sit on my cushion I spend the 20 minutes simply thinking about how things could be or should be; then the alarm goes and I have hardly even noticed, let alone paid attention to, even one breath.

This morning I was reading Pema Chodron in ‘When things fall apart’ on discursive thought. She explained how it is one of the things that we lean toward that stops us properly feeling how we are right now. We hook onto it and away we go endlessly chatting to ourselves, avoiding the ‘edginess of our loneliness’ as she calls it.

In meditation, we try to let go of that internal monologue and rest without moving left or right, without blaming someone else or playing our dog-eared victim card, without seeking resolution from this present moment. Because all our life we have sought  this resolution and never has it brought more than momentary satisfaction before the next urge to jump toward hope or away from fear kicks in.

Instead we could try breaking our habit and ‘sit and feel what we feel…. stay on the spot…. not judge or grasp at whatever arises in the mind’. Then we can ‘discover a fresh unbiased state of being’ (all from chapter 6)

I share all this firstly because what Pema Chodron says is wonderful and it can help us all who would like to be more mindful or improve our practice and secondly because by thinking, reflecting and writing about her work I can understand it all just a bit more even if at the moment my practice is more akin to this cartoon below then what i have just tried to describe.

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That isn’t me

Sitting down is rarely some marvellously peaceful happening for me. More often than not, I am replaying past perceived injustices (“she should never have said that to me”) or imagining how I could do better in the future (“…. and then they will all like and respect me again”)

There is one thing I am beginning to understand even tough it is only conceptually. It has come though hearing 3 similar teachings. Firstly, for a while now I have been attempting to follow Pema Chodron’s suggested meditation technique. I try to notice I am distracted away from my out breath, say to myself ‘thinking’ and without judgement return to the object of concentration. As this stands this is as much mindfulness as it is Buddhist meditation.

Secondly, earlier this year I heard Venerable Amy Miller talk. I remember her telling us to see thoughts as ‘mental events’ and not as who we are. So it’s not that “I am angry”or “I am jealous”. Rather you can view it as “there is an angry thought” or “there is a jealous mental event”. Immediately  there rises the possibility of a different and truer perspective on it all.

Finally, I have been studying Buddhist psychology through Geshe Tashi Tsering’s book of the same name In this he explains Buddhists say people have (i) a main mind that is all clear and all knowing and (ii) mental events that colour this. He compares it to a blank screen and the images beamed upon it. “We never really see the screen, because we are so caught up in the images projected on to it.”

Putting this together gives a fuller picture of how mindfulness works in Buddhism. It is more than just a technique for obtaining calm and letting go. Instead it can become a step to better understanding our mind and our misplaced sense of self. The mental events of our mind are less permanent and solid than we believe. So that when we are able to see this they immediately have less hold over us. Powerful stuff indeed.


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The Geography of Coping

In class I often try to get pupils thinking about how people react to, are affected by and manage the landscape around them. Geography is a very external subject in that regards. But if I ask pupils how they feel about a landscape then we are dealing with a much more internal interaction. There aren’t many children who just want to know how the cliff gets eroded, they like the parts where that natural process impacts on the lives of people.

In her book “The Wisdom of No Escape” Pema Chodron talks about how any place can be holy.

Pema Chodren

In fact that wherever you are

“you’re the centre of the world, standing in the middle of a sacred circle”.

But the trouble is

“if you stand still long enough, you’ll start to worry about something. Then you realise  …. that it feels as if everything is closing down and getting very small.”

Standing in the Himalayas, on a quiet Irish beach, in front of the Valley of the Kings or wherever we may gain some space, some sense of wonder and be able to stop, breathe out and marvel at it all. But for how long before grab on to some passing idea and it all begins to close in? How long till we want to get a better position for a photo or think about how long the return journey will be?

So for me, so near to the starting line of my spiritual journey, I have to rely more on the landscape around me. I have to be careful choosing where I go because I know in some places I cannot find any sense of the bigger picture. There are situations that cause me to fill with fear and see only a small dark room around me.

I wish I could stand still right now right here and wake up. But for now I have to partly rely on external geography to make it easier for my mind to cope. Facing down the daemons is beyond me for the moment. I shall notice them and then retreat to a safe place; run away and fight another day so to speak. But once I have the strength I can then do as Pema Chodron goes on to say

“Life’s work is to wake up. to let those things that enter [your] circle wake you up rather than put you to sleep. The only way to do this is to be open, to be curious and develop some sense of sympathy for everything that comes along, to get to know its nature and let it teach you what it will. Its going to stick around until you learn your lesson, at any rate. You can leave your marriage, you can quit your job, you can only go where people are going to praise you, you can manipulate your world until you’re blue in the face to try to make it always smooth, but the same old demons will always come up until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you. Then those same demons will appear as your friendly, warmhearted companions on the path”

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Early Morning and an active mind

Something disturbed my sleep around 4 this morning. I rolled over and in just 5 minutes later started thinking about how I could improve the behaviour in one my classes; a couple of them had been a right pain yesterday and I don’t think I had dealt with it well: I must have been more worried than I had realised. I got up; I knew sleep was defeated

The meditation teachers, they all say let go. so when my mind JUMPS and GRABS without me even properly waking up, I can tell how much attachment there is deep down as well as at the surface of my life.

Then in my morning meditation, the same occurs: I hardly get to settle, place my light concentration on my breath, when I am away planning lesson, worrying about workload, observations and the like. Then when I realise what I am doing I feel inadequate and angry with myself “Dam! I am letting myself get taken over by thoughts of work and the day ahead AGAIN.”

Pema Chodron says in “the wisdom of no escape” to be gentle as well as precise in meditation.

“Don’t judge yourself when you notice your mind has wandered. She says “all that’s happened is that you’ noticed. Good for you, you actually noticed! You’ve noticed that the mind thinks continuously, and its wonderful you’ve seen that. Having seen it, let the thoughts go. Say “thinking”. If you notice that you’ve been harsh, say it a second time just to cultivate the feeling that you could say it to yourself with gentleness and kindness, in other words that you cultivating a nonjudgemental attitude.you are not criticising yourself, you are just seeing what is with precision and gentleness”

And it worked to a partial extent this morning! I realised how harsh I was being with myself and tried to just let go. So that when my mind wandered again I realised that their could be a good side as well to all this mental energy, that THIS IS HOW IT IS and I couldn’t change it if I wanted to anyway