Dukkhaboy

Have felt worse


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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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Blind, not blind

eilidh-johnstone-blind-skier

Eilidh Johnstone is 10. She is blind. She skis. I am 51. I wear glasses. I moan about them when it rains and they get wet. Having read about her and watched her in action I feel my negative outlook needs adjusting.

There is an old old story about a gatekeeper. A traveller arrived at the the city and before passing through asked the keeper “What are the people of this city like?” The gatekeeper ducked his question and asked the traveller, “What were the people like where you just came from?” “Oh dear God, they were awful: untrustworthy, prone to to criminality, self centred and dishonest.” “Well I think you will find the people here are just the same,” ended the gatekeeper as he allowed the traveller through.

Later that day another traveller new to the city, approached the gates and before passing through he asked the keeper the same thing “What are the people of this city like?” Once more the gatekeeper ducked his question and asked the traveller, “What were the people like where you just came from?” The second traveller was enthusiastic in his response ” You couldn’t meet a better bunch of people. They were hospitable and, to a man and woman, kind and considerate.” “Well I think you will find the people here just the same,” smiled the gatekeeper as he waved the traveller in.

All day, every day we tell ourselves stories: he is like that, she always does this, they have never liked me. We carry around with us our simplistic versions of others. That they are generalisations is bad enough, but it means that the picture we hold in our minds, that we think is the truth is not what reality is – it is not the person we see in front of us. The stories we tell about our father, our partner, our boss are not our father, our partner or our boss. They are just stories – based on an event or series of events that definitely happened – but just stories nevertheless. The trouble is they block us from being able to experience all of our lives. These distorted and lazy tales create the ruts into which we all fall. The full picture of other people and of our broader lives is dulled by the preconceived ideas we cling on to.

Therefore it is becomes our challenge to notice this internal tale-spinning and drop the repeating circles our minds can restrict us to. We are living on autopilot and we are missing out. Within our mind’s stories lie our prejudices and our lapses into boredom. Without them there is possible a more joyful, empathetic and compassionate way of living. Being mindful can unentangle us from it all and allow us to ski with freedom like Eilidh.

As the Mindfulness teacher Christina Feldman says “Being present invites us to allow the memories and the stories rooted in the past to be just whispers in our minds that we no longer solidly with unwise attention.”

The main ideas from this post were all taken from Christina Feldman’s book “The Buddhist path to simplicity” and the inspiration to understand it more clearly was from Eilidh Johnstone.


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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