Dukkhaboy

Have felt worse


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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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New School Year: one Breath at a time

Time for a fresh start, following 5 and a half weeks of relaxing, recharging, reflecting and more recently gearing up, its a New School Year. The last 2 Septembers have caused me much anxiety and even illness. This year I want it to be different and I have a little plan.

My meditation practice ain’t much (30 minutes of meditation will always struggle against 23 and a 1/2 hours of ego as Trungpa Rinpoche would say), but I hope to begin to use it to directly improve (i) the way I deal with my day and (ii) the way I deal with other people. When I practice mindfulness or shamatha on my cushion I try to notice when my mind has wandered and then gently and precisely bring it back to the present. A few moments later when it wanders once more I do the same thing, over and over and over. I make no claims to be a mindful meditator, letalone a mindful person, but I am practicing and I want to bring the practice of meditation more often into my daily life. Shantideva says at the start of the 5th chapter of “The Guide to a Bodhisattva’s way of life”

Those who wish to keep a rule of life

Must guard their minds in perfect self possession

Without this guard upon the mind

No discipline can ever be maintained

The ability to bring my mind back to the present will allow me to let go of my prejudices and petty disgruntlements. If I catch that thought early, or even as it rises, I can gently and precisely notice it and bring my mind back to the present. Then, seeing things as they are – without my prejudices of me and them, good and bad, acceptance and rejection – “all my fears will come to nothing” (also from “The Guide to a Bodhisattva’s way of life” chapter 5)

I am old enough to know I will frequently fail at this. I will be cursing colleagues, students parents and the world in general once the gap-free chaos of term time restarts. But I also know that underneath there is mindfulness and awareness available to me and that with it I can be more generous, disciplined, patient and enthusiastic. Hopefully too my concentration and meditation will in turn be deepened by the changes in the other 23 and 1/2 hours of the day. The last verse in the 5th Chapter says

But all this must be acted out in truth

For what is to be gained by mouthing syllables?

What invalid was ever helped

By merely reading in the doctor’s treatises?

Please note any understanding I have of Shantideva’s work is because I have read the wonderful Pema Chodron’s “No time to Lose” Which is available from Wisdom Books here


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One way to Spend the Rest of Your Life

I just read this paragraph written by Pema Chodron and I thought it was beautiful

“With each meditation session, you could train in opening to whatever arises, and relaxing with the immediacy of your experience. Just acknowledge your pleasant and unpleasant thoughts without bias and let them pass away. Then at the time of death, you will be ready to let go of your attachment to this life and surrender to the process of dissolving.”

It seems to me she has just described how to live a purposeful life.

It is taken from her book “No time to Lose” in the chapter on enthusiasm. There are reviews of the book and where to buy it here

 


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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.


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taking the smooth with the rough

Most of my posts here have been about dealing with feeling down, feeling as though the world is against me and that there is no gap in the negative black wall around me. If you’ve read one post, you may glance at another, but I don’t imagine for one moment that it is a thrill-a-minute read.

Oddly, it is as though I am attached to these dark emotions. I am willing to follow either a long sad story of future bad things that may happen to me  or replay an unhappy past event over and over. When trying to use meditation to overcome some of the difficulties I have recently faced, I have been attempting to follow Pema Chodron’s technique of noticing the out breath When I find myself distracted, I try to gently notice this, say to myself as kindly as possible “thinking” and, with precision, return to lightly concentrating on the out breath again.

Last week though, after a real struggle in one part of my life, there was an upturn. I was complimented and appreciation was shown for (what I think were the considerable) efforts I had put in to fit in with what was required. At last I felt more valued, more worthy and even successful. I drove home shouting and screaming my delight in the car.

But if the way to cope with this dark mind is to gently let go, then also it must mean the way to manage the happier mind is exactly the same. I have kept telling myself those bad feelings are temporary, well it must also be that the more joyful ones too. Meditation is not for just the bad times. It is not just a replacement for those people not willing to take the happy pills. Its power lies in being able to transcend this mundane good and bad, happy and sad split that we all feel trapped by.

Which means just because I am happier at the moment than 2 weeks ago, I am not going to stop meditating!


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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”