Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How long do you keep having a bad day?

The other day didn't feel right...It just seemed weird right from the get go...You can feel it coming on. Kind of like when you are in an argument and in the middle of it you KNOW you are wrong but for some reason you continue the fight....after all, you committed to it. Might as well finish right? As the day progressed I saw myself this way. Doing things, reacting in ways I do not like. Being short with people and having scattered thoughts. Then it occurred to me...How long do you want this to go on? Do you commit to the entire day and resolve the fact in your mind that the day is a wash and it will stay that way until you retire for the evening? Wallowing around like a fish on a hot sidewalk, gasping for breath but doing nothing to change it?

All too often we will do the "argument" method. We know we are in a place of suffering but we continue our day miserable...even though, deep down, we know we can start the day over again. Being mindful is truly the answer. If I am in a minute of samsara I have the tools to bring myself out of that samsaric minute or period of suffering.

What is samsara? Samsara literally means "wandering-on." Many people think of it as the Buddhist name for the place where we currently live — the place we leave when we go to Nirvana. But in the early Buddhist texts, it's the answer, not to the question, "Where are we?" but to the question, "What are we doing?" Instead of a place, it's a process: the tendency to keep creating worlds and then moving into them. As one world falls apart, you create another one and go there. At the same time, you bump into other people who are creating their own worlds, too.

The play and creativity in the process can sometimes be enjoyable. In fact, it would be perfectly innocuous if it didn't entail so much suffering. The worlds we create keep caving in and killing us. Moving into a new world requires effort: not only the pains and risks of taking birth, but also the hard knocks — mental and physical — that come from going through childhood into adulthood, over and over again. The Buddha once asked his monks, "Which do you think is greater: the water in the oceans or the tears you've shed while wandering on?" His answer: the tears. Think of that the next time you gaze at the ocean or play in its waves.

In addition to creating suffering for ourselves, the worlds we create feed off the worlds of others, just as theirs feed off ours. In some cases the feeding may be mutually enjoyable and beneficial, but even then the arrangement has to come to an end. More typically, it causes harm to at least one side of the relationship, often to both. When you think of all the suffering that goes into keeping just one person clothed, fed, sheltered, and healthy — the suffering both for those who have to pay for these requisites, as well as those who have to labor or die in their production — you see how exploitative even the most rudimentary process of world-building can be.

This is why the Buddha tried to find the way to stop "samsara-ing." Once he had found it, he encouraged others to follow it, too. Because samsara-ing is something that each of us does, each of us has to stop it him or her self alone. If samsara were a place, it might seem selfish for one person to look for an escape, leaving others behind. But when you realize that it's a process, there's nothing selfish about stopping it at all. It's like giving up an addiction or an abusive habit. When you learn the skills needed to stop creating your own worlds of suffering, you can share those skills with others so that they can stop creating theirs. At the same time, you'll never have to feed off the worlds of others, so to that extent you're lightening their load as well.

It's true that the Buddha likened the practice for stopping samsara to the act of going from one place to another: from this side of a river to the further shore. But the passages where he makes this comparison often end with a paradox: the further shore has no "here," no "there," no "in between." From that perspective, it's obvious that samsara's parameters of space and time were not the pre-existing context in which we wandered. They were the result of our wandering.

For someone addicted to world-building, the lack of familiar parameters sounds unsettling. But if you're tired of creating incessant, unnecessary suffering, you might want to give it a try. After all, you could always resume building if the lack of "here" or "there" turned out to be dull. But of those who have learned how to break the habit, no one has ever felt tempted to samsara again.

Just this last thought: WE CREATE THE WORLD WE LIVE IN! We have total control on how much time we want to spend in pain and samsara. So when you see yourself in a painful situation, samsara focus on the minute at hand...breathe, focus. Be mindful of the situation and anchor your attention on your breath or the soundscape or whatever activity you are involved in at that very moment.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Batman's True Meaning of Rest

In ‘Made of Wood’ by Ed Brubaker, Batman says this -

‘There’s a moment… right before my grapple cable goes taut… when it’s just me and the ground hovering somewhere far below… a moment of freefall… a moment of total calm. I will never tell anyone how much I enjoy that moment. Or how good it feels on some mornings to see the sun rising over my city… after a full night’s work. In the light of a new day, it almost feels like Gotham is lifting itself out of the mire… Feels like all my work, all my sacrifice, is worthwhile. Seeing the sun gleaming off those skyscraper… gives me something I need to go on each night. Helps me carry on my mission.’

Batman manages to enjoy brief respites in mid air despite the tedium of his continual mission – a moment of suspension in ‘nothingness’, when all is let go off, including his attachment to justice and aversion to crime. Isn’t this the true meaning of rest – that is both physical and spiritual? There is also rest that comes from knowing a worthy hard night’s work is done. True contentment must arise from having done one’s best; not from doing nothing. Later, he tells Green Lantern this -

‘I know that feeling [of despair, when the police radio announces more crimes]. That moment of satisfaction that’s always ripped away too soon. But there’s good people here, too… people worth fighting for.’

The only reason Bodhisattvas stay in Samsara is not because they are samsaric, but that we are. There is only one kind of despair that it alright – that which leads to the end of despair, which enlightened beings realise, as they continue aiding those in despair.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sit Along With Taigu: What is a Buddha?

This short video is from Jundo Cohen and Taigu Turlur's video/meditation posts on Shabala Sunspace. It is a talk and a short meditation. It is actually quite good....check it out!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What is Mindfulness?

I took this from It is a refreshing, simple view of what "Mindfulness" truly is as applied to Buddhism and meditation.

What is mindfulness?

I like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;

On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

Kabat-Zinn, if you haven’t heard of him, is a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

First of all, mindfulness involves paying attention “on purpose”. Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes (me included) talk about “mindfulness” and “awareness” as if they were interchangeable terms, but that’s not a good habit to get into. I may be aware I’m irritable, but that wouldn’t mean I was being mindful of my irritability. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully.

Let’s take that example of eating and look at it a bit further. When we are purposefully aware of eating, we are consciously being aware of the process of eating. We’re deliberately noticing the sensations and our responses to those sensations. We’re noticing the mind wandering, and when it does wander we purposefully bring our attention back.

When we’re eating unmindfully we may in theory be aware of what we’re doing, but we’re probably thinking about a hundred and one other things at the same time, and we may also be watching TV, talking, or reading — or even all three! So a very small part of our awareness is absorbed with eating, and we may be only barely aware of the physical sensations and even less aware of our thoughts and emotions.

Because we’re only dimly aware of our thoughts, they wander in an unrestricted way. There’s no conscious attempt to bring our attention back to our eating. There’s no purposefulness.

This purposefulness is a very important part of mindfulness. Having the purpose of staying with our experience, whether that’s the breath, or a particular emotion, or something as simple as eating, means that we are actively shaping the mind.

Left to itself the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts — including thoughts expressing anger, craving, depression, revenge, self-pity, etc. As we indulge in these kinds of thoughts we reinforce those emotions in our hearts and cause ourselves to suffer.

By purposefully directing our awareness away from such thoughts and towards some “anchor” we decrease their effect on our lives and we create instead a space of freedom where calmness and contentment can grow.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Words to Live By

This is taken from "Awakening the Buddha Within" by Lama Surya Das. Very simple and touching. I find the simple little things like Lama Das suggests tend to wash over my spirit and gently "nudge" me in a wonderfully positive direction.

Be aware/Stay awake
Chant and sing
Breathe and smile
Let Go/Forgive/Accept
Cultivate oneself/Enhance competencies
Cultivate contentment
Cultivate flexibility
Cultivate friendship and collaboration
Lighten up
Celebrate and appreciate
Dream Give
thanks Evolve
Love Share/Give/Receive
Walk softly/Live gently Expand/Radiate/Dissolve Simplify
Be born anew

from "Awakening The Buddha Within" by Lama Surya Das

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Affecting the Lives of Others

As I travel on this path I have chosen for myself I am constantly reminded how wondrous the panoply of life truly is. Some reminders are small in nature, whispers if you will, like when a child that doesn't even know you reaches for your hand laughing or a little dog dances for joy when you approach him on the street. Other signs are proportionately larger (not whispers but bricks) depending on how receptive I am to the truth of the moment. "Truth of the Moment" I call it because no matter how much learning I undergo my view or knowledge of a situation is ultimately my view. Not yours, not you mother's, not Buddha's or Jesus'. If I take the time to be mindful and present during the moment at hand I am substantially more open to the true nature (as true as my mind interprets it) of whatever is happening.

It is easy at times to absorb and appreciate a moment for what it is...Happiness when a friend genuinely enjoys your company or a party full of laughter and singing. Or shared pain and kindness as you comfort a friend at a funeral of their parent. Experiencing happiness and sadness mindfully makes for a person who is more balanced capable of being of greater service to the world and to themselves.

I have had many "aware" moments in the past week. I went to the funeral of my dear friend's father. I went to the funeral of another friend's sister. I performed at a Memorial Day party with other friends well into the night. We sang, harmonized and ate wonderful food. I watched as a person who is struggling terribly with alcoholism actually smiled from ear to ear for about three hours...Listening, laughing, singing and experiencing true fellowship. He got more out of that party than a week's worth of therapy. I listened as a dear friend cried and cried over the phone only to tell me I was a gift from above simply because I listened and told them they were worth while. I read amazing words in an email about me from my friend Peter who appreciates this blog and what I do with my heart...with my words (for the record I truly do not deserve even a modicum of what Peter wrote. It was that amazing). And, again at my Tuesday night Zen group, my Canadian friend Aubrey approached me and made a point to tell me how much he enjoys the Italian Buddhist and how he benefits from my candor and heartfelt views.

That's quite a bit in one week isn't it? Processing a situation with a mindful eye is very good in many respects. Most importantly it enables me to appreciate the happiness, sadness, gratitude or pain for what it really is and not some cartoonized version designed in my head to make the moment easier to take. I have proper footing. I am poised to learn more and act with right speaking and right listening.

Being mindful of the moment and my actions does not just affect me...This is the gist of what I am trying to relate here. EVERY ACTION I TAKE IN MY LIFE HAS AN AFFECT ON OTHERS AND THE WORLD AROUND ME. Just by attempting to listen more instead of being so quick to throw advice at someone or wishing happiness on a store clerk that is scowling changes the world. Your little whispers add up to a giant hurricane of compassion, love and truth. Gestures small or large decrease samsara (suffering) and open the eyes of all living things. People remarked and said wonderful things to me just because I simply did the things that are right to do. I did not do anything for recognition. I did the things because that is what I do. In a world where people thirst for even the slightest act of loving kindness or understanding I can make a difference with tiny actions not just sweeping motions. No boasting...just quiet "right" actions. So you see, I make the earth a better place and, selfishly, I get to grow, learn and enjoy myself in the process.

Here is a universal Sufi evening prayer. It is soft and beautiful. If you do not believe in a Creator God or Higher Power I suggest replacing such phrases with "The Universe" or "Sky."

I am thankful for all of you and I bow to the Divine in you.