Archive for the ‘Therapists in Lancaster’ Category

OPEN WIDE

Thursday, January 1st, 2015
This is the tenth and final  post of the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapter thirteen. To find out more or to ask to be part of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.

 

Open Arms

Where does compassion begin?  “In working with the teachings on how to awaken compassion and in trying to help others”, Pema Chödrön  observes, “we might come to realize that compassionate action involves working with ourselves as much as working with others.”   Her teaching on widening the circle of compassion can be divided into three parts.

1. Ourselves in the World.  She tells us that compassionate action is one of the most advanced practices.  Perhaps this because it is a practice that is not secluded from the world; it is instead a practice amid the world.  And since it includes ourselves there is no false duality of “us and them”.  That means, for example, there is no hatred for “them” without  hatred of “us”. Conversely, there is no loving “us” without loving “them”.  To truly see the other person for who they are whether that be a friend, family member or homeless woman on the street, Pema tells us, “means not shutting down on that person, which means, first of all, not shutting down on ourselves…This means accepting every aspect of ourselves, even the parts we don’t like.  To do this requires openness, which in Buddhism is called emptiness—not fixating or holding on to anything.”  Imagine being totally empty of all the stuff that crowds us with worry, regret, so that we are as open and spacious as the sky.

2. Taking Back our Projections.  Sometimes when we most invest in being compassionate—when we walk the talk— something surprising happens.  We begin to be annoyed by the very people we are acting compassionately toward.  Say, for example,  we offer to do things for the elderly widow next door.  She begins to ask for help in things that are superfluous, we find ourselves tensing up when she calls and come to see has as feeling entitled and we come to resent her.  When we first offered to help her it was perhaps idealistic.  We felt good about ourselves and imagined the happy scenario where we would be saying to friends “she gives so much more to me than I give to her”. But instead we feel taken advantage of.  Pema suggests that this type of experience is universal. She writes, “We find ourselves hating those people or scared of them or feeling like we just can’t handle them.  This is true always, if we are sincere about wanting to benefit others. Sooner or later, all our own unresolved issues will come up; we’ll be confronted with ourselves.” In the case of our attempts to help the elderly neighbor, the sense of entitlement we see in her is likely a projection of our own sense of entitlement and the subtle manipulation of others.   To accept her selfishness and neediness and loneliness is to accept our selfishness, neediness and loneliness.  At a deeper level we may need to accept the approach of our own waning years and mortality. To reject these things in her is to reject them in us.  Pema suggests that our conditioned response of hanging on too tightly to our own way of seeing ourselves causes pain and one of the main escapes is to project the unwanted parts of ourselves onto others—mostly in the form of blame.   The way to have real compassion for ourselves and others is to practice taking back these projections.  The slogan Pema cites is about taking back our projections, but not to punish ourselves with blame, on the contrary “Drive all blames into oneself” suggests that we take back the these rejected parts of ourselves so we can practice accepting them.  When we deceive ourselves that they belong to someone else we can’t know that they are ours to accept.

2. Taking Back our Projections.  Sometimes when we most invest in being compassionate—when we walk the talk— something surprising happens.  We begin to be annoyed by the very people we are acting compassionately toward.  Say, for example,  we offer to do things for the elderly widow next door.  She begins to ask for help in things that are superfluous, we find ourselves tensing up when she calls and come to see has as feeling entitled and we come to resent her.  When we first offered to help her it was perhaps idealistic.  We felt good about ourselves and imagined the happy scenario where we would be saying to friends “she gives so much more to me than I give to her”. But instead we feel taken advantage of.  Pema suggests that this type of experience is universal. She writes, “We find ourselves hating those people or scared of them or feeling like we just can’t handle them.  This is true always, if we are sincere about wanting to benefit others. Sooner or later, all our own unresolved issues will come up; we’ll be confronted with ourselves.” In the case of our attempts to help the elderly neighbor, the sense of entitlement we see in her is likely a projection of our own sense of entitlement and the subtle manipulation of others.   To accept her selfishness and neediness and loneliness is to accept our selfishness, neediness and loneliness.  At a deeper level we may need to accept the approach of our own waning years and mortality. To reject these things in her is to reject them in us.  Pema suggests that our conditioned response of hanging on too tightly to our own way of seeing ourselves causes pain and one of the main escapes is to project the unwanted parts of ourselves onto others—mostly in the form of blame.   The way to have real compassion for ourselves and others is to practice taking back these projections.  The slogan Pema cites is about taking back our projections, but not to punish ourselves with blame, on the contrary “Drive all blames into oneself” suggests that we take back the these rejected parts of ourselves so we can practice accepting them.  When we deceive ourselves that they belong to someone else we can’t know that they are ours to accept.

3. The Middle Way. We will never be able take our projections back completely unless we address the core distortion in reality that makes us see the world as “us and them”, “good and bad”, “right and wrong”—that is dualistic thinking.   Many of us feel so compelled to think dualistically that we never even realized there was another way to think. Pema points out, “We make ourselves right or we make ourselves wrong, every day, every week, every month and year of our lives.”  When we feel right, it is helpful to look at it; look at how we want the situation to be solid and permanent and certain; look at how we want to live in a world where we are right.  When we feel wrong we could also look at that; look at the inherent self-judgment; look at the assumption that something is wrong with us; look at how painful this is.  If it wasn’t so painful we wouldn’t try so hard to push it away—driving the blame on to others.  If it wasn’t so painful we wouldn’t grasp so hard at being right. “The whole right and wrong business closes us down and makes our world smaller,” Pema observes. “Wanting situations and relationships to be solid, permanent, and graspable obscures the pith of the matter, which is that things are fundamentally groundless. Instead of making others right or wrong, or bottling up right and wrong in ourselves, there’s a middle way, a very powerful middle way. We could see it as sitting on the razor’s edge, not falling off to the right or the left…It is powerful to practice this way, [otherwise] we’ll find ourselves continually rushing around to try to feel secure again—to make ourselves or them either right or wrong.

“If we begin to live like this, we’ll find that we actually can’t make things completely right or completely wrong anymore… Trying to find absolute rights and wrongs is a trick we play on ourselves to feel secure and comfortable.” 

Pema speaks for us in asking some of the big questions such as “How is there going to be less aggression in the universe rather than more?”  “We can,” she tells us, “bring it down to a more personal level, [for example] how do I learn to communicate with somebody who is hurting me or someone who is hurting a lot of people? How do I communicate so that the space opens up and both of us begin to touch in to some kind of basic intelligence that we all share ?

She tells us that it starts with being willing to feel, what we are going through; it starts with being willing to have a compassionate relationship with the parts of ourselves that we feel are not worthy of existing; it starts with being mindful of our pain and our comfort and to practice experiencing them with equanimity. She encourages us that when we even aspire “to stay awake and open to what we’re feeling, to recognize and acknowledge it as best we can in each moment, then something begins to change.”

 

Exercise:

Think of a time recently when you lapsed into blaming.   Ask yourself:

Think of a time recently when you lapsed into blaming.   Ask yourself:

  • What of myself am I projecting on to that person?
  • What desired perception of myself am I holding on to so tightly?
  • What does it feel like to be holding on to myself so tightly?
  • Where in my body do I feel the tightness?

Now think of a time recently when you felt compassion. Ask yourself:

  • What of this person am I taking on to myself?
  • What does it feel like, physically, to feel compassion?
  • Where in my body do I feel compassion?

~~~~~~~~~

I can think of no better way to end this series than by quoting the final sentence of When Things Fall Apart:

 -May these teachings take root and flourish for the benefit of all ~ sentient beings now and in the future.-

~~~~~~~~~

 

Link to online discussion:  DISCUSSION    If your not already member and would like to be, contact me at phazeltine@gmail.com

 

HOME

Curiosity Killed the Ego

Sunday, December 21st, 2014
This is the ninth of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapter ten. To find out more or to ask to be part of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.

 

In Chapter Ten Pema Chödrön introduces the traditional Buddhist instruction of The Three Marks of Existence. These three truths are impermanence, suffering and egolessness.

1. Impermanence. This is the nature of things. She writes, “Impermanence is the goodness of reality”. It is good not because something else is bad, but because it is what is. It’s goodness is experienced when we experiment with fully accepting it. The cold of winter is no better or worse then the heat of summer or the cool of fall that it follows; the birth of spring is no better or worse than the dying of autumn or winter’s death. Decades before I knew anything about mindfulness I expressed my experience of the dilemma of preferring one moment over the other in a song I wrote the autumn that I was 19:

The eastern sky is dark and grey

There’s blue sky in the west

I turned my back to the setting sun

I just had to look away

‘Cause the sun caught hold of an amber tree

And set its leaves on fire

I knew right then I could stand all day

Just to fill my heart’s desire

autumn tree 

But it was much too cold to stay too long

And the sun would soon be gone, and

I had to run to find a pen

Before I lost this song

I sometimes wonder what it would be like

If I had nowhere else to go

But to stand outside while the seasons changed

The gold leaves into snow.

In one sense I was mindful. I was awake enough to see the fleeting beauty of light on a tree. For an instance it felt timeless, like I could stand all day. But I grasped at it. My very desire to write this song was an attempt to capture a moment that could not be sustained. But I wondered “what it would be like is I had nowhere else to go”. If being inside where it was warm was no better than standing in the cold, if being with my girlfriend was no better than being alone, if I accepted that the autumn that I loved was no better than the winter that I feared. We miss the fullness of the present moment. So our entire life at risk of being an endless series of anticipating the next thing, whether it is with dread or enthusiasm makes no difference. We miss the present moment for the next. Or conversely, when we feel joy, we dread the moment being over. The first taste of chocolate cake is so exquisite or that first drink or scotch is so warm and full of well-being that we chase after it. But it has already passed. All we get by chasing is being overstuffed or intoxicated. What if instead we took delight in the taste and let it go rather than despair the passing. “Somehow, in the process of trying to deny that things are always changing, we lose our sense of the sacredness of life”, Pema observes. When we recognize impermanence as impermanence this is when curiosity comes in. When we are free to be curious we explore the world as it is; we experiment with it intelligently and cheerfully like a infant experimenting with a toy—poking it, tasting it. “This”, she tells us, “is called mindfulness, awareness, curiosity, inquisitiveness, paying attention.”

2. Suffering. It seems to me that Pema Chödrön is telling us that in and of itself, in it’s pure form suffering is okay. Intrinsically bound with joy, suffering and joy pass from one into the other of their own momentum. The kind of suffering that is not okay is our suffering that “is based so much on our fear of impermanence”. We can accept suffering knowing that it will pass and we can participate in joy without clinging because we know that even as it passes it will return. Pema threw out a nugget of wisdom, on which she did not elaborate when she wrote, “Pain is not a punishment; pleasure is not a reward”. I think I could go on and on about this (fortunately for you I won’t). I will say that if we could accomplish the lessening of our association of pain with punishment and pleasure as reward—so imbedded in our instincts and emphasized in our culture—this alone would reduce much of our unnecessary suffering. Using incentives to elicit certain behaviors in others, or punishment to extinguish undesirable behaviors are in essence attempts to control others. The dharma is an alternative to teaching through control. It is experimenting with a different way of perceiving and responding to the world. It is a fostering of curiosity about existence, fostering the freedom to see the world as it really is unhinged from preconceived ideas. In short, when one experiences suffering as reward and punishment one is being controlled; when one experiences suffering as just one aspect of existence, one is free. We are free to experience suffering and joy as a union. Joy lends itself to the experience of expansiveness, while suffering lends itself to being humble. Joy without suffering can lead to grandiosity and arrogance. Suffering without joy can lead to despair.

3. Egolessness. In common use the word ego is a pejorative. It means, for example, self-importance. In western psychology there is the concept of healthy ego. Our ego is the fruit of the maturing of our personality and is what roots us in reality. In Freudian psychology, ego is the integration of our socialization of our parents (superego) and the playfully creative, but selfish child within (id). But there is also the concept of an inflated-ego, an aspect of narcissism, where the id is out of balance. As such, inflated-ego is similar to the common usage of ego. I believe that ego, as Pema Chödrön uses it, is more akin to inflated-ego. To be egoless, then, it to be free of narcissism and self-centeredness. Sometimes we naively think that self-centered people who look out for themselves have an unfair advantage. But if we think about it carefully self-centeredness, which we all are inclined toward, fosters the grasping of pleasure and pushing away of suffering, only to create more suffering. Another way of seeing it is that ego is separateness and egolessness is unity. To be a distinct self and to focus on and defend my self is a lonely place of alienation. And if I see myself at the center of life, when I am at the end of my life, the whole world is coming to an end—so it is a great calamity. If I am egoless, the world continues to exist and it’s not really such a big deal.

4. The 4th Mark of Existence: Peace. This is the 4th of three marks! (Things are always in flux.) Perhaps peace can be seen as the fruit of the three marks. Pema describes peace as “the well-being that comes when we can see the infinite pairs of opposites as complementary. If there is beauty, there must be ugliness…Wisdom and ignorance cannot be separated. This is an old truth—one that men and women like ourselves have been discovering for a long time. Cultivating moment-to-moment curiosity, we just might find that day by day this kind of peace dawns on us…”

Exercise:

Before the exercise go through the 3 + 1 marks. Write down a few keywords and sparse notes, no more than can written on an index card. This can be done at a separate time for your sit.

Settle yourself in for your seated practice. Spend a few moments as you typically practice.

Eventually, glance at your notes for impermanence. Express your desire to expand and be fully empty so that you can accept the reality of the impermanence of things, and to let go of your desire for permanence. Spend a few moments sitting with this.

Do this each for suffering and egolessness.

Finally, sit a few moments in peace, in the unity of opposites as if you have already fully accepted this.

 

 

Link to online discussion:  DISCUSSION    If your not already member and would like to be, contact me at phazeltine@gmail.com

 

HOME

 

SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO LET THINGS FALL APART

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

This is the eighth of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapters twenty-one  through twenty-two. To find out more or to ask to be part of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.

Falling Apart

Reversing the Wheel of Samsara

Are the dharma and meditation enough?  Are they relevant and accessible in the most painful or overwhelming of situations?  Pema Chödrön acknowledges the role of therapy as a path for some.  Yet she feels that the dharma is more revolutionary. “For many of us”, she writes, “the dharma itself supplies the tools and support we need to find our own beauty, our own insight, our own ability to work with neurosis and pain. One of the tricks seems to be having enough faith in the dharma to bring it right into our nightmare…”

In traditional Buddhism Samsara refers to the human predicament.  Because we are conditioned to grasp pleasure and push away pain, as opposed to honoring whatever arises,  we are caught in the endless cycle of suffering known as the Wheel of Samsara.   This wheel is depicted as being fueled by the three poisons we discussed in the last blog: passion, aggression and ignorance.  The wheel turns in the same direction unless the Buddhist  teachings (Dharma) are heard, take root and flourish within us.

 

In chapter twenty-one Pema tells of a moment  when the dharma spontaneously expressed itself within her.  She was facing a financial crisis.  She described feeling a huge weight and the beginning of panic.  This was a familiar feeling from past crises.  It was a fear response based on a habitual way of thinking about the crisis. She explains that she doesn’t know why this was the moment that she saw things differently, but nonetheless, she recognized her habitual thinking and, she writes,  “I stopped following through with my habitual plan to save the day… I decided to see what would happen without my input—even if it meant that everything would fall apart. Sometimes you just have to let everything fall apart.  I felt like there was a huge wheel that had colossal momentum for going in a habitual direction, and I was turning it around.  That’s what the dharma is about; turning all our habits around, reversing the process of how we make everything so solid, reversing the wheel of samsara. The instruction is to stop. Do something unfamiliar.”  She speculates that she could experiment this way without becoming rigid or stuck because of the training she had in making friends with her thoughts and emotions.

 

She began to see her predicament as workable. “We are stuck”, she observes, “in patterns of grasping and fixating which cause the same thoughts and reactions to occur again and again and again. In this way we project our world. When we see that, even if it’s only for one second every three weeks, then we’ll naturally discover the knack of reversing this process of making things solid.”

 

 The Path is the Goal

 

 Pema explains that the path is not a road with a destination—with an estimated-time-of-arrival. It is “the moment-by-moment evolution of our experience, the moment-by-moment evolution of the world of phenomena, the moment-by-moment evolution of our thoughts and our emotions.”

 

 When I was a child of about eight my father, without realizing it, gave me instruction on the Path as Goal.  He was of the generation that was born before most people could afford cars and he developed a life long love for driving and seeing the sights. One long weekend he and my mom piled their five sons into the station wagon to drive from Delaware to the western Maryland portion of the Appalachian range.  The novelty wore off quickly for me and I felt compelled to ask again and again, “Where are we going and when are we going to get there?” In this case his seemingly enigmatic answers—that we aren’t going anyway and that we were already there— were not the sarcastic retorts of an annoyed parent—but were literally true.  I believe what Pema is trying to teach us is that my father’s answers are actually always true.

 

 “When something hurts in life, we don’t usually think of it as our path or as the source of wisdom”, she observes, adding, “In fact, we think that the reason we’re on the path is to get rid of this painful feeling (for example, “When I get to L.A., I won’t feel this way anymore.”)  At that level of wanting to get rid of our feeling, we naively cultivate a subtle aggression against ourselves.”   She goes on to say, “However, the fact is that anyone who has used the moments and days and years of his or her life to become wiser, kinder, and more at home in the world has learned from what has happened right now… If there’s any possibility for enlightenment, it’s right now, not at some future time. Now is the time.”

 

 Exercise:

 

Settle in to some approximation of the formal sitting position, and focus light attention awhile on your outbreath but be aware of the room around you and such things as temperature, sounds, smells and, if your eyes are softly open, light, shadows shapes and textures.  Label any thought that arises as “thinking” and let it go. No need to struggle.

 

Think of a difficult or uncomfortable situation you are facing, perhaps something that you will be addressing in the next week.  Imagine yourself in that situation.  Allow yourself to fully experience the emotions that arise.  Think of ways that you would typically react.  Notice your conditioned thoughts, feelings and actions.  Imagine yourself responding in different ways—reversing the wheel.

 

Link to online discussion:  DISCUSSION    If your not already member and would like to be, contact me at phazeltine@gmail.com

 

HOME

 

THERE IS ONLY REALITY AND THAT’S OKAY

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

 

Antelope IslandThis is the seventh of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapters eighteen  through twenty. To find out more or to ask to be part of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.

 

The Dilemma of Coming up Short

In chapter eighteen, Secret Oral Instructions, Pema Chödrön discusses the discrepancy between our aspirations and our actual behavior. She gives an example of a moment inspiration: Perhaps we just read something that shifts our perspective. “We feel”, she says, “that we’ve just connected with a truth we’ve always known and that if we could just learn more about it, our life would be delightful and rich.”  At these moments  we feel expansive, we feel changed and committed to going about our life more generously— we feel “a great tenderness toward everyone, and a commitment to benefit others”. Then only hours or even minutes later we can think critical thoughts about someone, or turn down an opportunity to help a friend because of the inconvenience.  When we realize we’ve done this we may then feel deflated and self-critical.

But she tells us with equanimity, “It’s not a matter of the right choice or the wrong choice, but simply that we are often presented with a dilemma about bringing together the inspiration of the teachings with what they mean to us on the spot.   There is a perplexing tension between our aspirations and the reality of feeling tired, hungry, stressed-out, afraid, bored, angry or whatever we experience in any given moment of our life.”

The Trick of Choicelessness

In chapter twenty Pema introduces us to the Samaya Bond that a dedicated student   of Buddhism may make with a teacher.  It is, she says, “a complete and unconditional relationship between student and teacher: a commitment to sanity—to indestructible sanity. Samaya is like a marriage with reality, a marriage with the phenomenal world.”   She then extends the concept of samaya  to mean the commitment we  can choose to make with reality. She describes samaya as a trick. “Choosing” reality, by choosing the world as it actually is.  By committing to reality we feel we have a choice.  But there is no choice, there is only the world as it actually is.   Reality is like a room with no exit.  But  by choosing not to escape , we do not spend our lives  in the futile search for an  exit.  The trick, then, is in accepting what already is.

Three Traditional Methods For Working With Chaos

The three methods of working with chaos described in chapter nineteen make a good focal point for the core practices described in this book overall.   I have included here an outline of the chapter.  One option for a regular mindfulness meditation practice is to practice these three methods for a set number of days such as 21, 30 or 90—whatever seems appropriate for you.

 

  1. No More Struggle
  2. Using Poison As Medicine
  3. Seeing Whatever Arises as Enlightened Wisdom

1.     No More Struggle: The primary method for working with painful situations

  • During meditation whatever arises in our mind we look at directly, call it “Thinking” and go back quickly to the immediacy of the breath.  Again & again return to pristine awareness free of concepts.
  • Don’t judge the thoughts or judge yourself for thinking them.
  • Remember:
    • “Things arise and things dissolve forever and ever”.
    • Meditation practice is not about accomplishing anything, but about ceasing struggle & relaxing as it is.

       

2.    Using Poison as Medicine: Tong-Len

  • When any difficulty/pain  arises,  let go of the story line and breathe it in.
    • Passion (craving, addiction, greed)
    • Aggression(delusion, distorted thinking)
    • Ignorance (delusion, distorted thinking)
    •  The poisons of passion (craving, addiction, greed) aggression (hatred) and ignorance (delusion, distorted thinking) denial; the tendency to shut down) are taken as the seeds of compassion, because there is a universality in pain
    • The main point of these methods is to dissolve the dualistic struggle, our habitual tendency to struggle against what’s happening to or within us.  We can use everything that happens to us as a means for waking up (awakening).
    • As one Lojong slogan says, “When the world is filled with evil, all mishaps, all difficulties, should be transformed into the path of enlightenment.”

      3. Regard whatever arises as the manifestation of awakened energy.

  • We can regard ourselves as already awake; we can regard our world as already sacred.
  • This reverses our fundamental habitual pattern of trying to avoid conflict, trying to make ourselves better than we are, trying to prove that pain is a mistake and would not exist in our lives if only we did all the right things.
  • The elemental struggle is with our feeling of being wrong, with our guilt and shame at what we are.  That’s what we have to befriend.
  • We can dissolve the illusion of dualism between us and them , between this and that, between here and there, by moving toward what we find difficult and wish to push away (the charnel ground).

In sum, lighten up, lower your standards and relax as it it.

 

Exercise:

Settle in to some approximation of the formal sitting position, and focus awhile on your outbreath.  Label any thought that arises as “thinking” and let it go.

Eventually focus on each of the phrases below, one at a time.  Speak each one of them aloud or quietly to yourself.  Repeat each one at least once before going on to the next.

 

There is no better time than right now.

There is no better place than here.

I am already awake.

There is no higher state of consciousness than this one. 

Samsara is Nirvana.  Nirvana is Samsara.

 

Link to online discussion:  DISCUSSION    If your not already member and would like to be, contact me at phazeltine@gmail.com

 

HOME

 

Sending and Receiving

Monday, November 10th, 2014

This is the sixth of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapters fifteen  through seventeen. To find out more or to ask to be part of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.

In chapter sixteen  Pema Chödrön introduces the precept  of pasjna which  is freedom from the actions of making ourselves secure”.  Pasjna, it seems to me,   is the core of what frees us to  practice sending loving kindness outward.   She describes prasjna as  the “wisdom that cuts through the suffering that comes from seeking to protect our own territory”.  sendreceive3By not being compelled to protect our own territory we have no reason to defend against perceived threats by those who see the world differently than us.

Today’s exercise, below, is meant to guide you through the more formal practice of Tonglen as described in chapter fifteen.  To build on the descriptions  of tonglen presented last week from  chapter fourteen we can see tonglen practice as a method of connecting with suffering—the suffering  of ourselves and those around us.  It can lead to overcoming our fear of suffering thus expanding our heart when our impulse is to constrict.

Pema reassures us that it is okay if at any point in the practice we become stuck. If so we are to do tonglen  for what we are feeling at the moment  by breathing  in our stuckness and breathe what we feel we need—such as openness and fluidity.  Then we  breathe in for everyone who is feeling stuck and send out what we feel they need.

Or maybe it is our own pain that blocks us from receiving the pain of others. If you can name the pain, breathe in for those who feel the same pain.   If you can’t name  the pain, focus on the emotional and physical sensation. Then breathe in for all those who feel the same sensation.

She encourages us  to go against the grain of wanting things to work out and tells us that in Buddhist language this is referred  “dissolving the fixation and clinging to the ego”.   This suggests becoming free of making ourselves the reference point—the center of things.  If we feel we are the center of things then our needs, beliefs and our opinions must be protected or propagated.  From this perspective the needs, belief and opinions of others are less important to us and even seem like they are competing with us. To cease to cling to our ego is to be free of this and the suffering that comes with.

Opinions

In chapter seventeen she talks about our attachment to opinions and how we become fixated on them to the point  that we see them as truth.  She writes,

Opinions are opinions, nothing more or less. We can begin to notice them, and we can begin to label them as opinions, just as we label thoughts as thoughts… To have even a few seconds of doubt about the solidity and absolute truth of our own opinions introduces us to the possibility of egolessness.
We can just let those opinions go, and come back to the immediacy of our experience. We can come back to looking at someone’s face in front of us, to tasting our coffee, to brushing our teeth… If we can see our opinions as opinions and even for a moment let them go, and then come back to the immediacy of our experience, we may discover that we are in a brand-new world, that we have new eyes and new ears.”

 This creates  spaciousness and clarity—what she calls “intelligence” or clear seeing.  Intelligence is particularly important as we take action in the world to make it more kind and loving.   Let’s say, for example that I see an injustice in our community or nation and I choose to become politically active to change it and to protest the way it is.   I may have an opinion about those who are at fault.  If my opinion seems solid and true to me those who have different opinions are seen by me as the ones causing the injustice.  I am tempted to focus more on them, as I become angry with feel “righteous indignation”, then I focus on the cause.  I make them the “other”, and demonize them.  It can be said, therefore, that we actually  construct our enemies through our solid opinion and the righteousness we feel.  When I do this it does nothing for my cause and it likely hurts my cause because it fosters the defensiveness of my opponents and helps to solidify their opinions.  In contrast intelligence, that is, clear seeing, begets authentic speech and authentic speak begets effective action.

Exercise: 

“Tonglen”, Pema tells us, “can extend infinitely”.  Most of us begin with a lot of stuckness, constriction, and long standing judgments.  As we practice, gradually over time, we may find that our compassions expands—becomes more spacious. We may find that we are more able to be there for others in what used to be intolerable situations.

Settle yourself in your seated position.

1.  First, rest your mind briefly, for a second or two, opening up to basic spaciousness and clarity.

 2. Second, work with texture. Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, and heavy—and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright, and light—a sense of freshness. Breathe in completely, through all the pores of your body, and breathe out, through all the pores of your body. Do this until it feels synchronized with your in and out-breaths. 

3. Third, work with a personal situation—any painful situation that’s real to you. Traditionally you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about and wish to help.  If you are stuck, you can do the practice for the pain you are feeling and simultaneously for all those just like you who feel that kind of suffering.

 4. Now make the taking in and sending out bigger. If you are doing tonglen for someone you love, extend it out to those who are in the same situation as your friend. If you are doing tonglen for someone you see on television or on the street, do it for all the others in the same boat. Make it bigger than just that one person. If you are doing tonglen for all those who are feeling the anger or fear or whatever that you are trapped in, maybe that’s big enough.

             But if you feel ready you could do tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies—those who hurt you or hurt others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as your friend or yourself.  Breathe in their pain and send them relief.  (This passage is an abbreviated version of Pema Chödrön’s instruction at the end of chapter fifteen.)

Link to online discussion:  DISCUSSION    If your not already member and would like to be, contact me at phazeltine@gmail.com

 

HOME

 

INWARD & OUTWARD

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

This is the fifth of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapters twelve  through fourteen. To find out more or to ask to be part of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.

 

sign.inward & outward

 

These chapters got me thinking about the aspects of mindfulness that have us looking inward and those that have us looking outward and how these aspects are inseparable.

 

 

 

 

INWARD

Chapter 12, “Growing up” encourages us to do inward exploration, to let go of our reliance on what the outside world tells us.   Growing up means to stop waiting for someone else to tell us what to do.  It means to stop waiting for someone else to tell us what the truth is.    We have to find out for ourselves what is true.

 

This is sometimes scary, but with a mindful disposition it can also be exciting—an adventure; even fun.  To find out for ourselves is to be curious and inquisitive about the nature of things.  Perhaps mindfulness  could be summed up as: Be inquisitive.  Meditation could be summed as: Practice inquisitiveness.

 

Basic Goodness

 

Pema Chödrön is a nun in the Shambala tradition of Buddhism that was begun by her teacher Chögyam Trungpa [chogam trunpa] Rinpoche. An  mportant tenet of Shambala is “Basic Goodness”.  Keep in mind, though, that Buddhism does not have doctrine or creed.  It is personal experimentation to discover the nature of things.  As such, the tenet of “Basic Goodness” is not a belief.  So it is not technically accurate for one to say, “I believe in Basic Goodness”.  It would be more accurate for one to say, “Others, through the practice of mindfulness have discovered basic goodness in themselves and teach that each of us can discover this within ourselves”.  This can inspire us to practice.

 

Basic Goodness is not thinking of oneself as a “good person.” To think of oneself as a good person implies that there are bad people to distinguish oneself from.  This, from a mindful perspective,  is a false distinction, because mindfulness is non-dualistic.  In mindfulness thinking there is no “this and that”, it can be said that, in fact “this is that”.

 

Secondly, when I think of myself as a good person and, as always happens, I see evidence to contrary,  I feel a nagging guilt. I feel that I have let myself down.   Or I repress that guilt or deny the evidence.  Or I may even project the evidence of ways that I am bad onto others so I see them as bad.

 

Basic Goodness is not character.  It is human potential which arises from our practice.

 

  • We practice openness when our conditioning compels to close.
  • We practice spaciousness when our conditioning compels us to constrict.
  • We practice softening  and lightening-up when our conditioning suggests hardness and heaviness.

 

 

 

While an arisen Basic Goodness seems like a happy thing, there is a lot of anxiety and discomfort in the process of arising.  That is because letting go of dualistic thinking makes us uneasy since we don’t know where we stand.   As I referred to in the last post, in chapter 9, Pema Chödrön talks about drawing lines and the initial comfort of standing on one side or the other.  The reality is there are no lines—no reference points. This creates discomfort for most of us—even anxiety and fear.  This fear is a path to discovery of Basic Goodness.  It takes bravery and that’s why it is called the path of the warrior.  Non-duality—no lines and no reference points can also be described as “groundlessness”  as introduced in chapter 6.  I imagine the uneasiness of suddenly experiencing zero gravity—weightlessness. It takes getting used to!

 

OUTWARD

 

 The Awakened Heart (Bodhichitta)

 

In chapter 14, The Love That Never Dies, Pema Chödrön introduces the discovery of “awakened heart” with the story of the young father who witnessed the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.   Because of his love for his own two-year old child— because of being a parent—he can no longer distance himself from this experience of suffering.  She writes, “he feels as if each of those children were his children.  He feels the grief of all the parents as his own grief.”  This failure to protect oneself from pain in the face of the suffering from other is the arising of the noble heart.   This experience of  pain is necessary for true compassion.  Through compassion and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable we find healing, she says, “in the tenderness of pain itself.” This is the awakening of the heart.

 

Tonglen

 

Tonglen a practice designed to help with the awakening of the heart.  Putting it simply, tonglen is sending and receiving.  P explains, “Whenever we encounter suffering in any form, the tonglen instruction is to breathe it in with the wish that everyone can be free of pain.  Whenever we encounter happiness in any form, the instruction is to breathe it out, send it out, with the wish that everyone could feel joy.”

 

 

 

Exercise:

 

Settle yourself into a seated position.  Be aware of yourself in space. Then, for a few moments, place a soft focus on you normal breathing.

 

Now focus on your out-breath only, with no attention given to the in-breath.  Do this for a few moments.

 

Next think of someone you know is suffering.  It can be someone you know personally or someone you have heard about, such as through the news.  Breathe in that person’s suffering as if you are relieving them of it.  Breathe out what you feel they may need to lessen their suffering such as healing, peace or courage.  Do this successively for different people.

 

Link to online discussion:  DISCUSSION    If your not already member and would like to be, contact me at phazeltine@gmail.com

 

HOME

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot & Cold Loneliness

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

This is the fourth of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapter nine through eleven. To find out more or to ask to be of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.

 

I find it helpful to think of mindfulness as a skill.  We don’t need to think of it as character, or a “good” way to be—which injects judgment into the practice.  We can say very simply “I am training to handle my thoughts and emotions in a way that will prevent unnecessary suffering.”  There is no single right way to do this that will work.  There is no single way of understanding or “getting” it.  It is for each of us to listen to our teachers and to experiment. If it was just a matter of being told what to think and do,  When Things Fall Apart would be a very short book. It would be something like this:

When Things Fall Apart.  Be aware in the present moment, without judgment and with loving-kindness toward yourself.  Remember: reality is not dualistic. THE END.

What Pema Chödrön’s book is, essentially, is explanations, anecdotes, metaphors and various major and minor practices to help us shift our thinking and behavior as we face our feelings.

One metaphor  that she introduces in these chapter is “touching a bubble with a feather”.   She  encourages us to have a warm and friendly attitude toward whatever arises in our mind—even those unbidden thoughts that we may feel are ruining our mindfulness.  She tells us that whatever arises “what we usually call good or bad we simply acknowledge as ‘thinking’, without all the usual drama that goes along with right and wrong.  We are instructed to let the thoughts come and go as if touching a bubble with a feather.  This straightforward discipline prepares us to stop struggling and discover a fresh, unbiased state of being.”

Hot-Cool

        One way that she helps us to see and experience things in different ways is to have us look at emotions in detail and with an eye to subtle aspects of a particular emotion.  We are encouraged  to experiment with cultivating a different sort of relationship than what we have typically had with even our most painful thoughts and feelings.  Her teaching on Six Kinds of Loneliness addresses one such difficult emotion. She explains that loneliness is usually experienced as “restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company”.  This she calls hot loneliness.  When we cultivate a different attitude and relationship with our loneliness she describes this as cool loneliness. This, she writes “completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.” Here are six ways of describing cool loneliness:

Less Desire

  • Less Desire is the willingness to sit with our loneliness even as we yearn for something to relieve it.  She writes, “After we practice Less Desire wholeheartedly and consistently, something shifts…  So even if the hot loneliness is there, and 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior. That’s the path of bravery.”

Contentment

  • She says that we tend to draw a line. We say, for example, I’m happy on the left side and unhappy if I’m on the right.  Without the line and the good and bad sides we are uneasy.  Without a reference point to tell us to be happy or sad we have to deal with the uneasiness of gray.  She tells us, “we can either freak out or settle in.”  Contentment is living with the uneasiness that comes when we give up on “happy ever after”.  We give up on thinking ‘if only we were with the right person at the right place we would be happy’.  “Usually we have to give up this belief about a billion times… with awareness”, she writes.  “Then without even noticing, something begins to shift.  We can just be lonely with no alternatives, content to be right here with the mood and texture of what’s happening”

Avoiding Unnecessary Activity

  • When loneliness is heated it fuels a frantic search for a way out or for something to save us.  We may create busy work, create drama through gossip, or get caught up in fantasy or obsessive thinking. “The point is”, she writes, “that in all these activities we are seeking companionship in our usual, habitual way, using our same old repetitive ways of distancing ourselves from the demon loneliness.” This demon, when we stop running and then turnaround and look it in the eyes, becomes our teacher.

Complete Discipline

  • Complete discipline is the practice of coming back to the present moment and coming back again to the present moment with patience and no judgment, cultivating cool loneliness even as the hot loneliness sends our mind elsewhere.   There is no need to cultivate this type of loneliness because it arises naturally as part of human experience. We don’t need to invite loneliness or push it away. We don’t have to like it.  But we are wise to allow ourselves to experience it when it arises.  Pema goes as far as to say, “We are cheating ourselves when we run away from the ambiguity of loneliness.”

Not Wandering in the World of Desire

  • We desire food, drink, people, sex, etc.  It is not these things, per se, that are the problem.  It is desire for them that is problematic.  Desire brings us away from the moment; desire is so often about running from an uncomfortable moment, such as a moment of loneliness.  Desire puts us at great risk of attachment to the thing that we desire.  She tells us, “The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things okay.
  • Wandering into desire is a way of remaining childish and dependent.  We wish or believe that someone will take care of things—take care of us;  that mom is there to make all the hurts go way.  Not wandering into desire is to leave home “ and becoming homeless”, as P puts it. It’s about “relating directly with how things are.  Loneliness is not a problem.  Loneliness is nothing to be solved.”

Not Seeking Security from Ones Discursive Thought

  • Cool loneliness is to not expect that our constant internal chatter will give us security.  We find we don’t need to talk “with ourselves about how it is and how it isn’t, whether it is or whether it isn’t, whether it should or whether it shouldn’t, whether it can or whether it can’t”. Further, Pema tells us that that is why we are instructed to label these things “thinking”.  “[This chatter] has no objective reality”, she tells us. “We’re encouraged to just touch that chatter and let it go, not make much ado about nothing”

 

Exercise:

After settling in to your sitting and concentrating on your breath for some moments, experiment with different metaphors for dealing with any thoughts that arise during meditation and for staying with strong emotions.  Spend a few moments with each metaphor.

  • Metaphors for not grasping any thoughts that arise:
    • Touching a bubble with a feather
    • Clouds passing over a clear sky
    • Waves on a beach
    • A barge floating down a river
    • A butterfly alighting on a flower and flying away

 

  • Metaphors for facing and staying with strong emotions that may arise:
    • Turn around and face the emotion (anxiety, loneliness, sadness) that is following you.  Look it in the eyes and ask, “What do you have to teach me?”
    • Pay attention to a particular emotion.  Notice it’s heat—it’s urgency.  As you stay with it imagine it cooling.
    • Notice where a particular emotion is within your body. Feel its hardness.  As you stay with it imagine it softening.
      • Or feel its solid-ness and its dense-ness.  Imagine it dissipating like fog as the sun arises; or imagine it lightening.

Link to online discussion:  DISCUSSION    If your not already member and would like to be, contact me at phazeltine@gmail.com

 

HOME

 

 

REFRAINING

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

buddhaOne of the basic Buddhist precepts is Nonagression.  If you’re like me, when you first take this seriously you realize how often you are aggressive and you feel guilty for the times you’ve lost your temper, harmed someone close to you, or feel ashamed for past behaviors that you now see as hurtful. From the standpoint of mindfulness, such feelings of guilt and shame are actually harming ourselves and are therefore considered aggressive.  This is when my thinking starts to loop—because then I start to feel incompetent for feelings guilt and shame, yet the feeling of incompetence is a kind of shame.  Of course all this makes me feel grumpy and then I lose my temper with my wife.  You get what I’m saying.

This kind of thinking-loop is at the core of all kinds of obsessive thinking, not just about outright aggressive behavior.  So what’s to be done about it?  In chapter 6, Not Causing Harm, Pema Chödrön tells us how to do this beginning with maitri—loving-kindness toward oneself.  She feels that it is so important for us to confront this aggressiveness-toward-self with love that she writes, “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” She goes on to say, “The ground of not causing harm is mindfulness, a sense of clear seeing with respect and compassion for what it is we see”.

            She talks about the shock people feel when they realize  how blinded they are to some of the ways they cause harm.  And right away, how painful it is to face it. This is why courage is needed.  She sees it as “a journey that happens because of our commitment to gentleness and honesty, our commitment to staying awake, to being mindful.”

            She then introduces the practice of refraining.  Refraining is an approach for dealing with our difficulty with staying in the moment.  When we are still, there is the urge to move;  when we have an unpleasant emotion there is the urge to change focus.   When things naturally arise such as boredom, anger or craving we often automatically do something to fix it.   When we actively refrain, from fixing or shifting away we can actually notice the space between the arising of the craving, or whatever, and our action to shift our fix.

Think of an itch.  It can seem that a scratch automatically follows an itch, because we feel compelled to scratch.  But if, through restraint, and mindful attention we experience the space between the itch and the scratch, what had seemed like cause and effect is actually not cause and effect.   It is a space outside of cause and effect that makes us uneasy because it is uncertain and we don’t know if we can stand it.

She tells us that this space is groundlessness, the fundamental nature of things in Buddhist philosophy.  Things are not entirely predictable because everything is impermanent; nothing is solid.

OCD To Do list             The practice of refraining is akin to “response prevention”—a behavior therapy technique  for dealing with obsessive – compulsive disorder (OCD). For example, someone who washes their hands compulsively will be told by the therapist to touch something that they see as unclean and then they are to refrain from washing their hands.  This is worked out with the client ahead of time and done in a gradual way so not to overwhelm them.  The term “response prevention” means to refrain from responding in the compulsive way when one is exposed to the anxiety that precedes ones compulsion.

            OCD is really just an extreme form of a common human tendency.  A compulsion is an attempt to re-establish a sense of order when one is anxious.  Say, for example, that you are anxious about completing your tax return.  You sit down to your desk which is disorganized and feel a sense of relief and readiness once you’ve organized your desk.  Each time you sit down to your desk after that you “organize” it whether or not it is in disorder. You might sharpen pencils that aren’t that dull or line up the stapler neatly with the other items on the desk.  Over time if the organization ritual continues and expands even as the sense of relief diminishes you have probably developed a compulsion.

From the Buddhist perspective, our tendency towards obsessions and compulsions are universal.  They are pervasive and built in so that, particularly the subtler behaviors, we aren’t  aware of them.  Refraining is a practice to see these behaviors and to experiment with breaking the chain between the anxiety and the automatic response.

 

Exercise:  

 

Seat yourself for meditation and follow your  natural breath for a few moments.

 

Then scan your body and note anything that is  uncomfortable or annoying.  An itch, your positioning,  the way your leg is.  Remain seated for, what for you, is a fairly long period of time.  Practice refraining by doing nothing to change anything that is uncomfortable or annoying—e.g., refrain from scratching an itch; refrain from shifting your position. Pay attention to the space that you’ve  created between the urge and your reaction.  Notice what you are feeling physically and emotionally and notice what you are thinking.  Also notice changes in your thoughts or in how you feel physically or emotionally.

 

 

If you have already accepted an invitation to be part of the discussion go to: DISCUSSION

Next Post: 10/25/14

This is the third of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapters six through eight. To find out more or to ask to be of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.

 

HOME

 

 

 

Facing Our Pain

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

 

Facing Pain

 

This is the second of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapter three through five. To find out more or to ask to be of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.

 

 

You may recall from the introduction that Pema Chödrön identified the main underlying thread of the seven years of her talks that led to this book.  This thread is maitri. I thought it would be helpful to begin the discussion of chapters three through five by describing maitri in more detail.

Maitri (pronounced mītrē): Developing loving-kindness and unconditional friendship with ourselves. Maitri is to observe clearly and accurately “who we are, what we do; seeing our patterns and habits” while loving ourselves. To have maitri is to see ones habits and patterns unvarnished AND with unconditional friendliness.  She emphasizes that this is not self-improvement process “rather it is a process by which self-deception becomes so skillfully and compassionately exposed that there’s no mask to hide us.”  It is “giving up control altogether and letting concepts and ideals fall apart.”

In chapter three she writes, “We don’t sit in meditation to become good meditators.  We sit in meditation so that we’ll be more awake in our lives”. 

So we meditate to be awake—not to be good at it, not to be good. And what is it that we are to be awake too?  We are to be awake to Here and to Now.  Here and Now. That is, this very moment is the perfect teacher—the teacher that we need right here and right now.   We have, then, a very reliable teacher who is always here when needed.

But what if this teacher tells us, as Pema Chödrön’s  teacher told her, that we are to “lean into the sharp points”—that we are to confront the painful things, the things that our instincts tell us to run from.  What if this very moment is a very painful moment—a moment of fear, despair or shame?  What if this moment seems unbearably lonely?  Is this really a teacher we should stay with?  

It at first seems contradictory to self-love to expose ourselves to such pain.  Besides, it is very hard to do without lots of practice.  The point, however, is that suffering is lessened by facing pain, seeing it for what it is and coming to understand it’s impermanence. This is hard to do but it can be learned.  Having the courage to learn this is an act of love and compassion toward ourselves. 

 

Here’s how Pema Chödrön puts it:

 

“The most precious opportunity presents itself when we come to the place where we think we can’t handle whatever is happening… Basically, life has just nailed us…

            “Most if us do not take these situations as teachings.  We automatically hate them.  We run like crazy.  We use all kinds of ways to escape—all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it.  We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain…

            “Meditation is an invitation to notice when we reach our limit and to not get carried away by hope and fear… What’s encouraging about meditation is that even if we shut down, we can no longer shut down in ignorance.  We’re able to see how we run and hide and keep ourselves busy so that we have to let our hearts be penetrated.  And we’re also able to see how we could open and relax.”  So when we begin to apply this to our lives and don’t succeed, we begin to see and learn from it.

 

So what is the alternative to staying with the moment as it is?  The alternative is to run, hide or pad it with something.  We push away reality and grasp comfort or what, at first, seems like protection.  Since what we grasp  is not real comfort or real protection we continue to grasp for more, in the futile hope that we will find something we can hold on to.  This endless chase, with only temporary relief until we need to grasp for more,  is the very core of addiction.

 

If only we can stay with our teacher—this present moment, however painful, we can learn what it has to teach. “To the degree that we’re willing to see our indulging and our repressing clearly”, Pema Chödrön writes, “they begin to wear themselves out.  Wearing out is not exactly the same as going away.  Instead, a wider, more generous, more enlightened perspective arises.” She encourages us during the most difficult moments, “When we reach our limit, if we aspire to know that place fully—which is to say that we aspire to neither indulge nor repress—a hardness in us will dissolve.”

 

Meditation Tips:

  • The goal is mindfulness.  Meditation is the vehicle.  We do not strive to be good meditators.
  • Mindfulness is broad awareness versus laser focus.  It is helpful to think of soft focus.
  • Clear awareness is impermanent.  That is the nature of things.  Just like clear sky is impermanent.  Just like still water is impermanent.  A cloud passes through the clear sky.  The winds creates a ripple in the water.  Then it passes. So do not expect   many consecutive moments of clear awareness—if you have three seconds that is great..
  • Label you discursive thoughts, “thinking”.  Do this without judgment, with maitri, loving-kindness toward yourself.

 

Exercise:  After having established self in this sitting, comfortable but with straight back and relaxed chest and with eyes closed or half-closed:

 

Say to yourself (aloud or silently) “I am here and this is now.”  For moment be aware of the space you are in with everything around you but focus on nothing in particular.  You can look around or with your eyes closed scan the space by memory.

 

After awhile, shift your  focus to a worry, pain or sorrow that is present to you today.  Think of the trouble as following you as you walk away and then you turn around, stop and face it.  Say to it, “What do you have to teach me today?”

Then turn you mind to your body.  Where do you feel this worry, pain or sorrow; in your chest? In your gut?  What does it feel like?  Notice it’s solidity—it’s density.  “Ask yourself, is this really as solid and as dense as it feels; is this really as solid, as dense and as enduring as I think or fear it is?”  Maybe your answer, in the moment is “yes”.  That is okay.  Accept this.  Say to yourself  “At this moment my (worry, pain, sorrow) feels solid, dense & enduring.  Even as I am learning this may not be the case.”

If you can locate a different pain, sorrow or worry in your body shift your awareness there.  Focus on that for a moment in the same we just did.  If you don’t have another pain, worry or sorrow sit mindfully for a few minutes.

 

If you have already accepted an invitation to be part of the discussion go to: DISCUSSION

Next Post: 10/17/14

HOME

Leaning into the Sharp Points

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

No Sharp Objects

This is the first of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses the book’s introduction through chapter two. To find out more or to ask to be of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.

Pema Chödrön’s teacher advised his students to lean into the sharp points;  kind of seems like a teacher you’d want to back away from—after all we have been trained to avoid sharp objects!

This is how Pema Chödrön introduces us to her book When Things Fall Apart.  She is instructing us to move toward the very things we want to run from.  At the book’s outset we find her, enviably,  on a year long sabbatical relaxing—“I read and hiked and slept,” she wrote.  But she began, less enviably, to confront two cardboard boxes filled with 7 years of transcripts from her own talks looking for a unifying thread.   And some of us, looking for a unifying thread in our own lives,  at some point picked up this book that was the product of her courage to face two cardboard boxes filled with transcripts.

She discovered that the unifying thread was the great need for maitri (mītrē; loving-kindness toward oneself), and developing from that the awakening of a fearlessly compassionate attitude toward our own pain and that of others… that we could step into uncharted territory and relax with the groundlessness of our situation. The other underlying theme was dissolving the dualistic tension between us and them, this and that, good and bad, by inviting in what we usually avoid.”

In reading Chapter One, Intimacy with Fear, it occurred to me that the psychological purpose of fear is to get our attention—to become aware of something that it is vitally important to be aware of.   For example, if our prehistoric ancestors walked through a forest where a Sabre-Toothed Tiger had killed a friend,  fear provided the emotional/physiological alertness necessary for survival.  While this evolutionary trait has contributed to our survival it has also saddled us with millions of years of conditioning.   The vast majority of the thousands of fears we experience in our everyday lives are more like the fear of being late for dinner than the fear of being dinner for a large cat.   Unfortunately, because of this evolutionary residue we tend to greatly overreact, to fight or to flee, when simple alertness and attention are what we need.  The goal of mindful practice is alert awareness.  With true awareness and the space to breath we can face what we fear without fighting it or fleeing it.  Practicing mindfulness develops what is called a “beginner’s mind”  a mind open and free of conditioning.  In one sense, mindfulness is a process of unlearning the conditioned responses of anger and fear.

In the second chapter, she tells us that when she looks back at the moment when her life fell apart—her husband announcing he was divorcing her—she now realizes that he saved her life.  “When that marriage fell apart”, she wrote, “I tried hard—very, very hard—to go back to some kind of comfort, some kind of security, some kind of familiar resting place.  Fortunately for me, I could never pull it off.  Instinctively I knew that annihilation of my old dependent, clinging self was the only way to go.”

            Consider mindfulness to be a practice for what to do when things fall apart because things will fall apart.  It is the reality of all things.  The athlete at her peak, the intellectual at the zenith of his powers will, however slowly, decline.  This is the nature of things.  To say it is bad is to make a judgment.  To look at things mindfully is to look at things realistically and without judgment.  Pema writes that things “come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again.  It’s just like that.  The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”  By this acceptance we loosen up where we once tensed up; we open up were we once closed down.   We can then, even in the face of painful realities, loosen and lighten up.

~*~

Exercise:  When people who have been blind or deaf their entire lives have their senses restored through medical technology, they cannot at first make sense of the visual or audio stimulation.  This is true of newborns as well.  Our perceptions do not immediately have meaning to us.  To live in the world our minds learn not only to read  and organize perceptions but develop associations with them: “open flames are beautiful and painful” but also things like, “young black men with hoodies are dangerous”.  Without viewing our perceptions anew we may confuse what is really real and what is fear-based judgments.

Begin in a seated position. Close your eyes or, alternatively, lower your eyes but keep them open with a soft gaze several feet out. Then slowly scan each of your senses: feeling, hearing, seeing; for smelling and tasting you may want to recall a smell or taste if one is not immediately available.  Slowly and one-by-one, try to imagine each of the five senses as if you were experiencing them for the first time.  For example, hear the sound of a car driving past, a dog barking a door shutting* as if you didn’t know what they were.  Hear them only as sounds without thinking about how they were made.  This is a practice of “beginner’s mind”.  Don’t worry if you are unable to succeed in freeing your sensations from their associations.  Just realize, then, how strong the associations are.

* In a mindfulness practice these are not “noises” or disturbances but sounds that can be acknowledged and let go of.  You don’t need to practice in a totally quiet or serene environment.  For starters, though, its not advisable to practice on your patio while the house next door is being demolished. But within reason accept small disturbances.

If you have already accepted an invitation to be part of the discussion go to: DISCUSSION

Next Post: 10/11/14,

Resources:  For a definition of meditation go to the mindfulness resource page at Mindfulness Resources.

HOME