Friday, June 8, 2012

Let Go of Everything Completely

What should wash up on my shores of Stumbleupon this evening but a ten year old recording of the Venerable Sarah Thresher speaking in San Francisco on the topic of healing.

It sounded as though the organizers of the talk has set the topic out for her as "Healing the Pain" but she addressed the broadest ranges of individual and physical healing, all the way to healing suffering between nations. And she did so with an engaging series of stories and examples from her own life. I found her teaching style delightful and I commend the audio to you when you have time.

What I have always found compelling about Pema Chodron, Roshi Halifax and also Joko Beck is what I call their Great Grandmother Compassion. No, not that they are literally a great-gran anything, but that they pull no punches, don't sugar coat anything, and their stories are meant to help correct you. To help correct your mind. And however unpleasant it is to be corrected, it's because they love you. After hearing this talk, I now include Ven Thresher in that set of teachers as well.

So as much to get these concepts and practices more firmly in mind myself as to share them with you, here are a few of the approaches Ven Thresher raised during her talk:

Whatever is happening, I need to have happen. Whatever comes, let it come. Try to recognize exactly when we find ourselves saying "This shouldn't be happening to me!" And then say to yourself just: "Well, this is what's happening." When we find outselves thinking "This is outrageous!" then note that is resistence arising, and allow it to be. Because it is what is happening. The toughest part is that part where you say "...and I need this to happen." No I don't need this disease or car accident difficult job situation exactly, but I need to recognize where I am resisting this set of circumstances so I can let go of the resistence which is only increasing my suffering. So I need to work with it, with things as they are.

The only thing you can control is your response to what is happening. Keep asking the question: "Why don't I want to accept what is happening?" If we can recognize in moments of resistence or suffering that we don't actually have to need anything extra, we are complete. Wisdom mind says we don't have to create additional needs. Ask yourself, resisting: "What is it I think I need (that I'm not getting)?" If you can identify (correctly!) what it is you are holding on to that is causing can begin to let go. "But that thing I'm holding onto gives me my identity!" What is it you think you are losing if you do let go? Pride. Self-importance? Sense of self? "If I let go of this, what's left?"

When I let go, things change. When I let go, what actully changes is me. Circumstances haven't changed. I have accepted them and therefore can more effectively adapt and respond to them.

View whatever arises as the teacher. Freedom is the mind that doesn't hold onto anything. Because really there is nothing to hold on to (groundlessness is reality). Once you are not trapped by the mind you can help yourself and others. "Let go of everything completely; there are no difficulties."

There is really not a lot I can add to that except to say these are things I really needed to hear right now, and hope you find them similarly compelling.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dreams of Falling

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I started having dreams where I would fall from a tall building or crumbling cliff. The sensation was itself terrifying, flailing helplessly into blackness. Subjectively the fall would seem endless, always with the added fear of what would happen when I hit bottom. Objectively the sensation may not have lasted more than a few moments. I would apparently shout quite loudly and then wake up.

One of my parents suggested that, it being my dream, the next time it happened I should just dream up a soft landing. I scoffed. Sounded so simplistic, so like a parents advice when really they could not understand that if I had any control over my dreams I would not be falling in the first place!

And yet somehow in the subsequent weeks and months, when this dream would occur I recall thinking "wait, I can try and change this." Suddenly there was a small space, inside the dream, where I could look at it without being completely overwhelmed by that seemingly endless sensation of falling. It took some practice, but I vividly recall the first time I was able to conjure just a grey piece of solid ground underneath me. Such sweet unbelievable relief to be landed, resting, no longer in stark peril. After a few months the dreams stopped completely, and for years afterwards I gave it little thought.

By college, I had run into the concept of lucid dreaming and could occasionally 'wake up' inside my dreams, and perhaps affect their course or content. I mark this as the first way in which I ever understood that my mind was somehow multilayered...that myself and my mind were anything but unified and monolithic. That a technique applied with one part of the mind can affect how another part of the mind operates, functions or reacts.

I think this is why, when I encountered Buddhism, it made so much sense to me that hundreds of years of self observation, comparing notes, codifying over centuries could lead to a theory of mind not too far from our own neuroscience. And that everyday practices such as lovingkindness, tonglen, and Zen sitting, working with precepts, could help me or anyone else create the space to better respond to everyday struggles.

In extremis, the past week I have been losing stamina, feeling more and more dizzy. Over the weekend I crashed so hard while out with my children I had to lie down on the sidewalk. The cascade of panic about possible outcomes to the situation was very much a free fall. Even now, days later, I still get stuck in loops of what might have happened, how badly things might have turned out. And what might happen next.

So it was just last night lying in the dark in bed, I remembered about the dreams of falling. From a practical day to day standpoint, especially given my current challenges in recovery, I realized that the practice now must be to try to recognize when I am falling while awake, and instead of focusing on the terrifying heights or the fear of the crash, to try to work with crafting a soft landing place. May it serve all beings.

Fear not.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

On Loving Stories

Zen Confessions time...I love stories.

Izzat so wrong?

While sitting, one approach to clearing the mind is to recognize when the monkey brain has bounded off in a new direction. Then simply name the line of thinking, and recenter on the counting. Usually I find myself spinning on some aspect if life, or how it "should" be but isn't, how it was and will never be again, or how I wish it hadn't been. Recognizing the drift, I name it "story" and come back to center.

As an English major and someone mad for narrative, I have noticed that if I have been reading any time close to the moment I get on the meditation cushion, there's even more sludge than usual to wade through before mind settles down. I have an extra layer of story, usually fiction, sometimes biography or research all fresh and interesting to contemplate instead of getting down to brass tacks.

Like swimming through a turbulent sargasso, I feel like I have to push these seaweed distractions to each side as I swim down to a more tranquil depth. At the same time I know it shouldn't matter whether the story is "my" story, or someone else's, as long as I am mindful of whatever comes up.

Does not stop me from reading, however.

When feeling ill, my old standby since the fifth grade was to stack the books high by the bed, and read, sleep, eat, repeat until I felt better.

Since I've been hammered with the adrenal burnout, I've spent weekends (and once almost two weeks) just reading, hoping that the down time will help me recover. What I am discovering is that in fact, anything too emotionally compelling is actually more of a strain than I should be putting myself through right now. Evidently, everyday life with two kids and two cats in the house plus work has enough stress without adding more.

So...spending a lot more time reading facts & research, learning about the body and nutrition, health topics, and in the evenings, Zen sources.

Reading one of those last night, Deshimaru's Way of True Zen (thanks Pigasus for the recommendation), I recognized that a great deal of how teaching is effectively transmitted is through metaphor, comparison, and quick narrative sketches. In other words, stories. In this case, stories to help us wake up, as opposed to those simply meant to entertain or distract.

But don't the best stories both engage us to the point we forget ourselves, and then plop us right down in the middle of significant recognition and resonance? The ones I love most, do.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dalai Grandma Wisdom

Sometimes a person says or writes something that is just what you need to hear at the moment.

For the past several weeks I've been right up against the issue that adrenal fatigue means I quite literally can't be very productive. Because, well, I'm lying down in bed. So what's a type-a, recovering perfectionist to do when I not only don't have my usual list of accomplishments to feel good about, I'm not sure that measure is ever going to work for me again?

Enter the Dalai Grandma. Her essay today is on life curves, and I'll let her speak for herself.

I knew, I knew I needed to take this adrenal burnout as a sign that I had to reframe but to what? And here it is:

You can think that at the same time as we grow in compassion and wisdom, our life unfolds into the world.

[Like so many colored strands of thread moving into the world like rivers, curling around, embracing it.]

That is a life of connecting and giving that can become richer in a peaceful old age.

Like Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, faced with the glory of the French Riviera: "This...THIS is what I want!"

But before I tear off and start planning and projecting how to make that happen, I think I'll just sit back, reflect and resonate. Like a Martin D-35 guitar body. Just let this note sustain for a while.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A few quotes I find inspiring

While I had been introduced to formal meditation by a philosophy professor in college (thanks Dr. Brown, wherever you may be!), I didn't sit again until another professor in grad school basically told me he would not sign off on my Buddhism thesis unless I meditated. He had a good point there -- and therein lies the reference for my first inspiring quotation, from the Dhammapada:

If one, through reciting much of texts, is not a doer thereof, a heedless person; he, like a cowherd counting other's cows, is not a partaker of the religious quest. If one, through reciting little of texts, lives a life in accord with the dhamma, having discarded passions, ill will, and unawareness, knowing full well, the mind well freed, he, not grasping here neither here after, is a partaker of the religious quest.

After graduate school, the only mediation I practiced was a few minutes on the mat before Aikido. So fast forward about six years. Got married, we got pregnant, and suddenly I had a fire lit under me to get serious about meditation. But of course, I had to read even more about it before I could get down to brass tacks.

I read texts from the Tibetan, South Asian, Zen traditions, you name it -- being at that time a hopeless and unacknowledged perfectionist I wanted to be sure I was doing this sitting thing right. so the following are just a few more quotations I noted in my sketchbook from those years that I found particularly informative or inspiring:

Do not think, nor conceive. Abide in the natural relaxed state, without contrivance; with the absence of all projections is the innate nature attained. Such is the way followed by all victors of the three times. -- Nagarjuna

When Mind has no place where it can stop (and become limited) the mahamudra [lit. the great attitude] is present. By cultivating such an attitude one attains supreme enlightenment...universal attitude of mind, infinite, all embracing, jewel-like casket of the original mind, free from selfish passions, shines like the [infinite] sky. -- Tilopa

Too close to be recognized. Too deep to grasp. Too easy to believe. Too amazing to be understood intellectually. Still water is clear; mind free of strain is happy. From possessiveness comes want. From nonattachment, satisfaction. -- unnatributed

Whether we are of greater, middling or lesser abilities, the best signs of success are a decrease of self-centeredness and the easing of mental afflictions. -- Gampopa, Precious Garland of the Sublime Way

For the strings to vibrate harmoniously, they must have the right tension. Well the same is true of your mind. To practice with the correct attentiveness, it should be not too tight, not too relaxed. We then let our minds remain at rest, open and without strain, fidgeting or distraction, and we abide attentive to the mind as it is. The ability to return to the breath and thereby to remember the meditation, is called recollection. Attention and recollection are two essential elements of Samatha practice. -- [I think this is from Breath Sweeps Mind but I will have to double check.]

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering. Holding on to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream. Each moment, life as it is the only teacher. Being just this moment, compassions way. -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Become one with whatever you are doing. -- Dogen Zenji

You have stopped running from your suffering. You know now that we all suffer. You have become more compassionate, which means you are including others in your practice. Now deepen. Buddhism is a two-edged sword, wisdom and compassion. Keep both edges sharp. Take it with you wherever you go and there is nothing you cannot meet with deep joy. -- Dainin Katagiri Roshi

Turns out I gave away my only copy of Breath Sweeps Mind, so unless somone has a copy they can check, we'll have to wait to confirm that one.

Any inspiring quotes that pertain to beginning the path, or being on it, that you want to share?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Zen belly laugh

It was certainly unexpected that a Tricycle "wisdom of the day" email might lead to helpless belly laughter, in addition to good writing and a pithy life lesson. But it did and I'm grateful. Try this one on for size:
You deal with your shit in Zen by sitting with it. By breathing right into it. You don’t try and ignore it with pleasant thoughts or lofty ideas, and you don’t try and bury it with solutions. You deal with it, you work with it, one breath at a time.
For the laugh, you have to link through and read the whole thing.

From Cave to Corporation

Was introduced by a former colleague to an interesting person this week, named Gregory Burdulis. For eight years he was a practicing Theravadin Monk, but he has left his hermitage in Burma and returned to the USA to engage in work I find fascinating: attempting to insert mindfulness meditation into the modern corporation.

Specifically he was invited to work with ad firm CP+B. If you read CopyRanter, you know he calls his own colleagues "lying liars who lie." But I take it as an extremely good sign that one of the principals at the storied firm thought it might be important for their employees to actually live a more contemplative, centered and full life. Of course, the idea is that they will also be more creative. I'll take whatever reason works to get meditation into the modern corporate ethos and keep it there. Once there I have the strong suspicion it will do a lot more to shift the overall culture, stealthily and over time, than might otherwise be accomplished by "outside influence."

Going from a hermitage to an ad firm is kind of like visiting one of the suffering planes -- it's Bodhisattva work to be sure, but that had to be a shock to the system.

Here is Gregory's TEDxBoulder talk:

I love what he says here about sitting in the deep dark morning:
listening to the crickets sing
they were singing a love song...
it was an invitation
Aside from his monk-ness, his other significant street cred includes having done work on The Artist's Way with Julia Cameron, contemporary/ conceptual performance dance, and worked in Hospice care Chapliancy.

Something he says in his bio that I'll be practicing with especially when things get tough on this recovery path: "pain is inevitable but suffering is optional." [On edit: Please see this post by Mystic Meandering about suffering in fact also being real and inevitable, with the clarification that it is the "story" we might weave about the suffering that is optional...]

More of his work here, from the Wisdom 2.0 conference. Go to 51:32 for the start of his panel. [Also on edit: this session is about Mindfulness in the workplace, great panelists, and is also worth watching because you get to see Greg turn the tables on the moderator (twice).]