by Tim Burnett, August 2019
THE BUDDHIST ROOTS OF MINDFULNESS 2019
In August 2019, Mindfulness Northwest Executive Director and Guiding Teacher Tim Burnett co-led a 5-day retreat on the Buddhist teachings of lojong, or mind training, which support the development of compassion. Note that this continues an earlier exploration from 2017: 2017 – Mind Training Slogans.
Talk 1: Train in the Preliminaries
It’s so wonderful to be here together. And I say this knowing full well that for some of us right now it’s also really hard to be here. Our practice helps us in so many ways but one of my favorite ways is how it broadens our capacity to hold apparent opposities. It can be hard to be here and wonderful to be here at the same time. It doesn’t have to be nice to be wonderful, no know?
Another opposite is how hard it can be to essentially do nothing much for these five days. On the one hand what’s your problem anyway? You chose to come here. You are fed and housed and your days are all organized for you. You get to be in one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on the planet for about a week. Life is good. Life is perfect.
And yet it’s also not. It’s also just hard to be quiet, to not busy yourself with projects and communication and checking in all the time. It’s hard not to have a clear role to play. It’s hard to leave other’s be even when they seem to be suffering – and we do want you to do that actually. I wanted to mention a bit more about silence. The practice of silence includes not speaking to your neighbors when they appear to be in distress. Just give them space and trust that they will reach out to me or the other teachers and leaders if they need help. To really release yourself from the idea that it’s your to take care of them in that overt way. We all support each other with our presence and our concern. You might try this if you see somehow who looks like they are in physical or emotional pain – just silentlyoffer some wishes of loving-kindness – “may you be happy and free from suffering” – and leave them be. Really we want you to do that. It is not the conventional thing I know where it would be seen as cold or uncompassionate not to reach out. I know it’s different. But in this context and you’ll just have to trust me at least provisionally if you doub this idea – in this context it’s compassionate to be restrained. To not speak. To not pat someone on the shoulder and whisper “are you okay?”. Why? Because you’re inadvertently short-circuiting the process of retreat and lessening the possibility for their healing and growth. You’re interupting you practice as absolutely well meant as the action is. So do leave people be okay? I’m here. Audrey’s here. Annie’s here. We have several medical and mental health professionals here we can call on if we need them.
And if you have already broken silence to check in on someone. That’s okay. No need to beat yourself up. But do be very very scrupulous and complete about the silence ok? It really is important – so important – for each of us to have total space and trust for our own process to unfold the way it needs to unfold. We need to be free of worry that if I let my guard down and start trying or physically show that there’s pain in the body that someone will swoop in and try to help us. Does that make sense?
And I know that isn’t easy for us. But it’s really important. And then bring your awareness back to your own experience to the only one here you really know even a little bit. Pay attention to everything here. Notice the others. Appreciate the others. Care for the others, for sure. But leave them be and practice with this one here. That’s the assignment. That’s the shape of compassionate action in this situation.
It’s also hard not to be important. Of course everyone here is important – critical actually – but that part of you that gets it’s nourishment and validation from playing your usual roles in life – whatever those may be – is not getting that this week is it? You’re just another person sitting here. Just another person being quiet. Just another person. Nothing special. Is that okay with you? And if it is, or if it isn’t, who is this “you” whose doing the evaluating about what’s okay and what’s not okay anyway?
And how could anything not be okay with you anyway? Things are just as they are. Our idea of “this isn’t okay with me” is interesting: doesn’t it imply that through force of will or something we are saying there should be a whole different reality going on that the one that is going on? “This isn’t okay with me” so you should also get busy fixing the shape of this not okay reality for me. And not later, buddy: right now.
So I do enjoy giving these talks very much and trying to say something about the Buddhist roots of these mindfulness and compassion practices we do but in a way there’s nothing much to say other than: be with yourself. See what happens. See how it feels. Notice the ways you can easily make things harder or more easeful. Start again: be with yourself, see what happens, see how it feels, notice the ways you are in it all. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
In a way “teaching” these retreats is the easiest thing to do in the world. I don’t need to teach you anything. Your experience is already on the job!
And yet talk I shall. This year we’re returning to a great set of teachings from the Indo-Tibetan ist Buddhist tradition called “lojong” in Tibetan which simply means mind training. These are teachings for training the mind. Training it how you might ask?
A deep root of the lojong training is disrupting our habitual self-centeredness. We are all, to be sure, nice people but we do get a little obsessed with this one in the middle. And that can cause so very many problems. Our self-focus can make us brittle and defensive. It can inspire us to be aggressive and negative towards others. It can run the other way an inspire us to e fearful and withdrawn. What if the others aren’t kind to me or don’t give me what I need? Can I trust them?
Here’s a bit of what the great Tibetan scholar and teacher Thubten Jinpa says about this:
A central theme of mind training practice is the profound reorientation of our basic attitude toward both our own self and fellow sentient beings, as well as toward the events we experience. In our current naïve everyday attitude, we not only grasp at an intrinsically real “self” as being who we truly are, we also cherish this “me” at the expense of all others. We feel hurt when someone insults us, disappointed when someone we love betrays us, outraged when provokes for not reason, pangs of jealousy when others are successful, and all of these tend to strike us more intensely the strong our self-cherishing.
There should be a part of you that just let out a big internal “huhn?” Isn’t it common sense and normal that we are hurt when someone insults us, disappointed when someone we love betrays us, outraged when provokes for not reason, pangs of jealousy when others are successful? Well maybe we agree that jealousy at other’s success is kind of lame but isn’t the rest of this just how it is?
He goes on:
The mind training teaching challenges us to question this. By deeply understanding others as friends “more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel” – as Langri Thangpa put it in his Eight Verses on Mind Training – and recognizing that our true enemy lies inside ourselves, we overturn our habitual self-centeredness. It is self-cherishing that opens up to painful and undersirable experiences. Mind training teachings admonish us to instead, “Banish all blames to a single source. / Toward all beings contemplate their kindness.”
We have so many ideas of that’s normal and automatic and just how it is. My Zen teacher used to say, “everyone’s a philosopher” meaning we all have well developed theories of who we are, what the world is, and how it all works. But the problem is we take our theories to be more solid and true and immuatable that then actually are.
Someone insults us we feel hurt. That’s in our philosophy of being. Just how it goes.
But as all of us know the basic instructions as mindfulness is introduced include a powerful idea that between stimulus and response there’s a space, and in that space is our power to choose our response, and that this possibility to respond wisely is our growth and our freedom. Someone insults us and instead of defending or fighting back or even feeling hurt perhaps we start to get curious instead about self-cherishing and self-protection. Why does what she said or the look he gave me bother me? Does it actually bother me or am I generating a bothered state out of habit? Are there times – perhaps times we don’t even notice – when someone’s a little off toward us and it doesn’t bother us? Do we hold it or respond to it in another way?
Jinpa-la goes on to say that we can become more less self-centered and more other-centered:
As an important step toward this other-centeredness, the mind training masters admonish us to view our fellow beings not with rivalry and antagonism but rather with a feeling of gratitude. We cultivate this feeling of appreciation regardless of whether others mean to be kind to us or not, for the fact is that we owe everything in our life to others. From birth to basic survival, from simple joys of eating a meal to a deeper sense of contentment, in every way, the presence of others is indispensible . Today research on happiness increasingly points to the truth of this basic lojong teaching.
There is a very very powerful sentence here: “the fact is that we owe everything in our life to others.” That’d be worth spending the whole week steadily contemplating. You could say to yourself when you first wake up, “I owe everything in my life to others, without others I would not have a life.” At the wonderful meals here there’s an obvious reminder: without others I would never, ever be able to eat. What a huge gift so many others give me when I lift my fork to my mouth.
We talk a lot about being rational and sensible but our often blasé attitude about all of these gifts we receive isn’t very rational or sensible really. Wouldn’t the sensible and rational response to having the gift of good food to eat, and any of the other everyday gifts we receive, actually be to utterly awestruck? To be overwhelmed with gratitude? Perhaps to be a bit concerned about why it is that so many others are giving you so much? Do you actually deserve any of this? Do I? I don’t know. I really don’t. And yet here it is: these incredible gifts that are given to us every single day. Just opening our eyes in the morning – even if we don’t feel quite ready for that miracle at 5:45am – is overwhelmingly amazing and a huge gift if you think about it. Wow! I am still here! Incredible. What shall I do with this day I have been given?
We may feel this way once in a while. After getting through something difficult perhaps. “Whew I got through that, wow, so grateful.” But then it can fade. We forget the treasure that is this life. So this is a fundamental thing that supports all growth and change and “progress” in mindfulness and compassion studies. Reconditioning our mind away from self-centeredness and complaint and outwards towards gratitude for this life and appreciation of the many many other people and animals and plants and natural systems and so on that make this day of being alive possible.
Is this system of mind training there are short phrases and teachings – slogans – to focus on. There are 59 slogans organized into 7 groups. Each group is called a “point.” The first point is called “preliminaries” or as my Zen teacher Norman Fischer rewrites it “resolve to begin.”
So here we are on the first morning of our retreat. It’s time to resolve to begin. To begin this day of practice with a good strong intention not to take anything for granted. To be compassionate and clear within the context we find ourselves. And to to deeply contemplate the way things are.
The single slogan in this first point is called “Train in the preliminaries” which refers to takes a fresh look at our life, our attitude, our assumptions. And that this project isn’t easy because of our deeply held habitual ideas of who we are and how it’s all supposed to work. The practice of retreat is helpful partly because it pushes a bit against some of those assumptions: like the idea that it’s compassionate to walk right by someone who’s sitting there in tears sobbing. That sounds cold doesn’t it? And yet in this context it’s helpful. So that pushes against some of our beliefs most likely. So we put ourself in different situations to help us train in the preliminaries. The other thing we do is practice meditation. We start by grounding ourselves in the body and breath as a way to take some of the attention away from the mind that’s doing all the philosophy about who and what we are. You can’t exactly make the mind stop all of that and we do want it to do all of that it’s just we need to learn it’s not the whole story. But moving attention steadily and repeatedly over and over for a sustained period – 20 minutes, a day, or a week or good, even better for years or decades – to move the attention gently out of our theorizing heads and into the felt sense of the breath and body as Audrey was leading us in this morning. This helps us find that space our famous Victor Frankl quote points to that space between stimulus and response where we have more freedom. So much more freedom. We didn’t know we were just a victim of our thoughts and theories until we found a taste of this other kind of freedom did we?
So that’s a second aspect of “train in the preliminaries” – practice meditation. Just sit. Just walk. Just eat. Just be. With full attention on the moment by moment experience and lots of curiousity. The fine edge there is not to let the curiousity just feed right back into our theorizing mind. Be curious just to be curious not to start developing a better theory of who you are.
And the third aspect of “train in the preliminaries” I want to mention is a 4-fold contemplation from Buddhism:
1) Life is precious and rare. We are all very forunate to be a living person.
2) Death is certain, this precious life is brief. Only the time of death is uncertain.
3) Our choices are powerful: they affect us and others in infinite ways. It really matters what we do with our body, our speech, and our mind. We are powerful.
4) There is no life in this ordinary world we can see and hear and feel without suffering and pain threaded through it. There is pain in love. The good news being of course that there is love in pain too.
A shorter way to say this – and I’ll write these out on a white board in the dining hall too. Whenever I give a list I try to do that. So you can hopefully be free from that kind of graspy desire to remember everything. Just like I mentioned about any poems we share at the end of meditations or something. We’ll get those to you.
Here’s a shorter list of these 4 contemplations
1) Life is precious
2) Life is short
3) Choices matter
4) Suffering is a part of it all
So we put ourselves in different situations in which we’ll learn more, we practice meditation, and we consider deeply how rare, short, and important this life into which such huge suffering and great joy is woven. We remember that we aren’t just going through the motions until whenever we think that “later” time is when we’ll really live and really matter. We are really alive and we really matter right now. Right now.
In Zen training temples there’s a signal board that’s hit with a mallet to call the monks and nuns to the zendo – the meditation hall – to practice. On it there’s a traditional phrase that these contemplations make me think of.
Great is the matter of
Birth and death
Quickly passing, gone, gone
Awake each one, awaken
Don’t waste this life
Zen is full of enthusastic language and in a way I always feel a little sorry to unleash it on anyone as it can make people very uptight and tense but it’s also really true. Great is this matter of birth and death, quickly passing gone gone, awake each one, awaken! Don’t waste this life.
We can kind of sleepwalk through our days can’t we? Aren’t we so very lucky to have these practicse of mindfulness and compassion and this context of practice to help us? Let’s see what happens the rest of the day as we just tune in more to our experience. That’s what they mean in this mind training system that’s going to help us be more compassionate when they start with “train in the preliminaries” – the preliminaries here aren’t just some brief preliminary thing before the real show gets going. The preliminaries in this system are our whole life and how are we living it.
Thank you very much.
Talk 2: Transform Bad Circumstances into the Path
Yesterday we talked about some fundamental ideas about mindfulness and compassion training, the nature of the self, the mind, and so on.
Today let’s look a little more at what compassion is and how important compassion is when things go badly for us.
Compassion is a very good English word for the Buddhist mental factor called karuna. The “com” in compassion means with and “passion” is a word of it’s own. Here passion is not passion like loving passionate energy but passion like intensity and suffering. So compassion literally means “to suffer with”. To suffer with might not be the first thing we thing of when we hear the word compassion right? Maybe we think instead of being really nice or being really helpful. The ways compassion is expressed can include niceness and helpfulness for sure but the roots of it are far deeper. Compassion is helpful action – and actually it doesn’t always look nice – that’s rooted in shared suffering.
We can think of compassion as an emotion or as a process. Kind of like in physics the way light can be photon particles or waves at the same time. Compassion as emotion is kind of like our current receptivitiy to having a compassionate connection to another or to ourselves. Are we open to this suffering together? But a problem with thinking of compassion as an emotion is – just like all of the major emotions – we tend to think of ourselves and others as having a fixed emotional profile. We say “he’s really an angry person” or “she’s really anxious” or “he’s so compassionate” and that limits our understanding. Part of the process of release from a fixed self-concept that we were talking about yesterday is to realize that while we do all have habits and habit-patterns our personalities really are fluid and not fixed. So we can indeed cultivate compassion and become generally more compassionate.
I think compassion as a process is more helpful and workable. Compassion as a process we could think about as a kind of flow chart. First we encounter some suffering – it could be in someone else or in ourselves – and the first branch on the flow chart is do we notice it? We are good at not noticing suffering you know?
Then the next branch is if we actually noticed it can we be with it, can we tolerate the suffering? Here’s another point where we can turn away from the path of compassion. And we don’t need to beat ourselves up about this – it’s normal, it happens. We often turn away.
And then the next branch if we’ve noticed the suffering and we can stay in contact with it is are we willing to help? And again there are all kinds of reasons one might turn away. Some of them are available to the conscious mind and some are more subconscious – we just find ourselves turning away at this point. We don’t always notice we’ve turned away either.
And finally maybe we get to this space where we’re aware of suffering, we’re able to be with it in a steady way, we’re willing to help, and we listen to our gut and take some kind of action. This is the full expression of compassion.
So there are elements in here of empathy, sympathy, and helpfulness for sure but there are all kinds of turnings on the path where we can end up not expressing compassion.
In the Buddhist teachings on wholesome qualities they say that each quality has a far enemy and a near enemy. The far enemy is the oppositive quality and the near enemy is kind of a look alike that is actually unwholesome.
In Buddhism there’s no good or evil but there are wholesome and unwholesome actions of body, speech, and mind. And the yardstick is not any kind of inherent goodness or badness but whether the result is more suffering or more awareness. You know it’s an unwholesome action if there’s more suffering. You know it’s a wholesome action if there’s more awareness and less suffering.
So the unwholesome far enemy of compassion is cruelty. Responding to suffering with the opposite of wanting to help. We can be cruel at times – sometimes it’s very subtle or we have a way of justifying that we are convinced by. But for the most part we are not cruel I don’t think.
The near enemy is more subtle and that’s pity. Pity usually happens when we’ve managed to skip over the feeling the suffering bit. It’s the kind of help we give when the suffering’s at arms length and not felt in our heart: “oh poor you, I’m so sorry this happened to you.” You know? Doesn’t feel as wholesome and can be downright unwholesome.
So that’s a bit on what compassion is. Suffering with. Holding the suffering. Feeling it. Not turning away. And being willing to try to help.
That compassionate helping can look all kinds of ways including the helpfulness of leaving people alone as we were saying yesterday. But also very active kinds of helping. And do we always get it right and come up with a truly helpful way to help? Of course not. But even with imperfect result it’s compassion if it has these markers of feeling the suffering, arising the desire to be as truly helpful as you can, and making some effort towards alleviating suffering. An imperfect outcome doesn’t mean it wasn’t compassion and how else do we learn but by a fair amount of overdoing and underdoing and misdoing?
The 2nd of the 7 points of lojong mind training has to do with contemplating the nature of reality and it’s one I’m going to circle back to tomorrow.
The 3rd of the 7 points is called “Transform Bad Circumstances intot he Path” or a more short hand and literal title is “Using Adversity.” And here this system is glorious and from a conventional point of view challenging and even extreme. But I think extreme in a very good way. Extreme in a way that makes us think and question our assumptions. Here we’re back to Thubten Jinpa’s questioning with us whether someone insulting us equals we will now feel offended.
There are 6 slogans in the third point and here we get to slogans that get can embedded in our consciousness ready to pop out when we need them.
The first slogan summarizes the six slogans in this point: “Turn all mishaps into the path.”
This is similar but different to the new agey sentiment that “everything happens for a reason” – well of course everything does happen due to reasons: a complex web of causes and conditions, including the power of each of our choices, does indeed lead to everything that happens. But the new agey idea is more like there is a single clear and helpful reason why even the worst things happen and it’s our job to buck up and face the tough reality and wonder what that reason is. Is there a lesson here for me to learn? Will this terrible thing lead to some new possibility in my life? In that system we’d like at some point to be able to say, “this terrible thing happened but it’s okay because from that I learned this and I see now that I really needed that terrible thing to happen so I could learn that”.
Turn all mishaps into the path isn’t saying there’s a silver lining here and you just don’t see it yet. But it is saying that everything that happens is useful and instructive and in some way helpful even if it’s a really terrible and awful thing that in fact has no tangible silver lining to it. There are things to learn here even if you never end up deciding that this terrible thing was in fact a good thing in some way. It was a terrible thing but here’s what I learned. Here’s how I was changed. And yes, with practice and training, we feel grateful even for the terrible things. Can you hear that’s a little different from fishing for the silver lining or the message. Terrible things don’t become not terrible things necissarily but we learn how to make use of them as training.
If for nothing else our mishaps are great training in patience and forebearance. One of the greated spiritual goals of all I think is “don’t make things worse” – and boy don’t you sometimes think someone should give you and honorary doctorate in Making Things Worse. We can be so good with our blaming and complaining and resisting the bad things that happen that we turn them into truly terrible things.
And yes, sometimes there really does seem to be a silver lining or a lesson of some kind – this does happen too just not all the time – and the attitude that turn all mishaps into the path gives us makes us more patient and receptive no matter how we map the event in the end.
And anyway do our maps and descriptions and categorizations of what happened to us actually hold water in the end anyway? Life is complex. A lot of things happen. We can never quite understand it all. We are often so compelled to paint a kind of clear story on what happened. Are those stories really true?
Speaking of making things worse by blaming – whether it’s blaming others or blaming ourselves for our embarrasing and shameful shortcomings – the second slogan in this point is about blame. This is probably the most famous lojong slogan:
Drive all blames into one.
A little background from Norman Fischer’s book might be helpful here – he tells a cute Zen story too so that’s a nice bonus.
[read Training in Compassion p45 – mid p47]
So we living an upside down world and it’s not surprising that a lot of things go wrong. We’re good at it. It might be now things are so wrong and upside down that the habitability of the planet itself is in a downward spiral. That’s as upside down as it gets isn’t it?
Drive all blames into one means to see that blaming is just part of one massive tangle. To take a huge step back when things go wrong and stop adding more knots to the tangle. To renounce blaming and complaining and micromanaging as completely as we can. And to find a different ground to stand on where we might actually be more helpful than the shifting sands of blame.
Like most mind training this is tricky because we have such deep habits of blame and rightousness. We are so convinced we know why this thing happened and who’s to blame. And blaming ourselves is equally as silly as blaming someone else as, if you think about it, that’s kind of dividing our self into two. The one who’s to blame and the one who’s blaming that one. When you say to yourself, “you dummy, you know know better than that!” who’s the you who’s saying that and who’s the you who was the dummy?
Drive all blames into one means we deeply study that it’s one big complex ball of causality in which we’re all responsible and no one is to blame.
A universal mind training phrase that underlies all of this is to deeply, deeply recognize that “all beings want to be happy and free from suffering.” No one deliberately does things to create trouble and unhappiness even if it seems like they do. Every action – even the extreme and horrible actions which arise from the most distorted views – is an action underlain by this deep human desire to be happy and free from suffering.
Every day things happen. People do things. They make choices but those choices exist in a universe created by their mind and deeply conditioned by so many things: their history, family, how their body is feeling, whether they slept last night, the culture….and on and on and on and in that moment everyone’s actions – these teachings suggest – are driven by the desire to be happy and free from suffering.
Do those actions lead to more happiness and less suffering? Well…often not as we misunderstand who and what we are and we misunderstand the world around us. That happens all the time. Distorted views get in the way and unwholesome actions arise out of this inherently wholesome urge towards happiness and well-being. And then I over here in my wisdom and my believe in my own clarity think I can understand what’s distorted about your view and I want to straighten you out. How does that usually go?
So it really does, in my experience, help us to turn down the unhelpful arrogance of thinking we’re the one truly in the know as we go scattering blame and advice all around if we spend some serious contemplative time with “all beings want to be happy and free from suffering.”
I really recommend repeating that phrase to yourself regularly and applying it deliberately to everyone you see. “she wants to be happy and free from suffering.” Oh look at him, “he wants to be happy and free from suffering.” And of my look at me, “I want to be happy and free from suffering.” So it’s not like people are deliberately messing with us actually it’s just when you throw that deep human drive towards happiness and away from suffering into the complex cauldron of the conditioned life all kinds of bizarre looking things happen.
So drive all blames into one means understand that everything arises according to this one infinitely complex reality and it’s not my fault or your fault. But it is our responsibility.
The third slogan in this point is, “be grateful to everyone” – enough said I think. Everything I just said about drive all blames into one and turn all mishaps into the path applies to this one too. We are so grateful to everyone. Those who help us out and are so nice and supportive it’s eas to be more grateful too – that’s a great start, we do forget about that. But everyone means everyone: we are grateful to the difficult people in our lives too in the same way. Everyone is helping to create this one tangled reality in which we are blessed to get to live and practice. Be grateful.
And when this slogan pops up and you just can’t shake your annoyance or anger with someone or something you aren’t feeling so grateful: you can actually be grateful that you are even considering the possibilty of gratitude – that’s the kind of “disruptive technology” these slogans offer. They shake us up in various ways. Does it always instantly “work” in some clear transformative way? Of course not. But it helps.
The fourth slogan includes some technical Buddhist lingo: Norman has it as “See confusion as Buddha and practice emptiness.”
There is a lot in that short sentence. The first part “see confusion” is a powerful practice. Can we actually know, more often, that we’re confused? Confusion is here. So often we try to punch through our confusion towards certainty a quickly as possible. It’s a delicate and subtle practice to just get curious about confusion. To not try to nail things down. To not get to a conclusion. Because as we’ve seen so many times rushing to a conclusion often brings us to quite the wrong conclusion. It’s more avoidance of the confusion and uncertainty than actual wisdom.
I myself was recently in a very deep confusion and it’s fascinating in retrospect to see the many, many conclusions the mind was generating. Each one so certain and justified and elegantly explained. And then that conclusion would fall by the wayside and a new conclusion would arise. Until eventually the fog of the bigger confusion this was all happening in finally lifted. At least I think it lifted – I hope so. So seeing confusion is a powerful and important practice not to be bypassed. And not easy. We have to doubt our certaintly in a skillful way to practice seeing confusion. It especially helps to have friends who are wise enough to question some of our certainties.
See confusion as Buddha. “Buddha” here points to awakening. That paradoxically enough within our confusion itself is our awakening. See confusion as Buddha na practice emptiness. Emptiness is a slippery kind of non-concept in Buddhism but a central and important point nonetheless. It point to the vast and complex and beyond-conceptual nature of our actual life. Emptiness points to this sense I think we all have there is more to it than this. The emptiness teachings say, “yes! That’s right there is more to it than you can conceptualize or understand.” And then they go on for many thousands of words trying to use these poor words and concepts which are we have for communication to point to the rich and complex true nature of things. If you think about it there can only be an infinite number of concepts. There are a lot of them to be sure: Homo sapiens sapiens have been busy thinking for about 200,000 years and we’ve come up with a lot of concepts but a finite number to be sure and how could the true shape
If you think about it there can only be an finite number of concepts. There are a lot of them to be sure: Homo sapiens sapiens have been busy thinking for about 200,000 years and we’ve come up with a lot of concepts but a finite number to be sure and how could the true shape of reality be finite? So we have a decent approximation at best in our thinking which has these building blocks of concept to work with.
So practice emptiness means be curious about reality beyond thinking, beyond concepts. Why the term “emptiness” for this you might ask? Well that’s a whole ‘nother lecture but the short version is that every one of those concepts or even the physical objects that we see and touch (and conceptualize) is empty of any kind of fixed, stable, permanent, or independent way of existing, and that we without usually knowing it are assuming the opposite about everything: that things and ideas and people are solid and stable and independently existing, and that result of that massive misunderstanding is suffering. And seeing through that misunderstanding about the empty nature of all that is is liberating.
So maybe I’ve got you a bit confused there which is okay! Maybe it’s good.
See confusion as Buddha and practice emptiness.
The point of all of this being the mind training teachings are encouraging us to open up to life at is it which is bigger and broader than how we think it is. To see even the problems as the path we are grateful that we get to walk. Remember how lucky we are to be living persons who get to study and practice, and how brief that opportunity? And how powerful our choices are? Well here’s a powerful, powerful choice: embrace everything. Drive all blames into one reality that you appreciate and will do your best to engage with and learn from and live right in the middle of. Be grateful to everyone. And when confusion arises as it surely will. See it as as confusion and appreciate that too for in our confusion is our waking up and our backstage pass to the beyond-conceptual nature of all that is.
Remember this morning’s poem about obtacles set in the municipal pool? That was by Alison Luterman. Here’s my other favorite by her to close our talk:
Alison Luterman – At the Corner Store
He was a new old man behind the counter, skinny, brown and eager.
He greeted me like a long-lost daughter,
as if we both came from the same world,
someplace warmer and more gracious than this cold city.
I was thirsty and alone. Sick at heart, grief-soiled
and his face lit up as if I were his prodigal daughter returning,
coming back to the freezer bins in front of the register
which were still and always filled
with the same old Cable Car ice cream sandwiches and cheap frozen greens.
Back to the knobs of beef and packages of hotdogs,
these familiar shelves strung with potato chips and corn chips,
Stacked – up beer boxes and immortal Jim Beam.
I lumbered to the case and bought my precious bottled water
and he returned my change, beaming
as if I were the bright new buds on the just-bursting-open cherry trees,
as if I were everything beautiful struggling to grow,
and he was blessing me as he handed me my dime
over the counter and the plastic tub of red licorice whips.
This old man who didn’t speak English
beamed out love to me in the iron week after my mother’s death
so that when I emerged from his store
my whole cock-eyed life –
what a beautiful failure ! –
glowed gold like a sunset after rain.
Frustrated city dogs were yelping in their yards,
mad with passion behind their chain-link fences,
and in the driveway of a peeling-paint house
A woman and a girl danced to contagious reggae.
Praise Allah! Jah! The Buddha! Kwan Yin,
Jesus, Mary, and even jealous old Jehovah!
For eyes, hands, of the divine, everywhere.
Talk 3: Lighten Up
The second of the seven points of mind training is about the nature of reality. It’s a set of slogans that encourage us to do this practice of holding opposites in a very big way. On the one hand to take the suffering of the world very seriously: things are indeed burning up. And on the other hand to recognize that the world is also peaceful and complete at the same time : the slogans in this section include a deep teaching on lightening up and holding it all lightly and graciously.
This seciton is a challenging but deep training in how we see the world that can also be the key to avoiding what’s now called empathy fatigue or compassion fatigue or burnout. So it’s important stuff but it might not land well at first. Remember the back story that these teaching take lifetimes to digest accoridng to this tradition. But here we are with a few more days so let’s take a run at it!
The point is called “Train in Empathy and Compassion” by Norman Fischer who divides it into two halves. One half he calls “absolute compassion” and the other half he calls “relative compassion.” Absolute compassion refers to holding it all lightly even though “absolute” is a heavy and solid sounding word. It points to an idea connected to the idea of emptiness I talked about yesterday: the absolute world is the world beyond concepts it’s the nature of our experience where we deeply recognize it is just as it is and there’s actually nothing at all wrong with it. It’s the peaceful and complete nature of things.
This is hard to hear as there seems to be so much wrong with us and others and the world. But it’s again one of these wisdom teachings that doesn’t play well in concepts and language. The absolute world, the space where absolute compassion operates and resonnates is more of a deep feeling. A feeling that even though for sure things are a mess they are also okay. They are exactly as they are. The slogans that point to this possibility encourage us to relax and soften into the just-as-it-is-ness of things. They encourage us to stop fighting and struggling so much as when we get into the space of fighting and struggling we never do much good. The absolute world is like the spaces in between your thoughts or those moments we all have once in a while where everything is just deeply at rest.
And the relative world is the world we think about and operate all the time. The world where this is better than that, the world or right and wrong, the world of black and white. And here we have plenty of work to do. This relative world is full of suffering – and it’s also fully of joy and ove and connection too – it’s swirling and busy and powerful. It’s wonderful and horrible.
There are 8 slogans in this second point and two of them are actually straight up meditation instructions. So we’ll learn a new meditation from these teachings which is wonderful.
I’ll let Pema Chodron speak about the first of the slogans “see everything as a dream” – this is from her book Start Where You Are which is a commentary on these slogans. [nice Alice Walker blurb and back cover summary]. There is also a very good commentary on these slogans from her teacher Chogyam Trungpa called Training the Mind. It’s tricky from the outside of this literature to see how it all fits together but these are both books on these same lojong mind training teachings as my own teacher Norman Fischer’s Training in Compassion and remember not to worry we’ll send you references and poems and even these talks later on.
[read Pema p. 14-16, starting with “I’d like to encourage all of us to lighten up….”]
I so appreciated Audrey’s pointing out the experience of letting in the world early this morning. Seeing the crescent moon and the light reflecting off the water. Being embraced by the untrimmable light of the world. How can we not grow wise from teachings such as these as Mary Oliver points out. That’s a nice pointer to the feeling of this sense of peacefulness and okayness that’s pointed to by the Buddhist term “absolute compassion” – maybe the world “peaceful” is better for us. The first slogans in this point point to the aspect of compassionate action that’s peaceful and accepting. That shows up ready to accept so completely that whatever’s happening is happening and doesn’t get hung up in the churning energy of “this shouldn’t be happening” This person shouldn’t be homeless – this may well be true! They shouldn’t be for sure why are are there homeless folks in a prosperous society anyway – and yet being invested in that thought also can trip is up. Make it harder to roll up our sleeves and get to work. In peaceful compassion or absolute compassion there is no thought of what should and shouldn’t be only a direct opening to what is.
The third slogan in this set is “don’t get stuck on peace” to remind us that we need both this peacefulness and we need the messy and urgent and immediate work at hand. To just hang out in the “everything just as it is” world is irresponsible. Perhaps it’s a kind of hiding.
But to only be in the relative world is disastrous and exhausting. The suffering is endless and we’ll never finish our work. We need both. We need the relative world where there are things to do and people to help.
There are two slogans in this section as I mentioned that point to a meditation so I’ll finish out the talk time with that. The first is “Practice sending and receiving alternately on the breath” and the second is “Begin sending and receiving practice with yourself.”
This is pointing to the powerful meditation called tonglen in Tibetan. Another two-word phrase that sounds fancy in Tibetan but is really simple. Tong means send, len means receive. So this is the practice of sending and receiving – receiving and sending.
The practice we did last evening was a modified version of Tonglen called “Giving and Receiving Compassion.” And that practice is very much grounded in the relative world. Do you remember how we did that? We receive what we need, we fill our cup, and then we can give to others. Very sensible. Very good.
But Buddhism points us to a wider and more transcendent possibility which is what’s great about including the world’s wisdom traditions in our conversation I think. I love psychology and science and I love what’s sensible but to live only within what’s sensible and scientific is too narrow I think. It isn’t enough actually.
The original meditation here: tonglen is a melding of deep trust in the absolute nature of reality – in that deeply peaceful place – and the dirty busy relative world. And in a literal way this meditation does not make sense. And yet it also makes total sense. You’ll see what I mean I think.
In tonglen you breathe in suffering. Woah. Isn’t it better to breathe in what you need? Well hang on. You breathe in suffering and you have tremendous faith in your heart, your being, your absolute peaceful nature and once you’ve breathed in suffering it transforms from suffering into healing and light. And you breathe out the opposite of suffering. You breathe out joy. You breathe out peace. You breathe out goodness. There are so many qualities to the transformation of suffering from this practice.
As you breathe it in you can also visualize the suffering as darkness or smoke. Sometimes the suggestion is thing kind of greasy dark cloudy smoke. Icky stuff right?
It’s a very courageous practice or maybe it’s a practice that takes a lot of trust in this bigger vision of an absolute peaceful world that’s intermeshed with our busy suffering world. And so it’s not surprising that the psychologists who designed a non-religious training class like Mindful Self-Compassion turned it around to make it sensible in the relative world to create the version we did last night.
But you signed up for the Roots of Compassion not a mindful self-compassion retreat so let’s try it. As always do be gentle with yourself. We’ll start by breathing in some of our own suffering so you might see if you can keep that relatively light. Or it might be just the thing to let the big suffering in too. You’re in a safe place here. We don’t mind tears or even a little panic and overwhelm. We have plenty of resources here to support you.
[lead tonglen for our own suffering]
Here’s a little more from Pema Chodron on working with your thinking that I thought might be helpful.
[read Pema last paragraph p. 19 “When we contemplate all dharmas as dreams…” to end of p 20]
Maybe it’s time for a song. Do you remember Phil Ochs? One of so many brilliant young singer-songwriters active in the 1960’s. Sadly he died young from mental illness in his 30’s. Such brilliance and such suffering in this world no? Anyway I thought I’d take a whack at his great song When I’m Gone. The last line of the verse repeats and you’re so welcome to join me if you like.
There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
And I won’t feel the flowing of the time when I’m gone
All the pleasures of love will not be mine when I’m gone
My pen won’t pour a lyric line when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
And I won’t breathe the bracing air when I’m gone
And I can’t even worry ’bout my cares when I’m gone
Won’t be asked to do my share when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
And I won’t be running from the rain when I’m gone
And I can’t even suffer from the pain when I’m gone
Can’t say who’s to praise and who’s to blame when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
Won’t see the golden of the sun when I’m gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I’m gone
Can’t be singing louder than the guns while I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
All my days won’t be dances of delight when I’m gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I’m gone
Can’t add my name into the fight while I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it, I guess I’ll have to do it, guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
Talk 4: Makes Practice Your Whole Life
So we’ve managed to touch on 3 of the 7 points of mind training in 3 days and it seems this is the last full talk for now so let’s see what we can do. It’s helpful to free ourselves from always finishing and completing in a way too though. As actually finishing and completing is a bit of an illusion anyways. Is anything ever really finished and completed? It kind of seems sometimes like it is like you can finish a book right? Read every page until the last page, close the book, and say to yourself “great, I finished that book.”
And yet. And yet, if you read that book again aren’t you likely to have all kinds of experiences with it that you didn’t have the first time? Things the author says that somehow you missed entirely the first time through. Did you simply not take in those words deeply? Or are you just a different person reading the book the second time? Or some of both. If reading the same book a second time is a different experience did you really complete the book the first time?
Yes and no I guess is the correct answer?
So anyway I hope you like my elaborate justification for not giving you a thorough treatment of all 7 points and all 59 slogans. Of course that’s clearly impossible in just 4 hours of talks anyway.
So I think what I’ll do is combine the 4th and the 5th points with a little touch into the 6th point. The many books and additional retreats await you for exploring the 7th point.
The 4th point is called by Norman Fischer, “Make Practice Your Whole Life” but a more literal translation of the Tibetan title is “Life and Death”. So let’s pause with that: can you feel some connection between a deep contemplation of life and death and the encouragement to “make practice your whole life”?
And the 5th point is called “Assess and Extend” – so go further but stay curious about how it’s going in your practice and in your life. Assess and Extend.
I want to talk about the 1st of two slogans in the 4th point – make practice your whole life – and the 3rd of four slogans in the 5th point – assess and extend together.
The first slogan I want to talk about is “Cultivate a serious attitude” – take our life and practice and the disaster of this world seriously. Don’t be flip or foolish – there’s a slogan in the six point called “don’t be a phony” that applies here.
And the slogan I want to talk about with it is “Always maintain a joyful mind” – so here’s another fine bit of encouragement to hold and practice apparent opposites. Be serious and joyful. It’s a joy and a delight to get to be in this world as messed up as it is. It’s a serious joy and delight to go to work and serve people even if the situation is in some way impossible from your point of view: still you show up, you take the opportunity to serve seriously, and you are joyful every morning. Even if by the end of the day you’re exhausted you refresh yourself as best you can, set your alarm, and go again—insert a few caveats about self-care and sustainability here as needed.
Serious and joyful, joyful and serious. What a great combination.
Behind “cultivate a serious attitude” there is a list of 5 areas of practice called the five strengths: strong determination, familiarization, seeds of virtue, reproach, and aspiration.
Strong determination is both an attitude to cultivate and a hands on physical practice we do. And you know what one of the best environments for practicing strong determination is? This one! When the Vikram trots by ringing the bell early in the morning you practice strong determination to get out of bed and get ready to come down here. When you are snoozing after lunch in your room there’s another bell and another opportunity to practice strong determination. This too is softened a bit by being self-aware: a few of you have explained to that you wisely rolled over and went back to sleep as you had a deep sense in the body that was needed for practice just then was more sleep so that’s a subtle part of this. What’s resistance that we meet with strong determination and what’s wise restraint.
We also practice strong determination when we thread daily practice – or at least close to daily which is just fine – into our busy lives. We wake up in the morning and remind ourselves – if you’ve made this commitment to yourself – today I will practice meditation. Maybe you can practice it right then before going off to work or starting the day. Maybe you’ll need to circle back later but you have awakened strong determination and this helps. And is also softened with wise self-care. Maybe in the end the day’s meditation is a few minutes pause before your head hits the pillow at the end of the day. You can say to yourself, hopefully with a kind and understanding tone, “oops I see I never did practice meditation today, well I can sit and breathe for a few minutes right now.” Even if you have a spouse there with you or something is happening in the background you can sit and breathe a few minutes before you settle in for sleep. You might need to ask for support, “Can we talk about that later? It would really help me if I could sit here and meditate for a couple of minutes.” This little jujitsu move is a work in progress for me I must admit. So I keep renewing my strong determination and little by little things do change.
The other thing that helps the strong determination leg of cultivating a serious attitude is to just acknowledge the many areas of life you already practice this. Wow, here I am on my way to work somehow even after a challenging night – wow: that’s some wonderful strong determination that just happened. So these practices shouldn’t just burden us with something new to do but also support us in recognizing our strengths. Recognizing and extending or strengths!
The second practice for cultivating a serious attitude is familiarization. Becoming more deeply familiar with our current conditioned patterns and also becoming more deeply familiar with other possibilities. Inviting awareness of what happens for us deeply into our bones. In his book Norman makes the point that if someone asks for your phone number you are so familiar with those 10 digits that you can just reel it off without thinking. But if someone asks about the condition of your soul just now you’re likely to start stammering or change the subject. So be more familiar and aware of the full dimensions of our lives and also to be very familiar with how fluid, and changing, and changeable it all is. Here again is the aspect of mindfulness and compassion practices that are more like remembering than any kind of new production. We become more deeply familiar with our unwholesome and wholesome patterns so that when they show up we have that “oh yeah….” feeling and are quickly tuned back in.
The third practice for cultivating a serious attitude is called “seeds of virtue” – I love that the biology of seeds and growing things shows up in these teachings. Like we say “cultivating compassion” which reminds us that we can’t make our compassion stronger by forcing ourselves ot be more compassionate just like we can’t make a seed grow by pulling it apart with tweezers – “come on! Grow! Now” – rather we plant the seeds and then do our best to create good conditions in the hope that they’ll germinate.
Sometimes we have a kind of deterministic approach – a mechanical approach – to our practice. How do I use the practice to improve this or change that? Which mostly doesn’t really work. Better is to have the approach of cultivation: how can I create good conditions for the wholesome seeds inside me to sprout and grow and get strong?
Seeds of virtue means plant those wholesome seeds but don’t be too obsessed with when are they going to grow already? Doing good actions tends to lead to good results over time. So doing good actions for yourself and others is an important part of cultivating a serious attitude. It’s not just a nice extra but a central thing.
The 4th of the 5 strengths to practice to cultivate a serious attitude is reproach. And this is a little tricky for us as a guilt and shame oriented tribe. As Audrey mentioned this morning we do tend to do a lot of guilt and shame – inspired by fear usually – and then we can make matters even worse by identifying with the guilt or shame. I appreciate the little distinction between guilt and shame which I think is from Brené Brown: “guilt is a bad feeling when you make a mistake, shame is the terrible feeling when you are a mistake.”
And yet we do make mistakes. We are sloppy. Our understanding is incomplete. We aren’t paying attention. And inevitably we make mistakes and inevitably we hurt others. We take shortcuts. We slip in our ethical code. We screw up.
So it’s a super important practice to feel a healthy reproach for our mistakes. To see them and hold them with kindness – always knowing deeply that we did our best in that situation – now perhaps in a different light it does look like the dumbest thing in the world to have done but before the inner critic gets rolling with, “how could you have been so stupid!” you practice healthy reproach: “oops, I made a mistake, it was based on where I was at at the time, I did my best but it wasn’t right, I am sorry and I will do better.” Reproach is actually empowering because you bring the mistake into the light – whether you are admitting it to yourself or confessing to someone you trust – and when the mistake is in the light you can turn it over, see what there is to learn, and move on. If you bury the mistake in guilt or shame and often as not hide the mistake from others, or even yourself, it keeps burrowing into your heart and just does more damage. So that’s my current take on the strength practice of reproach that supports our serious, but joyful attitude, as human beings trying to serve the world. And believe me I’ve made some big mistakes myself and I’m always trying to learn from them.
And the last of the five strengths that supports “maintain a serious attitude” is aspiration.
To aspire is enthusiastic and optimistic. I aspire to be wiser, more loving and open. I aspire to practice deeply and with enthusiasm and grace. I aspire to be the best I can be. Aspiration is a great practice to support with a phrase or a vow. What’s a vow you might say to yourself every morning when you wake up. And maybe “vow” is a bit heavy so this word “aspire” is great and has this nice breathy feeling and linguistic root: to aspiration is like respiration – so it can be as natural as breathing. “today I aspire to be kind and generous, and also clear, with everyone I meet” after I practice in the morning I usually recite a little verse to myself that’s based on the ethical precepts of Zen which I’m glad to share with you but the best is to write your own verse. Here’s what I say anyway:
Oh Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, please concentrate your hearts on me.
I, Nomon Doan, Buddha’s disciple greet the new day with humility and joy.
May I today in all actions of body, speech, and mind:
Affirm life, give generously, keep the mind clear; treasure the body;
Be courageous and kind in speech; open to and heal through strong emotions; and return to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha on every breath.
This is an aspiration. Do I literally pull this off every day? Of course not. And if I seriously fall short in some area then I practice remorse. But any positive actions I do manage that day are planting seeds of virtue, and the whole process is one of increasing my familiarization with this bundle of patterns and tendencies I call me. And none of it gets off the ground without some strong determination.
So that’s cultivate a serious attitude and we should just go through all of these points and sprinkle in joy. Always maintain a joyful mind.
Pema in her book talks about how when she heard the slogan “always maintain a joyful mind” she for quite a while just used that as another bludgeon to beat herself up with as her mind was anything but joyful so that’s the pitfall here. And the five strengths are helpful in simply supporting the joyful mind project too. Be determined to be more joyful, be more familiar with joy and non-joy, plant seeds of virtue in yourself and other that will support joy, practice healthy reproach when you’re a grouch – oops – and aspire anew again and again and again to be joyful.
Joyful and serious. Serious and joyful. And as Pema says over an over in her book: lighten up!
That’s a touch into the 4th and 5th of the 7 points of mind training.
My favorite point in the 6th point which is traditionally called “commitments” and by Norman Fischer, “the discipline of relationship” is a doozy. Since we only have time for one we might as well go “grasp the thistle firmly” which is a line we use in our household that comes from an Irish saying we learned in a movie. The dorky thing is I can’t remember the context but doing the challenging this first is “grasp the thistle firmly” and interesting it also has it’s own slogan in the 6th point anyway: “work with your biggest problems first”. So had I slipped in another one.
But the one I was after is “abandon hope” – yikes eh? The traditional wording adds a few words, “abandon all hope of fruition.” This is back to trying to force practice – and life – to lead to a result you’ve imagined and desired in your head. The subtle thing here is this is not to abandon hopefulness – it’s very helpful I think to be optimistic and hopeful – but to notice if you have an agenda, a particular hope, a desire for an outcome and recognize that that’s a fantasy. And let it go.
Norman speaks out this with some clarity. After some discussion how how hard it really is to know if we’re changing anyway – I mean who can tell – people ask me what 30+ years of meditation have done for me and I can’t really say with any certainty as I don’t have an alternate Tim to compare with who didn’t do meditation training and all of the things that ended up arriving in my life along with meditation training – a meditation community or three, the complexities of leadership, trying to bring meditation out into the marketplace as mindfulness and so and and so on. I do believe I’m kinder and more grounded and also more resilient and I do believe I am more able to engage with the world and hide less thanks to the practice but those are pretty much guesses. Anyway Norman concludes:
[Training in Compassion p 110-111]
There are so many useful slogans and suggestions in points 6 and 7 I do feel that pull towards completeness I was arguing against at the start of the talk. Luckily most of them are pretty self explanatory and I actually have a handout for you to take with you which I’ll put out this afternoon and if you’re really jonesing for something to read tonight we can say that’s an exception to the no reading policy.
How as that been by the way? Boring? Interesting? Sure frees up a lot of time doesn’t it? I love the way not reading and writing and talking just opens things up so I end up slowing down more and being outside just watching the birds and the clouds so very much more. To write these talks and the little bit of keeping up with the organizations I direct means I don’t get that completely here anymore so I try to do a retreat with another group every year or so where I’m just in the mix with everyone else. So spacious. And also can be challenging no? Wonderful: we have an hour until we have to go back. Not wonderful: what on earth and I supposed to do now??
Well let’s jump to the last slogan as it’s my favorite and sharing the last one will give us the illusion of completion. It’s “don’t expect applause.” And this we can literally if we do presentations sure but it’s meant much more broadly. Is there a way that when you do something you’re looking around for someone to say “good job!” “thanks a lot!” “you’re awesome!” Can we get over the idea that there’s a problem with a thankless task and just do what needs doing because, after considering what our responsibility is and where to wisely put our energy, we realize yes this is something I should do. Then we just do it. We take care of it to take care of it. Like Norman was saying we practice just to practice because it’s the thing to do. We aren’t expecting a big reward from our actions.
When we get applause that’s nice. And that’s a practice of it’s own to receive praise and thanks with grace and clarity. Neither letting it go to our heads nor dodging and demurring (which is unkind to the giver of the praise isn’t it?). We appreciate the praise and we appreicate the giver of the praise and we move on.
And if there’s no praise – even when we have this little voice saying “where’s my courtesy wave?” or “why didn’t my spouse notice that I did the dishes?” – we notice our suffering and constriction and see how that’s serving us. And move on.
Not that we can’t ask for what we need. But don’t you find that’s much better as a general thing. “you know it would sure help me if you offered more acknowledgment when I do chores around here” – we can certainly make a request like that, but a request is a request. With a true request we are completely okay with the outcome: yes, no or sometimes.
But when we do the action hanging around waiting for praise and applause is a kind of trip we lay on people – I couldn’t resist that language as Pema following her teacher Chogyam Thunpa who started teaching in the US in 1970 used all kind of hippie language like “don’t lay a trip on people” – it’s cute to read now. So that can stand for the 35 or so super practical slogans in the 6th point “The Discipline of Relationship” and the 7th point which is traditionally called “Guidelines” but Norman cheerfully calls “Living with Ease in a Crazy World.”
So thanks for listening to this long talks. We’ll have a brief talk tomorrow and then start easing our way out of silence but I won’t have time to devolvemore into this material this time around. I did do a series of talks on this stuff – hopefully I focused on different slogans! I never checked! – a few years ago and those talks are all on the website.
Someone asked me about meditation for sleep. I don’t know that there’s any particular meditation that will make anything happen but good basic mindfulness meditation does help us be in an open receptive relaxed start that helps invite sleep. Sleep is a bit complex though and sometimes conditions just are such that we don’t sleep so well. But relaxing into mindfulness is helpful and some nice meditation instructions arrived in my inbox when I opened the machine to write this talk.
So I’ll close with these instructions from Elana Rosenbaum who’s an early colleague of Jon Kabat-Zinn who created MBSR [restart recorder!]
To begin, assume a position that supports your ability to be awake and alert as well as comfortable. Gently close your eyes and bring awareness to sound. Let yourself receive what you are hearing, and notice what comes without striving to make something happen. You may hear sounds in the room or sounds outside the room, or no sounds at all. Simply listen and notice how the sounds you hear change from moment to moment.
When you feel ready, you can let your attention shift to your breathing. If you like, you can put your hands on your belly and feel it as it rises with the in breath and falls with the out breath. Really feel each breath as it enters and leaves the body. Notice its rhythm and explore its length and depth, observing how it changes in response to a thought or feeling. Notice the way you are breathing, through your mouth or the nose, or maybe a little of both. There may be a tendency to want to change how you are breathing, but we are practicing allowing ourselves to accept whatever is happening and noticing that moment by moment things change. The breath changes and you change. Nothing stays the same, yet there is constancy. The breath reminds us that we are here and alive: let it be your anchor to the present moment.
If you like, as you breathe in, knowing you’re breathing in, you can imagine that you’re breathing in health and vitality. On the out breath, knowing you’re breathing out, you can imagine you’re releasing toxins along with any worries or fears that you’d like to let go. Notice all you can about the breath, staying with it as it comes in and as it goes out.
If physical sensations are strong, they will capture your attention; you can breathe with them, sending care and compassion to the sensation as you notice it. Inhale, breathing in oxygen and nutrients and sending them to any part of the body that needs them, especially to any areas that are particularly sensitive. Breathe out, releasing any tension or tightness that you may notice. Breathe with the sensation, softening into it and noticing how it changes, calming yourself as enter into it with your breath. Observe what arises, with kindness, without judging any reactions you may be experiencing and letting each moment be a new one to enter afresh.
If you become aware that you are thinking, you can label it, “thought” and gently but firmly return your attention to the breath. It is normal for your mind to wander. Simply notice what captures your attention and bring it back. If it’s helpful you can imagine that you’re in a glass-bottomed boat, observing fish as they swim through the water, or observing clouds moving through a vast sky on a clear day.
Be in harmony with each breath, each moment, and know that in giving yourself this time to develop awareness and a steadiness of attention you are nourishing spirit, head and heart. Let it be an adventure, and in the silence and the stillness that comes with practice you’ll discover wonders here for you, now.