Talk 4 recording
Many of us are wondering how we'll bring this feeling of practice back to our so-called ordinary lives in the so-called real world. A few thoughts about that.
The main advice about this isn't what the mind that's asking this question wants to hear. And that is: forget about it. I mean that quite seriously. It actually doesn't help us that much to buy into the mind's idea that there's a something particular that we "got" here than we can "take" with us. The development of our hearts and minds is far more subtle and process-oriented than anything that reductionist. This is the way of freedom and letting go of clinging right? So we can't cling to that either!
And. And. There are some things we can definitely keep in mind and there is a way of practice we can emphasize a little more while we're still here together.
Things to keep in mind.
Firstly a little is a lot. We get into an all or nothing mentality so easily. Practice at least a little every day - and it can be really little. Stop and take 3 mindful breaths before you pick up the car keys in the morning kind of thing. Really stopping makes space for a lot in us. It's letting our natural human ability to be grounded, compassionate and loving to flow back into us.
Secondly, seek support. We also get into a "I have to figure this out myself" mindset. We can't. Really can't. We are always dependent on the help and support of others. This happens somewhat by accident usually. We don't notice all the support that's bouying us up. For practice to be deeply a part of our lives it's time to be more deliberate about seeking support. Ask a friend to come practice with you. Take a mindfulness or compassion class. Sign up for another retreat. Join an online practice community. Look up what the local meditation groups are and set yourself a plan to visit one a month until you find a good match for you. Seek support. Maybe some of the others in this room will end up in your close support network. And speaking of which we're glad to send out a contact list from this retreat to make it easier to get in touch with each other afterwards. just let us know if you would rather not be included - it's an opt out kind of thing. Of course in this format it's challenging in that we didn't get much chance to pave the way with the usual social small touches until we feel comfortable with each other but have faith too in the kind of quiet contact we've had all week. And we'll get to chat a bit tomorrow too.
Thirdly, the entire idea of these mind training slogans is they help us to integrate our so-called oridnary lives with our lives as pratitioners. I've been writing them on the white board as we go and of course you can get the book.
Train in the preliminaries: bring forward the 4 contempations regularly. Sit regularly. Ground yourself in the real feeling of being alive and the real situation we're alive in.
Rest in the openness of mind. Those pauses. Looking up a the sky. Seeing if you life out of the hurry habit from time to time. And even if you don't feel a thing just saying these phrases to yourself is healing. Before you go into work just say one to yourself. "Today I will rest in the openness of mind a little more."
And when we can rest in the openness of mind it's more possible to have a feeing for see everything as a dream and to examine the nature of awareness.
These are bedrock ideas and teachings and practices. Without these we're so easily blown around by the winds of the world.
Keep playing with tonglen. Breathing in your suffering. Breathing in the suffering of others. The suffering of the world. And developing trust that there's an organic way that the body-and-mind can transform suffering back into ease and joy. Tongen is a deep matter and I'm myself in early stages with it. Don't be too heavy or intense about it. I would most of the time do simple awareness of breathing, or listening, or breathing with the phrases of loving kindness and dip into tonglen from time to time.
Turn all mishaps into the path. That is exactly 110% about the so called "real world." The mishaps are happening and will happen and will keep on happening. Seeing if you can turn problems from problems into learning and growth and practice. Here's where support from someone with some wisdom is a big big help. Someone who can ask you helpful questions, someone who believes in you. Sometimes our friends just reinforce our complaining and narrow view. They mean well but it's not that helpful. Seek friends who can support the wider and deeper view of compassion and wisdom.
And being grateful to everyone and drive all blames into one. Take responsibility. Hold everything lightly but take this all seriously. It's a serious matter. The world needs us to accept that even though it's not all our fault is it our responsibility.
So those are some ideas so far about taking this practice forward into the world. But I should cycle back to the first point before the mind is too much "OMG how am I going to remember all of that!?!" The core practice for bringing our retreat experience into our regular lives is to forget about our retreat experience and show up for each new moment as it arises. You don't need the extra burden of thinking you should feel just how you felt at Samish that one time, and if you aren't feeing that way it's just more evidence of your many failings.
So the next point, point 4, is "Make Practice Your Whole Life."
There are two slogans. The first is cultivate a serious attitude. Just what i was just saying. That slogan in the commentaries is always associated with a teaching on a set of practices called the five strengths. There's a way that all teachings, Buddhist teachings, Torah, the Bible, I assume the Qu'aran too, are also lecture notes for teachers. Handy that. I've really been appreciating that in this environment with your support I can sit down every day and write an hour long talk that is, I hope, more or less coherent and helpful. This arises from the confluence of this materials (lecture notes!), this peaceful enviornment (the piles on my desk are too far away to do anything about), and all of our steady quiet practice together. All of that meets my training and if I don't get in the way it's not difficult to write these talks. It's a pleasure actually. It takes effort certainly but it's a joyful effort. Nothing better in a way. So for me cultivate a serious attitude is that although we could just do practices all day and say little snippets in here when they occur to us - but actually we could also have a lecture. This is possible and it's helpful so we take ourselv seriously and do that.
The five strenghts are: dilgence, seeds of virtue, familiarization, remorse, and aspiration.
Dilgence is just like it says and this is the quality that keeps amazing Beth and I every time we saunter down here. It amazes me with all of the camp chores that are getting down so gracefully too. We're doing such a nice job taking care of this place. And by the way back to the opening question: doing the dishes or cleaning the bathrooms with care and attention this week is also training for your everyday lives. A pretty deep training actually. You thought you were just helping out with a chore but actually that is completely practice and not different at all from the meditation periods. So being diligent and doing so with a good heart is key. I think alot about "healthy discipline." We need discipline if we are going to grow and change ourselves and our world. But there all kinds of agressive and destructive ways of approach discipline or resisting discpline. Let's experience with a healthy approach. That's the 1st strength of diligence.
Seeds of virtue means to recognize that we all have within us the wonder seeds of all of the great human virtues. We all have the capacity to be more kind, more loving, more understanding, and more compassionate than we can quite understand. We feel good when those seeds sprout and grow. We don't feel good when the opposite arises (although we may feel a kind of false satisfaction sometimes out of our righteousness). But if we slowdown and look we can see that we do have these seeds. Whether they express themselves full depends on the conditions. So can you both celebrate your seeds of virtue and do what you can to create good conditions for them to express in the world? That's the second strength.
The first strength is familiarization. It's closely connected to seeds of virtue. Get really familiar with how it goes. Understand deeply your patterns of conditioning and how to navigate more skillfully how and you get hooked and what happens. AND become more and more familiar with alternate more healthy patterns. In the tradition here this means studying the dharma. Studying this stuff so much that it becomes the default instead of your usual nutty patterns. Chogyam Trunpa said, "The proess of familiarization in which your dharmic subconscious gossip has begun to becme more powerful than your ordinary subconscious gossip. Bodhicitta has become familiar ground in whatever you do...so you are getting used to bodhicitta as an ongoing realization." So steep yourself in how you and step yourself in this alternative vision of you as an awakening being. that's the third strength: familiarization.
The four strength is remorse, or reproach. This is a tricky one and worth more discussion than we have time for. Develop the ability to appologize for your failings, learn from them, and be at ease. This can drift into guilt and self-blame and all kinds of toxic doubt so easily though. It's a little like discipline. Experiment with having a healthy remorse for your failings and misdeeds. We all make mistakes and we will all keep making mistakes. It's a terrible misunderstanidng of this to think, oh it doesn't matter it's all part of the teachings. If she's offended by what I said that's her inability to be free or something like that. No, if we offend someone we are sorry even if we meant no offense, even if in our world view she shouldn't have been offended by what we did. We are paying attention, we see that she's hurt, we listen to what she has to tell us, we learn what we can, we apologize. But then we don't need ot hold onto it. We practice tonglen and breathe in our suffering and shame and transform it into growth and connections. That's the strenght of remorse.
And the last strength is aspiration. This is the practice of vow. Regardless of the evidence we aspire to be wonderful, loving, connected, compassionate, wise beings. When we see all the heavy evidence to the contrary we practice these 5 stengths as an antidote; so we aren't defeated by it all. We practice diligence with our healthy practices, we practice seeing and nurturing our seeds of virtue, we practice a health remorese for our screw ups, and we renew our aspiration and vow to be better than all of that. And to realize that we are already better than all of that. To me aspiration is a great way to unpack a famous saying by Suzuki Roshi, "You are all perfect just as you are, and I think you could use a little improvement."
So the five strengths are standing behind this slogan cultivate a serious attitude which is the first slogan of this 4th point of Make Practice Your Whole Life.
The second slogan in this point is practice for death as well as life. Wow another one that we could spend a whole week on. Well a whole lifetime on. This circles us again back to the four contemplations! We don't practice just so we'll feel good when we're alive, we practice so that we can live the whole life to death spectrum with grace and dignity. And if we can do that for ourselves we are so much more helpful to others, especially here others who are more obviously close the death. The key contemplation of this slogan is that we are all of us, every one, close to death. Very close to death. Death is just around the corner. So not only is it the height of foolishness to act like death will happen sometime in the distant future so I don't need to thikn about it now; this slogan reminds us that we're practicing for life and for death. And we're practicing with awareness of our wise attitudes about living and dying and our foolish ones.
Okay we are all conditioned to try to finish what we started so if we're going to get to all 7 points of the lojong mind training at this retreat we need to do one more. Everyone okay. Shall we break from tradition and have a stretch break?
The fifth point is titled by Norman,"Assess and Extend" The traditional title sounds quite different on this one, it's "Evaluation of Mind Training." These slogans are about integrating the practice into your life and checking to see how it's going. That's the evaluation part.
There are four slogans and I'd like to speak about all four of them.
The first one is there's only one point. We get so tangled up sometimes. Jumping from this project to that project. I have a big stack of half-read books on my nightstand. We get a bit fragmented. Not to say that it's not wonderful to have many interests and be involved in multiple projects but maybe we forget that it's all in essence about one thing and we don't give each activity the depth and feeling it deserves. There's only one point reminds me of another famous Suzuki Roshi quote, "The most important thing is to remember the most important thing." This "one point" might not be an idea or a concept. It might be a feeling. A feeling of deep appreciation for life, for ourself, and for everyone around us - everyone in every species. There far far far more non-human beings than human beings on this island. And in your neighborhood. Appreiate all of it and all of them and make that feeling of appreciation and service the central point. Then the many projects are just different expressions of that one point.
The second slogan is interesting. Traditionally it's "Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one." Norman simplified it down to trust your own eyes. The two witnesses are your own perspective and an outside perspective. The other witness is what everyone else thinks of you. So this slogan is encouragement to trust your gut. To believe in your self. And yet we know all too well how confused and befuddled our own self can be so this is another point to really contemplate carefully. We can start by noticing how much agency we give other people. How their opinions of us or just about anything remotely connected to us can rock our boat. We learn to take a pause when we feel ourselves being pushed by an outside view - I notice my mind is so quick to agree with them, it can be a kind of misdirected empathy, I really want to suppor the other person and so I automatically agree and support thier view even if it's something about me that's well...not quite right! So this is a powerful slogan that I practice with a lot. The pause really helps. The noticing that i'm letting myelf be knocked over. That in fact it's not the other person who's knocking me over but the way I'm grabbing onto their words and ideas. They provide the lever to tip me over but I'm the one planting it under my own feet. Then once they pull on it, down I go. Remember how the Buddha encouraged us to really try things out for ourselves? That's trust our own eyes And how the Buddha then said, "and listen to the wise." So we don't want to misundrstand trust your own eyes to be license to believe in all of our insanity and ignore good advice and wise feedback where we should instead be practicing health remorese.
The third slogan is Maintain joy (and don't lose your sense of humor). This is in a way very self explanatory. Touch into how amusing this all is. Our nutty minds. Our confusion. Everyone else's confusion. It's amazing we can communicate or get along at all. It's amazing that cars aren't crashing in the street constantly instead of just once in a while. And yet it's also a sad kind of humor isn't it? There is so much suffering and pain and violence and turmoil in the world. Your mind can bring up a thousand examples if you think about it. And that's not so humorous. But this is like seeds of virtue and familiarization. There's plenty of joy and humor all around. Let's access it in service of the lightening of a heavy world. This of HH Dailai Lama again. The spiritual leader of a people in excile - they have many many problems. And yet what is he doing in every picture you ever see of him? Smiling! Joking around! Someone told me that he was one time witha group of scientists who were being so respectful and differential towards him it was getting in the way of the conversation so he reached out and grabbed one of the scientists noses and gave it a good tweak. They all laughed like crazy and then they could relax and engage with each other. So maintain joy and don't lose your sense of humor.
The last slogan in this section is a kind of "checking question" in the Tonglen system. Norman expresses it in the affirmative as practice when you're distracted. The more traditional wordiing is if you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained. This slogan is more of a natural result of our stead practice over time. What good is practice if it's only available when we're feeling good? We really need it when we're distracted and upset. When instead of calling on the wisdom and compassion of these practices and teachings we act like a 2 year old this slogan calls on us to notice that, well, you could use a little more training. But then the key is to not use it as more weight for guilt - the Tibetans seem to be more or less culturally not so guilt prone by the way - instead we see this as encouragement. Ahhhh...more training is needed. Back to the cushion with me. Call up my wise friend for support. Maybe instead of messing around on my next vacation break I'd better go to that retreat after all. Of course our goal is to practice all the time and to practice when you're distracted. But the distracted mind isn't so good at this. The root meaning of the Asian word that was translated into mindfulness is "remembering." this slogan is about remembering our practice. And remembering all the time and this just takes time.
[if time read Atisha