Posts by Saddhamala

Benchmarks of spiritual practice

Here is a list of 12 benchmarks of spiritual practice (Saskia Davis’s Symptoms of Inner Peace) with examples of how I work with them. This list is also a way to know that our spiritual practice is bearing fruit.

1. An increased tendency to allow things happen rather than make them happen

As a mom of two children I spent many years trying to make things happen. I wanted my children to act in certain ways, eat certain foods, choose certain clothing, etc. etc. As they got older and I watched myself trying to be “in control”, I realized I could trust them to be themselves. I realized I could allow them to make choices and guide them when necessary. This realization brought feelings of relief and a sense of freedom. I brought that realization to my work and relationships and have enjoyed watching the process of things rather than trying to control them.

2. Frequent attacks of joy, unexplained smiling and random bursts of laughter

Real joy and comes from delighting in simple pleasures and acts of kindness. Happiness is inherent in being mindful during each and every day. As a result of enjoying simple pleasures and the beauty that surrounds me, I do not chase after excitement through traveling, attending the latest retreat, purchasing the newest technological toys or other material possessions.

3. Feelings of being closely connected with others and nature

When I feel reactive to someone I remind myself that we are all connected. We all want to be happy and in most situations we do the best we can. This does not mean that I accept everything everyone does, but it does help me to soften when I realize someone might be coming from a sense of their own pain when they do something that results in causing pain in others.

4. Frequent overwhelming, almost dizzying, episodes of appreciation

I have kept a gratitude journal for several years and I share my weekly writing with two friends each Sunday. Making the commitment with friends to share the journal reminds me to write in it daily or weekly. There have been some weeks that seem to be marked by difficulty and sorrow. When I write what I am grateful for, I realize even the challenging times have moments of beauty and offer things/people/situations to be grateful for.

5. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience

When I react habitually, based on past experience, rather than being mindful of the present circumstances, I am acting on automatic pilot. All situations, even if we think they resemble past situations, are really new situations. Coming into situations with an open mind brings new possibilities for creative responses.

6. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment

The attitude we bring into situations can determine our responses to them. Being open to each moment, bringing mindfulness to each moment, allows us to experience enjoyment in even mundane tasks.

7. A loss of ability to worry

I have learned that worry is not helpful and often what I worry about does not happen. Recently I was experiencing pain on the right side of my mouth. I thought my bottom right molar was the source of the pain. I called my dentist and made an appointment. I was thinking I might need a crown or a root canal. I worried that it would be expensive and painful, especially since the tooth is in the back of my mouth and difficult to reach. I decided to have the tooth extracted. I worried about the procedure. How is a tooth extracted? Will there be cutting and bleeding? How long will it take for the gums to heal? Will I have to postpone my appointments? I went to see the Dentist. He took an ex-ray and asked me a couple questions questions. Was there throbbing pain?  Were my gums swollen?  The tooth, it seems, was fine. The pain I experienced was due to an infection which could be cleared up with penicillin. All that worry about crowns, root canals and extractions was for naught.  I have not yet lost my ability to worry, but I worry less now, so there’s progress.

8. A loss of desire for conflict

Does anyone actually desire conflict?  Perhaps.  I don’t!  When I see an opportunity for conflict, I remember two things:

a. There is another way of looking at things. When I bring lovingkindness to situations, there is no need for conflict.
b. Do I want to be right or happy? When I let go of needing to be right, I also let go of conflict – and that makes me happy.

9. A loss of interest in taking things personally

Sometimes things people say or do feel so personal. At these times I remind myself that people do what they do as a result of their conditions (upbringing, personalities, life circumstances and perspectives) that do not have anything to do with me.

10. A loss of appetite for drama and judgment

The drama I enjoy is found at movie theaters. Drama in life is tiresome and unnecessary.

When I find myself judging others, I look inward and find my judgment has to do with what I want to change in myself.

11. A loss of interest in judging yourself

As a result of understanding the importance and power of kindness I am much kinder to myself and to others.

12. Prone to giving love without expecting anything in return

I find giving love to be the most satisfying thing I do. When I am loving, my heart feels open and expansive and I am truly happy.

 

 

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“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over.” Thich Nhat Hanh

I grew up in a family dominated by alcoholism, narcissism, illness and dysfunction. There were four of us, my mother, my father, my older brother and myself.

From a young age, I had a lot of responsibility. I was a parentified child, caring for my older brother who was epileptic and also caring for my parents whose main focus of concentration was on themselves.

Growing up I was filled with confusion, dissatisfaction, and suppressed anger.

As a child, I did not know other children were busy playing and being cared for. For me it was all about caring for others. I was left alone while my father worked, my mother shopped, and my brother was taken where he needed to be.

As a result of these dynamics, I grew up trying to please my distracted parents. I wanted nothing more than to win their approval and affection.

Expectations of me from my parents were many and grew in number as I did in age, until, as an adolescent I became rebellious as a response to a domineering father and a controlling mother.

My parents tried to enforce who were my friends, the young men I dated, my thoughts and my behavior. As a result, I married a man they disapproved of, who, (un)surprisingly was very much like them – narcissistic, unable to show love and affection and cut off from his feelings.

As I went out into the world, worked, married, became a mom, talked with others, read a few books and practiced Buddhism, I realized that my upbringing was filled with dysfunction and there were reasons that I had issues with trust, felt “different”, turned myself inside-out to win approval, had anxiety and suffered with depression. And as I worked with all of this in meditation and keeping a dream journal I realized I had lots of anger – even rage.

People work with anger in different ways. My way was to repress it. As I worked with my dreams, I realized I felt rage at the man I married and later I realized I also felt rage towards my parents. It was safer, when I was younger, to repress the rage as a way of “holding onto” my husband and my parents. Repressing anger, however, is not such a healthy thing to do – it takes a toll on the body, the mind and the spirit.

Marshall Rosenberg teaches nonviolent communication, and writes “You can feel it when it hits you. Your face flushes and your vision narrows. Your heartbeat increases as judgmental thoughts flood your mind. Your anger has been triggered, and you’re about to say or do something that will likely make it worse.  You have an alternative. The nonviolent communication process teaches that anger serves a specific, life-enriching purpose. It tells you that you’re disconnected from what you value…”

Rosenberg’s quote on anger helped me to realize that anger serves an important purpose. The quote helped me to understand my reactivity.   And, understanding my reactivity and that my parents were suffering, allowed me to transform the anger to compassion.

I realized that no matter how much I gave to my parents, it would never be enough. No matter how many times I flew across the country to visit, or stayed for weeks to help them recuperate from surgery, or help them move to an assisted living situation, they would always let me know that it wasn’t good enough.  This caused me suffering, and they suffered as well.  They suffered by being unable to accept the love and care I offered them.  They suffered by wanting more than is reasonable to expect.

As I started saying “no” to unreasonable parental expectations and abuse I felt a huge sense of loss. Because I understand unconditional love, the love I have for my children, I realized that I never had unconditional love as a child.

Finally I realized that the anger I felt was telling me that I valued kindness, fairness, respect, and unconditional love. I finally realized that I value myself as a human being worthy of respect, love, kindness and concern.

Along with the loss comes relief, clarity, positivity and strength. Realizing that I no longer need to put myself in situations of abuse has helped the anger subside and compassion arise.

I have found Thich Nhat Hanh’s quotation “when another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over” to be true and when I keep it in mind I can let go of anger and embrace compassion.

 

 

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Positivity is contagious

Are you a movie buff? Do you enjoy going to a theater, watching a movie and getting caught up in the plot and relating with the characters and leaving your own plot behind?

When you watch a movie about climbing mountains, and you are afraid of heights, does the fear of the situation cause your heart to race and your palms to sweat?

These are examples of how energy and feelings are contagious.

And have you noticed that when you are with someone who is negative, you feel negative too?

This frequently happens when someone is talking in a negative way, or complaining, about someone or a situation.

Listening to negativity and complaints is not an uplifting, positive experience.

But listening to someone speak about what is positive about a situation or a person can lift our hearts and our moods and then we feel positive as well.

Have you ever been in a lackluster, dull mood and then spent some time with a friend who was happy and in a positive frame of mind? Did you find that your friend’s positivity was contagious? I have witnessed that situation and experienced it as well.

In meetings with friends, at work or with family members, we can have an effect on the emotional tone of the gathering. Our positive outlook can transform a negative atmosphere.

The next time you are with one person or a group of people, and the discussion becomes negative with gossip or ill will, try turning it around by speaking about the positive qualities of the person other people are gossiping about.

At work, if colleagues are speaking negatively about a change in procedure, you might empathize with their feelings about the change and then, if you see positive outcomes of the change, mention them.

We can sometimes fall into feeling negatively without even realizing what is happening. With mindfulness and an understanding of the interactions between a couple of people or a group of people, we can turn negative energy into positive energy.

Do you have a friend or family member who is negative most of the time? Try turning the interaction around by being positive and see whether being positive is contagious.

How we think about and respond to situations is our choice. We have a choice to be negative or to be positive. Negativity breeds more negativity. Positivity breeds more positivity.

Each person’s positivity has an effect on the people they are with – positivity is contagious.

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Five steps to opening the heart to peace

For many years I co-led a yoga and meditation retreat with a friend.  The retreat was called Open Heart, Quiet Mind and it was offered  at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire. My friend taught yoga and I led guided meditations on the metta bhavana, the meditation on the development of loving-kindness.

The retreats initially began on Friday evening and ended on Sunday afternoon. They were so popular the next retreat was fully booked at the end of each retreat. After sensing the rhythm of the retreats for several years, we decided to extend the timing of them and so we started Thursday evenings and ended Sunday afternoons so that we would have an extra full day to meditate and practice yoga.

With the combination of yoga and meditation, participants relaxed and looked inward and a community was established. Throughout the retreat we thought about an intention, something we wanted to consider during and after the retreat. The intentions came as a result of the yoga, meditation, silence, cooking together and having spaciousness from the usual routine of daily life.

Towards the end of the retreat we shared our intentions, with each person listening quietly as individuals described their intentions. The intentions spanned a range of topics from exercise, meditation, diet, communication, music practice to making amends with estranged friends and family members. Although each person’s intention was different, the common thread was that they came from the heart.

Although we did not lead people to make intentions based on ethical disciplines of yoga, most of them did fall into five ethical categories.  So, eventually, when leading meditation at the yoga retreats, I spoke about these steps to freedom.

Just as the practice of yoga releases tension in the body, these five steps will release blocks to the flow of the heart and release unconditional love.  When we love, we are free from the restrictions of ill will.

Here is a list of five ways to open the heart:

1. ahimsa – nonharm – the practice of compassion and unconditional love for ourselves, for all human beings and all sentient beings

We can practice ahimsa with each word we speak, each action we take and each thought we think. Ahimsa is the foundation for vegetarianism.

Of course we don’t always reach our ideals so an important aspect of this practice is to be gentle and accepting of ourselves when our practice falls short of the ideal.

As a way of practicing ahimsa we might ponder the following queries:

  • In what ways am I critical of myself and others?
  • Recall a time when I blamed myself for an outcome of an action. What could I have done differently, if anything?
  • In what ways have I allowed others to be critical, cruel, unloving to me? What will I do to become free from this situation?
  • How can I be more loving and accepting of myself and others?

2. satya – truth – the practice of being true in our thoughts, words and actions

To practice satya, we are fearless in understanding the truth and this is reflected in what we think, how we communicate and how we behave. We are also fearless when listening to others, to understand their truth. We recognize that the foundation of truth is ahimsa.

As a way of practicing satya, we might ponder the following:

  • In what ways am I true to myself?
  • When do my actions conflict with honoring the truth?
  • With whom am I truthful and which people “not so much”?
  • Reflect on relationships that are not based on truth and consider whether it is time to communicate with the person in an honest and kind way.
  • How can I be more true to myself and to others?

3. asteya – not stealing – being free from desiring what belongs to others

Desire and craving what we do not have means that we feel insufficient, as though we lack something. This practice means that we respect the property of others, return what we borrow, act in a courteous way with others (respecting their energy and time) and to be at peace within ourselves.

We might practice asteya by reflecting on the following:

  • With whom do I feel “lesser than” or jealous? What is beneath this feeling and how can I change this sense of lack?
  • What material things of others do I desire?
  • When do I feel at ease and grateful for how things are? How can I develop this sense of ease?
  • How does generosity fit with asteya?

4. aparigraha – letting go – freedom from collecting possessions

We desire to possess many things including material objects, thoughts and ideas, and even people. We cling to things – homes, cars, technological toys, books, adventures, partners, travel and pets. We feel secure when we have our “stuff”.

To practice letting go:

  • Consider times when you released your attachment to something or someone.
  • Consider what you cling to. In what, who and where is your sense of security based?
  • Which possessions are you most tied to? Which can you easily let go?
  • Make a list of your possessions and consider a giving away 10%- 25% of them! What is your felt sense as you consider this idea?

5. santosha – contentment – being at peace no matter what our situation is

We may be in a partnership or single, live in an apartment or a home, drive a Subaru or a Lamborghini, work in a cubicle or the corner office with the view, we may be twenty or seventy, have a high school education or a Doctorate, healthy or ill, intellectual or not, artistic or not – whatever our circumstances, we are content and at peace.

Being at peace means that when we work with, or know, or hear of someone who seems to “have it all” or “have it easy”, we are centered and at peace with the understanding that we lack nothing.

Some ideas to ponder when working with santosha include:

  • When I find myself feeling jealous of someone’s conditions, how do I feel in my body and what emotions arise?
  • Consider a time you were filled with negativity, how did you react? How could you respond to move towards contentment?

Patanjali (150 BCE) is the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, an important collection of aphorisms on yoga practice based on reflection, meditation and ethics.

He wrote: “Peace can be reached through meditation on the knowledge which dreams give. Peace can also be reached through concentration upon that which is dearest to the heart.”

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The art of finding abundance in frugal times

In the metta sutta, the discourse on loving kindness, the Buddha teaches us how to be “skilled in goodness and know the path of peace”.

These attributes can be practiced in a number of ways including kind speech, humility and also through being frugal.

We are living at a time when prices keep going up and our income, if we are fortunate enough to have one, is not keeping up.

So, how can we live abundantly while living frugally?

Here is a list of suggestions.

1. Attitude is Everything

The way we think about things creates our reality. When we think we don’t have enough, we come from a place of scarcity. When we think we have what we need, we come from a place of abundance. We can choose which place we come from by choosing to think positively.

We may not have the latest technological toys, the biggest house, the fastest car or designer clothes, but we have abundance when we appreciate our five-year old laptop, our comfortable living space, our reliable Subaru and skill to do your own home repairs.

2. Take a Realistic Look at Our Financial Situation

If we don’t already have a budget, now is the time to create one. List what comes in and what goes out. Take a look at what is spent on wants rather than needs. Make that list of wants shorter.

3. Become Aware of What is Really Important

Think about what is really important to you. Perhaps you are saving for a college education for yourself or your children. Perhaps you are saving for a home or a car. Find ways to put money into the bank for these items that are meaningful. Each time we bring our coffee and lunch to work, we are giving up a little now to gain a lot later.

4. Meditate on What Material Things Mean to You

Take some time to sit quietly and think about what you spend money on and what those objects mean to you. Do you have high mortgage or car payments to finance because a pricey home or new car makes you feel a certain way? Do you buy rounds of drinks for your friends because you try to keep up with them even though they make more money than you do? No number of material things can increase our self-esteem — that can only be increased by intrinsic qualities like kindness.

5. Learn About Ways to Nourish Yourself Without Spending a Lot of Money

They say “the best things in life are not things”. Rather than spending money on things, spend time in natural surroundings, take a walk, and get together with friends and cook at home rather than going out to a restaurant. Read to your children or take them hiking, listen to music or create art together.

Being frugal may mean that we are giving up some material things, but it can also mean we find abundance in other ways such as spending quality time with friends and family members and finding out what is most meaningful in our lives.  One of the most meaningful Buddhist scriptures I have read is the metta sutta:

The Buddha’s Words on Lovingkindness

This is what should be done
By those who are skilled in goodness,
And who know the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways,
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: in gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born—
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world,
Spreading upward to the skies,
And downward to the depths;
Outward and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down,
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

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Reflections on pleasure, beauty and blessings

We live in a culture where the pursuit of pleasure is alive and flourishing.  We work hard and we seek relief and escape that we find in many different ways, many pleasurable ways.

For some, pleasure is defined as freedom from work, unstructured time, travel, leisure activities, not following a proscribed plan, or leaving responsibilities behind.

Pleasure can be seen as an escape from:

  • our responsibilities (recreating rather than working)
  • things that are “good” for us (eating chocolate rather than a salad) or
  • things that benefit us (taking a day off from exercising).

We many see exercise or meditation in this way, activities that we “should” do.

For many years I struggled in my meditation practice. I struggled because I believed that meditation should be a way to free my mind of thoughts and I should enter a state of bliss. My meditations were not like that.

Rather than a quiet mind, my sitting meditations consisted of list-making, obsessive thinking and attempting to follow a structure, like counting breaths, letting go of thoughts, and putting thoughts aside until the meditation was finished.

Those forms of meditation were not helpful for me. I felt frustrated and I felt as though I had failed to meditate correctly.

I started thinking about mindfulness and how to apply it in my daily life. As I practiced mindfulness off the cushion,  my intuition told me it was a form of meditation that suited me. I instinctively knew that I would benefit by practicing mindfulness, that I would learn about myself and become more aware, kinder, more honest and more generous to myself and others.

Then I read a comment about mindfulness that helped me to commit to this practice without feeling like I should do it but rather I want to do it. I read that mindfulness is pleasurable in itself, and I found it to be true.

Tasks previously considered mundane, repetitive or unimportant, when done mindfully, became pleasurable.  Sitting with a friend is pleasurable.  Driving to work early in the morning became pleasurable. Even sitting in meetings, when mindful, became pleasurable.

Mindfulness, being fully in the present moment, giving full attention to what I do is truly pleasurable. Mindlessness, running on automatic pilot, doing one thing and wishing to do something else or be somewhere else is the opposite of pleasurable.

Being a person who loves pleasure, and experiencing the pleasure of mindfulness made the practice something I wanted to commit to and has become a way of life for me. When I am mindful, I am living life fully, in the present moment and even during difficult times, I see beauty, blessings and wisdom that is always present.

When I am mindful, my mind is quiet and my heart is open and I find great pleasure in that. I wish the same for you.

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Meditation hindrances and how to work with them

I remember my first weekend retreat at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in the summer of 1993. I took the weekend “off” from family and work obligations to learn how to meditate and take an Introduction to Buddhism class. My first meditation experience in the Meditation Hall at Aryaloka was blissful – even the outdoor birdsong quieted and the stillness was palpable.

During that first meditation class, I was excited to learn the list of hindrances to meditation: sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and anxiety and skeptical doubt. I could relate to that list because I experienced those hindrances off the cushion too, to varying degrees, and regularly.

Having the list of hindrances was helpful because when I mediated and watched the antics of my mind, I had a way of working in meditation to move beyond them… sometimes.

The hindrances distract our minds with mundane thoughts that can, and often do, become obsessive. If we are obsessing about mundane issues, we are distracted from our spiritual work and spiritual progress.

Let’s explore the hindrances:

1. Sensual desire (kamacchanda)

Our meditations often reveal what we desire and crave. We sit down to meditate, to still the mind and find calm and tranquility and we start thinking about a person we are attracted to, or the aroma of the bread baking in the oven in our kitchen, or the concert we have tickets for – you know what’s on your list.

When we compulsively crave sensual pleasures (sex, food etc.) we are alienated from the depth of the here and now and from those people, places, thoughts and activities that are in the present moment. So there is nothing wrong with sensual pleasure, but when it becomes compulsive we distract ourselves from being present to the moment, being present to our lives.

When we become aware of  sensual desire we can bring our awareness back to the focus of the meditation. We can look at what we desire and see through our projections and unrealistic expectations. We can look at what discomfort might be beneath the compulsive desire. For instance, when we are distracted by thinking about someone we are attracted to, we may be distracting ourselves from looking at something that is troubling us in our relationships, or disappointment in not achieving a goal, or something we are concerned about. We might ask ourselves “What am I distracting myself from?”

Guarding the doors of the senses is a way of working with sense desire. This involves recognizing what situations, images and thoughts create sensual desire and avoiding them. For instance, when on a retreat or when meditating in a group, avoiding conversations just before the meditation.

2. Ill-will (byapada)

Ill will, or aversion, like sensual desire, obstructs our ability to be mindful and free and alienates us from kindness. We feel constricted and reactive rather than open-hearted and expansive.

Ill will can be sparked by:

  • remembering what we heard a friend say about us that was hurtful
  • going over an angry interchange with a relative
  • wishing we had something that someone else has (a material possession, a relationship, confidence, teaching ability etc.).

We can work with this hindrance by questioning the ill will, noticing the effects on our bodies, how it affects our energy and what it might be covering up such as frustrated ambition, fear, embarrassment or protection from feeling disappointment.

When we are aware of ill will, being attentive to it and stopping ourselves from fanning its flames will help it to dissolve and build confidence in our ability to be present and mindful.

When working with ill will, I realized I have sometimes reacted to someone or a situation, and come to see that the ill will was centered in my own story line or way of interpreting someone’s action or comment. Working with ill will offers the opportunity to have compassion toward myself and other people.

Practicing and cultivating loving kindness, empathy, equanimity and meditating on karma are good antidotes for ill will.

3. Sloth and torpor (thina-middha)

Sloth is a lack of energy and alertness to keep interested in the focus of meditation. We feel drowsy and sleepy and it feels as though our vitality and effort are limited.

Torpor is a lack of mental energy. The mind is dull or easily drifts in thought. This hindrance may be a result of discouragement, frustration, boredom, indifference, hopelessness or resistance.

Sloth and torpor may be overcome by consciously arousing more energy by walking meditation; sitting up with a more erect, energized posture; opening the eyes; washing the face with cool water; opening a window or bringing curiosity and finding interest in the object of meditation.

Bringing curiosity to why we are feeling sloth and torpor, understanding how particular thoughts, beliefs, and evaluations feed into the hindrance can be helpful.

Being mindful of what we eat before meditation and how what we eat affects our energy in meditation, reflection on impermanence and the importance of practicing here and now, reflecting on a dharmic topic that inspires us are all ways to work with this hindrance.

4. Restlessness and worry, anxiety or remorse (uddhacca-kukkucca)

This hindrance manifests as being unable to settle and concentrate due to a physical feeling of wanting to move the body and is accompanied by memories and thoughts about things we are worried about or feel remorseful for.

We may feel agitated and restless, unsettled and uncomfortable. It takes courage, patience and discipline to stay with discomfort and explore our thoughts and actions to understand what triggers them (frustrated desire, pent-up aversion, fear and resentment, or dissatisfaction).

I have found reflection, writing in a journal and talking with spiritual friends helpful in working with this hindrance. Walking meditation, yoga and exercise are also helpful when dealing with restlessness and worry; and confession is beneficial when dealing with regret and remorse.

Remembering how it feels to be still and calm may help. Remembering to consciously breathe or focusing on the ongoing rhythm of breathing, can calm the body. The more attention that is given to breathing, the less attention is available to fuel the restlessness or worry.

Strong opinions about what is or is not supposed to be happening, judgments of what is “good and bad” seldom lead to calm. Attachment to a self-image can be agitating. It can be liberating to realize that we don’t have to believe every thought we have.

5. Skeptical doubt (vicikiccha)

This hindrance manifests as uncertainty about meditation (“Does meditation really work?”) and in one’s ability (“I’m not good at meditating.”) and culminates in a lack of confidence.

Some doubt inspires action and the impulse to understand, encourages deeper investigation and can be healthy.

Doubt that hinders meditation is a doubt in the practice, in the Dharmic teachings, in one’s teachers, and/or in oneself. When doubt involves uncertainty about the practice or the teachings, it is helpful to study and reflect on the Dharma itself.

Questioning deeply held beliefs, attending to unresolved feelings, challenging ingrained convictions about self-identity, remembering something that inspires us in the practice (such as a teaching, a person, or some experience you have had in the practice) can all help to dissipate doubt.

Working with the hindrances can help us to answer the following queries:

  • Where do I put my attention?
  • What thoughts and actions cause my mind to fixate its attention on what I want or don’t want?
  • How can I apply mindfulness rather than allowing this mental activity to continue?
  • How can I work with this impulse of preoccupation and obsessive thinking?
  • How can I bring curiosity and exploration, understanding, kindness and non-reactivity to my meditation practice?

Working with the hindrances can strengthen our faith, our firm conviction in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha and remind us of why we meditate and practice ethics and how much we value our practice.

Faith gladdens the heart, clears away the hindrances and breathes life into our efforts to continue our path to freedom.

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Three approaches to mindful attention, on and off the cushion

There are many forms of meditation. In this article you will find a list of ways to meditate in order to develop the ability to fully attend, to mindfully do whatever you do with your family, your friends, your colleagues, your children and yourself.

I.  Zazen

Zazen is the study of the self. Master Dogen said, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be enlightened. Upon his own enlightenment, the Buddha was in seated meditation.

Zen practice returns to the same seated meditation again and again. For two thousand five hundred years that meditation has continued, from generation to generation; it’s the most important thing that has been passed on.”

I find the best way to forget my self is to be fully attentive to the person I am with or the task I am doing–whether it be baking bread, washing dishes, writing articles or giving online counseling. It is a wonderful feeling to forget my self and really tune into others.

II.  Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is about learning to experience life fully as it unfolds, moment by moment, an invitation to wake up, to experience the fullness of life, and to transform your relationship with problems, fears, pain and stress so that you improve the quality of your life, your creativity and your mental states.

Mindfulness, off the cushion, is about being fully present to your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions. It has been said that being mindful is easy, remembering to be mindful is what is difficult.

I find associating mindfulness with checking the time is a good way to remember to be mindful. Other associations can work too — each time you have a cup of coffee or tea, or setting the alarm on your watch to go off each hour are ways to remember mindfulness. You can even download a mindfulness bell on your computer to remind you to be mindful as you are working.

Through the practice of mindfulness, you can learn to develop greater calmness, clarity and insight in facing and embracing all your experiences, even life’s trials, and turn them into occasions for learning, growing and deepening your own strength and wisdom.

III.  Dzogchen

The practice of Dzogchen is to remember that our ultimate nature is pure, primordial awareness. Our nature becomes a mirror that reflects with complete openness but is not affected by the reflections, or like a crystal ball that takes on the colour of the material on which it is placed without itself being changed.

In the practice of Dzogchen we are not distracted by (do not follow) thoughts – we allow awareness to effortlessly emanate. This pristine awareness is what Tibetans refer to as rigpa, or “ground luminosity”.

This state is very helpful when we are listening to others. Rather than judging or comparing or offering advice, we see the pureness of the person who is talking, the pureness in us meets the pureness in others.

So, bring what you learn in your sitting meditation “off the cushion” into your daily life and you will be meditating, mindful and attentive.

 

 

 

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“A Little Book of Love” by Moh Hardin

This is the first book by Moh Hardin, an acarya, or senior teacher, in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and teaches classes on Buddhism and meditation in Canada and the U.S.

Hardin tells us that A Little Book of Love is written for anyone who is interested in exploring wisdom from the Buddhist tradition for awakening, deepening and expanding love in our lives and in the world. Unfortunately, Hardin gives only tiny snippets of Buddhist wisdom and neglects to describe how this wisdom relates to his suggestions for deepening and expanding love.

Hardin begins by telling us we should be our own best friend, that our friendship with ourselves should not be based on conditions or a certain image we have of ourselves, not as we would like to be, but as we are. Making friends with ourselves is accepting ourselves just as we are, unconditionally in the same way we accept our children. While this is good advice, it is not an easy mission to accomplish. Buddhist wisdom teaches us that we are a product of our conditions including our upbringing, our relationships, our family interactions, our education, our work environments etc. To say we should love ourselves unconditionally without exploring how to do this falls short.

Title: A Little Book of Love: Heart Advice on Bringing Happiness to Ourselves and Our World
Author: Moh Hardin
Publisher: Shambhala (Dec, 2011)
ISBN: 978-1-59030-900-1
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Kindle Store (US), and Kindle Store (UK).

According to Buddhism, Hardin tells us, our basic nature is awake, enlightened, basic goodness, independent of conditions, naturally loving, compassionate, gentle, intelligent and wise. Confusion and suffering come when we are separate from this natural goodness and feel the need to protect ourselves and feel anger or jealousy. I agree with this premise, however, it is one thing to understand an idea and another thing to have the tools and time to integrate it. This would be a perfect place for Hardin to describe how meditation can help us to come to that basic nature.

Hardin tells how to love our partners. He states the most important ingredient for a good, healthy and long-lasting relationship is giving each other the gift of space by stopping habitual reactions and patterns and keeping things in perspective. He cites Chogyam Trungpa who said, “Being in love does not mean possessing the other person; it simply means appreciate the other person” and recommends giving a “flash” of generosity to our partner by looking at them as if for the first time and being receptive. I would have loved to have read examples of partners working on their relationships in the way Hardin suggests. Examples of people who have gone through difficulties and have used the tool of “flashes of generosity” would have brought this book to life.

Regarding loving our children, Hardin states, “We want to create situations to nurture children’s basic goodness and encourage their inherent curiosity and give them space for self-expression. He encourages us to ask ourselves “How do we manifest our love for our children in day-to-day life?” and to allow children to become our guides in teaching us how to perfect our love rather than seeking to perfect them. He also recommends spending time giving our children focused attention, thus enjoying genuine encounters. There is one example of Hardin doing this with his child, and more personal examples or examples from other parents would have been appreciated.

Hardin discusses the connection between our wishes, thoughts and motivation. What we wish for, according to Hardin, has a powerful motivating force in our lives and gives rise to our thoughts and our thought motivate us to action. Bringing love to ourselves, our partners, our children and the world is Bodhisattva (“awake being”) activity. The Bodhisattva path is based on: equanimity (a sense of balance and inner peace), love (desire for the happiness of others), compassion (a wish for freedom from suffering of others) and joy (a flow of free energy). Bodhisattva activity is a concept that deserves much more attention and discussion than was offered here.

As potential Bodhisattvas, according to Hardin, we begin to see through our own opinions and projections of who we think others are and develop “the mind of an awakened heart”. We begin to understand the interconnection of our worlds and gain confidence and trust in basic goodness (our own and that of other people). I wish that Hardin, as an acarya, would have taken the opportunity to share some of his experiences in this realm and also described how he has witnessed others develop Bodhisattva activity.

The ideas of unconditional love for ourselves, our partners and our children; generosity towards those we love and all people; skillful communication that comes from a place of open heartedness and an open mind and Bodhisattva activity (including equanimity, loving kindness, compassion and joy), are certainly important components of accepting and loving ourselves and others. They are inspired ideas, ideas I believe in and yet I finished the book feeling disappointed and uninspired due to the lack of depth of the exploration.

These ideas, these basic tenets of Buddhism, could have been explained in more depth and illustrated with examples from the author’s experience to provide inspiration and guidelines for increasing our understanding of and capacity for what we think of and know of love and Bodhisattva activity and offer a richer experience for the reader.

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A path to live life to the fullest

In Buddhism there are four reminders, things we should consider to make the most of our lives and to prepare us for death.

The four reminders are:

  • our lives are precious
  • we are not immortal
  • our actions have consequences and
  • we can learn to transcend pain.

These reminders can make a difference in how we live our lives, if we keep them in mind and reflect on them each day.

1. The preciousness of life – our lives are precious and our physical and mental health, energy, freedom, food, and money give us opportunities to make the most of each and every day. So each day, we might ask ourselves, “Am I making the most of my life?” “Am I using my time wisely?” “Am I aware of my thoughts, speech and actions?” “Do I react by habit or respond creatively to situations and people?” “Am I working at a job that is ethical and helpful to people?” “Am I spending as much time with my family as I want to?” “Am I spending as much time with my friends as I want to?” “Do I take time for leisure activities?” “Am I getting enough rest and sleep?” There may be other questions you would add to this list.

2. We are not immortal, although, in our culture we do not think about death until a loved one is very ill or we hear of someone dear to us who is dying. One thing is for certain — we will all die. We cannot avoid death. We all age, day by day we get older. We may think we are immune, but we are not. And there are other causes of death: illness, accidents, natural disasters and violence. We may die after an illness or we may die suddenly without being able to say good-bye to friends and family. Facing death takes courage and a clear conscience. We become more alive when we contemplate death.

3. Actions have consequences. We are the sum of many influences: family, religion, culture, education, relationships, friendships, diet, exercise and more. We are also the sum total of all the many choices and decisions we have made; our actions and our emotional lives. There may be some things we cannot change and we must accept that we cannot change them. We can, however, change the way we think (rather than letting the mind think in a random, unrestrained way). We can become more positive and loving by practicing meditation and yoga. When our actions are honest; when our speech is kind, helpful and harmonious; when we are positive, generous, loving and wise — all this will affect how we feel. We can commit to acting in a way that is beneficial to ourselves, to those around us, and to the world.

4. Learning to transcend pain and suffering.  Each day there is stress and striving. We are always searching for something: a faster, newer car; an updated computer; the latest technological toy; something different in our marriage; a new relationship; more fashionable clothing; a different job; an understanding boss; people to act differently; a bigger house; or greener grass. The list is endless — take a few moments and consider what you strive for, what you would like to be different or new in your life. Along with striving and stress — there is illness, injury, depression, fear, mental anguish — all of which contribute to feeling that we do not have enough, we are intrinsically not enough, we wish things/people/situations were different. Our bodies continue to grow older, our thoughts never end and keep us awake at night and distracted during the day. This is life, what the Buddha called samsara. We search for happiness and fulfillment in what we do not have, rather than finding contentment and joy in what we do have.

This dissatisfaction often brings us to question the meaning of life, or to a spiritual quest. We often need a wake up call to be jolted out of our complacency. We need to wake up to the truth – that we will not live forever, our actions have consequences for ourselves, others and the world, we can find happiness and joy, and we need to be aware enough to make the most of this precious life.

There are different ways of reflecting on these four reminders: meditation, silent reflection, writing and discussions with others.

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