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1 Sep
2015
Posted in: Books, Groups
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Vivid, Yes — Tangible, No

Our Dharma Book KM Group is getting into some really interesting stuff now. Like Intention and Consciousness and the Nature of the Mind! Here’s a passage from the book we’re reading (Mindfulness, by Joseph Goldstein), where he quotes Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:

“Normally we operate under the deluded assumption that everything has some sort of true, substantial reality. But when we look more carefully, we find that the phenomenal world is like a rainbow–vivid and colorful, but without any tangible existence.

“When a rainbow appears, we see many beautiful colors–yet a rainbow is not something we can clothe ourselves with, or wear as an ornament; it simply appears through the conjunction of various conditions. Thoughts arise in the mind in just the same way. They have no tangible reality or intrinsic existence at all. There is therefore no logical reason why thoughts should have so much power over us, not any reason why we should be enslaved by them…

“Once we recognize that thoughts are empty, the mind will no longer have the power to deceive us. But as long as we take our deluded thoughts to be real, they will continue to torment us mercilessly, as they have been doing throughout countless past lives.”

20 Jul
2015
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It’s Better to Know

This from Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening, by Joseph Goldstein, which our KM Book Group will be discussing tonight:

“Without an understanding of what is skillful and what is unskillful, we end up doing a lot of things that either don’t bring their promised results or actually bring harm to others and ourselves. This, in turn, leads to doubt and confusion about what we’re doing in our practice and our lives.

“For this reason, there is the counterintuitive teaching that it is better to do an unskillful act knowing that it is unskillful than to do it without that knowledge. If we go ahead and do that act, even as we know that it’s unskillful, there are still the seeds of wisdom that can lead to future restraint.” (p. 168)

Should be a lively discussion!

15 Jul
2015
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It Works Even When It Doesn’t

For today, I’d like to share a bit of practice reassurance by Gil Fronsdal, from his sweet little collection of essays titled, The Issue at Hand. (Download a free copy here.)

“In practicing mindfulness, it can be helpful to remember that the practice works even when it doesn’t seem to work. Perhaps this is explained best through an analogy.

“Consider a mountain stream where the water is quite clear, and seems placid and still. But if you place a stick into the water, a small wake around the stick shows that in fact the water is flowing. The stick becomes a reference point that helps us notice the movement of the water.

“Similarly, the practice of mindfulness is a reference point for noticing aspects of our lives that we may have missed. This is especially true for mindfulness of breathing. In trying to stay present for the breath, you may become aware of the concerns and momentum of the mind that pull the attention away from the breath. If you can remain with the breath, then obviously mindfulness of breathing is working. However, if your attempt to stay with the breath results in increased awareness of what pulls you way from the breath, then the practice is also working.

“Without the reference of mindfulness practice, it is quite easy to remain unaware of the preoccupations, tensions, and momentum operating in your life. For example, if you are busily doing many things, the concern for getting things done can blind you to the tension building in the body and mind. Only stopping to be mindful may you become aware of the tensions and feelings that are present….

“Remember, if we learn from what is going on, regardless of what is happening, the practice is working, even when it seems not to be working, when we aren’t able to stay with the breath….

“And when we ARE settled on the breath, then the heart becomes clear, peaceful, and still like a mountain pool. Then we can see all the way to the bottom.”

14 Jul
2015
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We All Want to Be Happy

I’m thinking about what I want to talk about at the next Sunday Sangha. There have been a lot of new people coming — many brand new to meditation — so I thought I might start with this passage from Mindfulness in Plain English, by Bhante Gunaratana:

“Happiness and peace are really the prime issues in human existence…

“So what is this happiness? For most of us, the idea of perfect happiness would be to have everything we wanted and be in control of everything, playing Caesar, making the whole world dance a jig according to our every whim. Once again, it does not work that way.

“Take a look at the people in history who have actually held this type of power. They were not happy people. Certainly, they were not at peace with themselves. Why not? Because they were driven to control the world totally and absolutely and they could not…. These powerful people could not control the stars. They still got sick. They still had to die.

“You can’t ever get everything you want. It is impossible. Luckily, there is another option. You can learn to control your mind, to step outside of the endless cycle of desire and aversion.”

***

And how do you do that?

By meditating.

And how does that work?

Stop in at Sunday Sangha and find out!

(“Sunday Sangha” is a Mindfulness Meditation Sitting Group that meets every Sunday, 11:00 am to 12:30 pm, at 7700 Clayton Road, Suite 319.)

11 May
2015
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What Really Makes Us Stupid

Here’s the paragraph I underlined for tonight’s KM Book Group discussion:

“Sometimes people think that if we have too much lovingkindness, always focusing on the good in others, it will make us stupid in some way, that we’ll no longer see the truth of what is going on or be able to take appropriate action. But it is precisely the mind not cloud by anger or hatred that allows us to see situations clearly and to chart the right course of action, even in very difficult situations.”

(from Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening, by Joseph Goldstein.)

31 Mar
2015
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As an Experiment…

The Dharma Book KM Group I’m a part of is working its way (slowly and mindfully) through Joseph Goldstein’s Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening. We met last night and got to talking about a practice Joseph suggests in the section on Mindfulness of Mind:

As an experiment, pay attention to the next time you experience a strong wanting in the mind. Stay as mindful as possible of how it manifests in the mind and body. And then notice as the wanting disappears, either in a moment or gradually over time. Instead of rushing back to the breath or some other object of meditation, pay attention to the mind free of wanting, experiencing the coolness and peace of that state.”

Since we’re more likely to pay attention to the times when our minds are NOT free of wanting, the group decided that we will try Joseph’s suggestion — at least occasionally — over the next couple of weeks. It sure would be nice, we all agreed, to be more aware when we actually ARE experiencing a little coolness and peace.

Try it with us!

10 Dec
2013
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Dancing with Happiness

The Dancing with Life discussion group met last night. We’re on the final chapter: “The Courage to be Happy.” Kind of a strange idea, isn’t it…that it might take courage to let ourselves be happy?

Phillip writes: “You may already be telling yourself that you certainly are not afraid of your happiness. You might be right, but I suggest that you pay more attention to how you handle your moments of happiness before reaching such a conclusion. In my observation ambivalence, defensiveness, and even aversion towards happiness is quite pervasive. Even among people who talk about wanting to be happy, there is a tendency to distance themselves and take their actual felt experience of happiness for granted.

“There are many reasons for this unease. First of all, you might feel guilty that your life is going well when there is so much disease, poverty, inequality, and oppression in the world. You might also be superstitious, fearing that if you open to happiness you will jinx it, or that it will attract envy, or that someone will try to take it from you…

“You may be afraid to open to joy and well-being because receiving joy requires being vulnerable and fully present; therefore, losing the happiness or even the thought of losing it can seem devastating to you…

“Your times of happiness and joy are just as valuable, just as authentic, and posses just as much potential for insight as your difficult moments. As with dukkha (suffering), you are called upon to have courage in order to be fully present in those moments of well-being. You are to feel them fully in your body, to know the quality of the mind when well-being manifests, and to learn the nature of this worldly existence as revealed by your sukha (happiness)….

“Ask yourself, are you genuinely staying mindful during your times of sukha in this manner? Do most of your moments of sukha even register in your awareness, or are you taking them as a given and looking ahead for the next fulfillment? Do you have a habit of acknowledging sukha, appreciating the feeling of well-being, and cultivating gratitude for it?

“Sometimes students resist my instructions to be mindful of their sukha moments because they mistakenly believe that if they bring mindfulness to their joy it will disappear!…Your happiness will not be diminished by becoming fully present with it; it will be enhanced….”

26 Nov
2013
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What I’m Reading Now

I decided to take my name off the wait list for the retreat for experienced students coming up at IMS next March/April, in which both Joseph Goldstein and Bhikkhu Analyao will be teaching on the Satipatthana Sutta. (I was number 169 and a full house is less than 100 yogis.)

But I am consoling myself with Joseph’s new book: Mindfulness, A Practical Guide to Awakening, which is based on a series of 47 talks he gave on this same, key teaching.

For an overview of the book, here’s the intro on the jacket cover:

“The mind contains the seeds of its own awakening–seeds that we can cultivate to bring forth the fruits of a life lived consciously. With Mindfulness, Joseph Goldstein shares the wisdom of his four decades of teaching and practice in a book that will serve as a lifelong companion for anyone committed to mindful living and the realization of inner freedom.”

For an idea of how clear and comprehensive it is, here’s the table of contents:

The Four Qualities of Mind
Ardency: The Long-Enduring Mind
Clearly Knowing: Cultivating Clear Comprehension
Mindfulness: The Gateway to Wisdom
Concentration: The Collected Nature of Mind

The Satipatthana Refrain
Contemplating the Four Foundations
Bare Knowing and Continuity of Mindfulness

Mindfulness of the Body
Mindfulness of Breathing
Mindfulness of Postures
Mindfulness of Activities
Mindfulness of Physical Characteristics

Mindfulness of Feelings
Liberation through Feelings
Worldly and Unworldly Feelings
The Wholesome and Unwholesome Roots of Mind
The Refrain: On Feelings and the Mind

Mindfulness of Dhammas–The Five Hindrances
Desire
Aversion
Sloth and Torpor
Restlessness and Worry
Doubt

Mindfulness of Dhammas–The Five Aggregates of Clinging
Material Elements, Feelings, and Perceptions
Formations and Consciousness
Contemplating the Five Aggregates

Mindfulness of Dhammas–The Six Sense Spheres
How We Experience the World
The Wheel of Samsara

Mindfulness of Dhammas–The Seven Factors of Awakening
Mindfulness
Investigation of Dhammas
Energy
Rapture
Calm
Concentration
Equanimity

Mindfulness of Dhammas–The Four Noble Truths
The First Noble Truth: Dukkha
The Second Noble Truth: The Cause of Dukkha
The Third Noble Truth: The Cessation of Dukkha
The Fourth Noble Truth: The Way Leading to the Cessation of Dukkha

Mindfulness of Dhammas–The Noble Eightfold Path: Wisdom Factors
Right View: Worldly Ease
Right View: Liberation
Right Thought: Renunciation
Right Thought: Lovingkindness
Right Thought: Compassion

Mindfulness of Dhammas–The Noble Eightfold Path: Morality Factors
Right Speech
Right Action and Right Livelihood

Mindfulness of Dhammas–The Noble Eightfold Path: Concentration Factors
Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration
The Realization of Nibbana

***

That ought to keep me busy!

19 Nov
2013
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And the Answer Is….

Last night the Dharma Seed KM Group listened to a great talk, given by Joseph Goldstein during the second half of the 3-month retreat at IMS (going on right now), in which he answers several excellent questions (submitted in written form) from some of the people at the retreat.

The questions are:

(1) What is the difference between mindfulness, awareness and consciousness? And how can we practice seeing these as not self?

(2) Is this all there is….getting lost in fantasy, coming back to this seat, meeting the hindrances, coming back to the various vibrations and weird pressure sensations of the body? Everything feels empty, like it’s really just the six sense doors over and over…even out in real life, there’s no role or position or partner or adventure or success or house or anything outside of this. No matter what, it’s just the six sense doors. Frankly it’s feeling depressing and I’ve been feeling it for a year now. I feel this sense of grief and sometimes rage and am desperately wanting it to be something more than empty. But it’s said that the joy is in the emptiness. Can you help me/us feel that’s true or possible?

(3) Sometimes I feel so much joy I want to start skipping, but I fear it would disturb others. Should I just skip? Or is this not appropriate? 

(4) I am a 3-month yogi. During the course of the retreat, I have gotten insight from direct experience that when tormenting mind states arise, it is based on either something that happened in the past or something that may happen in the future. At first these tormenting states would sweep me away for a day or two. I couldn’t even recall that it was impermanent. Now as of the last two times these states arose, there is greater space and awareness that this too will pass…that its nature is impermanent. How long do tormenting mind states continue to arise? What is their purpose? Are they a regular part of practice? Aside from doing no harm, noting, seeing its impermanence, metta and forgiveness, are there any other tools to use to get free from these states of mind that indeed torment?

(5) In the Satipatthana Sutta, there is a lot of talk about observing things internally, externally or both internally and externally. What constitutes an internal observation? What constitutes an external observation? What is the significance of this distinction?

(6) When doing Forgiveness Practice, when is it appropriate to ask the other person to actually forgive you instead of just saying the phrases in your head?

(7) Suppose re-birth really happens and accept it…there is no me, no mine, no myself. Who or what gets reborn?

(8) Who and what is the “managing unit” that seems to be behind the decisions? There is some managing agent that decides to go fishing for enlightenment…or whatever fish is chooses to go fishing for. Or to have a sitting or walking meditation…or to walk slow or fast…and where to turn the attention to….or to ask this question. Who is this agent?

Interested in the answers? Listen to what Joseph has to say here.

6 Sep
2013
Posted in: Groups, Retreats, Talks
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Farelong, Oh Crumpleweed

Note: I will be away on retreat until Oct 24, so there will be no new DharmaTown postings until I return.

***

At the last Dharma Seed KM meeting before my retreat, one of our members (Roberta!) brought home-made muffins (which she often does!) and this time she decorated one of them (for me!) with a “banner” that read:

Farelong, oh Crumpleweed, our friend! We’ll miss you! 

This was especially wonderful since it’s a quote from something my teacher, Lila Wheeler, had read in one of the talks we’ve listened to. (You can hear the talk here.)

Here’s the whole quote:
Whenever I part with my kids or my husband, I always try to say something loving because I imagine a car crash or somebody’s heart giving out, and I don’t want my last words to be impatient or distracted. Neither do I want my “I love you’s” to become automatic. So I’ve been trying to come up with ways to say good-bye that are unique, intimate, and genuine.

For several years when my son was young, he used to say to me, “Farelong, oh Crumpleweed, my friend,” whenever he left the house. I have no idea where he got it. Those are words of good-bye I could live with.  — Angelina Citrone, from The Sun magazine

***

So Farelong, oh you Crumpleweeds, my DharmaTown friends. I look forward to connecting with you again when I return.

(image from: A Whole World, by Couprie and Louchard)