Browsing Category "Practice"
17 Jan
2020
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Practice Turning People into Trees

Ram Dass famously said:

“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens and whatever. You look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all that emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

“The minute you get near humans you lose all that. And you are constantly saying, You are too this, or I’m too this. That judgement mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees.”

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(Thanks, Carolyn.)

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Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

15 Jan
2020

Then What Happens, Happens

Last night at Tuesday Night Insight, I read a few lines from Teach Us to Sit Still, by Tim Parks, (from the excerpt I’d posted here). There seemed to be a lot of interest in the book, so for today I’m posting a longer excerpt, this time from the Afterword:

“Let me sign off with a few words about this morning…

“After a moderately interrupted night, I rose before six and went down in the dark to the bedroom that used to be my son’s. Since the days are growing chill, I pulled on a sweater and tracksuit trousers, then set the alarm on my cell phone for seven. One can’t always have a Tibetan gong.

“There’s not much space here. I keep a blanket folded on the floor, a cushion to sit on, a couple of beanbags to slip under the knees. One day the left leg tucks in first, the next day the right; for symmetry. Careful not to hurry, I wrap a shawl round my shoulders, switch off the lamp and sit.

“The room is pitch dark now. The shutters are closed. The Iron Maiden poster beside the door is invisible. In the silence I say no formulas; I do not take refuge in the Dhamma or wish for all beings to experience sympathetic joy. I am not prayerful. But taking a deep breath, I am aware of the sleeping house around me: of Lucy in the next room, Rita under the quilt upstairs, the dog curled in his basket, all of us up here on the hill, looking south across the Italian plain.

“Morning thoughts rise like bubbles. I concentrate on the breath in my nostrils, on my lips. Only steady awareness of the body will still that mental fizz. I’m not concerned when I don’t success. The aim is quiet, but I will not crave it. Now I catch myself composing an e-mail: Dear Prof. Proietti, although… Now I’m replaying Torres’s goal last nigh against Man U. Where was Rio? Stop. I take the mind back to the breath. Back and back again, again and again, until eventually the two fuse in a whispery stream on the upper lip. A warm tide swells in my chest. My wrists are pulsing.

“There is nothing mystical about this…

“But as words and thoughts are eased out of the mind, so the self weakens. There is no narrative to feed it. When the words are gone, whether you are in Verona or Varanasi hardly matters. Whether it is morning or evening, whether you are young or old, man or woman, poor or rich isn’t, in the silence, in the darkness, in the stillness, so important. Like ghosts, angels, gods, ‘self,’ it turns out, is an idea we invented, a story we tell ourselves. It needs language to survive. The words create meaning, the meaning purpose, the purpose narrative.

“But here, for a little while, there is no story, no rhetoric, no deceit. Here is silence and acceptance; the pleasure of a space that need not be imbued with meaning. Intensely aware, of the flesh, the breath, the blood, consciousness allows the ‘I’ to slip away.

“So if I can recount the first minutes, I can’t tell the rest. There are deepenings. There is a liquefaction of some kind, the thighs flowing into the calves, the head into the breast. And there are resistances: stones, obstructions, pains. The mind goes back and back to them. An ankle. A shoulder. Maybe they will shift, and maybe not. I am absolutely awake. I hear Rita pad downstairs with the dog behind her. I hear a motor scooter straining up the hill. And I am not there. I am in the stream.

“Then the alarm sounds and I must move. I’m up, dressed and getting Lucy into the car in just a few minutes. By ten past seven we are speeding down the hill, trying to beat the traffic light at San Felice. Lucy is anxious about some homework, a possible low grade. I repeat the parents’ mantra: you do your best, then what happens happens.”

***

Indeed.

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(photo by Kevin Ortiz on Unsplash)

13 Jan
2020

The Opposite of Suffering is Not Happiness

At tomorrow’s Tuesday Night Insight group, I’m going to be talking about the First Noble Truth, which Phillip Moffitt describes in Dancing with Life as the Buddha’s proclamation that “suffering is an unavoidable reality of ordinary human existence that is to be known and responded to wisely.”

“When you collapse into suffering,” Phillip writes, “it is because your ego sees suffering as a personal failure and feels humiliated. This sense of failure is based on the ego’s mistaken idea that winning in life means no suffering.

“Your ego may well be under the delusion that the opposite of suffering is happiness. When your ego believes this, then every moment of suffering is felt as a personal defeat, insult, indignity, or proof of your inadequacy or of life being unfair. This is subjective suffering, self-centered and neurotic…

“Your ego isn’t bad, nor are you a bad person because you have an ego. The ego is a result of causes and conditions and, in my view, is necessary for a healthy, whole life. I tell students: don’t leave home without it, but don’t let it drive the vehicle on your spiritual journey…

But if the opposite of your suffering isn’t happiness, then what is it?

“Non-suffering is having a relaxed, composed mind that is fully present with whatever is occurring in the moment. And it is the capacity to be in relationship to whatever is arising such that you’re able to respond from your deepest intentions. And it is a feeling of relatedness in your life that is free from aversion to suffering.”

***

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

29 Dec
2019
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You Are a River of Transforming Whims

Excerpt from Sparrow’s Guide to Meditation, by Sparrow, featured in the January 2020 issue of The Sun magazine:

“…Sit comfortably, either in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. (You may wish to use a firm cushion.) Try to keep your spine straight as possible, without being rigid. Close your eyes. Pay attention to your breathing, noticing the breath entering and leaving your nostrils (or your mouth, if that’s how your breathe.) You’re not trying to breathe slowly — or quickly, for that matter — just noticing the flow of air in and out. After three or four minutes, stop. Unless you’re desperate to keep meditating; then go on for as long as you like…

“Meditation teaches that change is constant. You fool yourself into believing that you are a fixed entity, but you are not. You are a river of transforming whims. This sounds like some Buddhist abstraction, but if you actually try to meditate, even for three minutes, you’ll discover that it’s true…

“Around fifteen years ago trees began speaking to me. I don’t usually hear words — I just have a sense of consolation and guidance — but sometimes there is a distinct message. A tree in Brooklyn said to me today: Most of the time we seek what we don’t have, but sometimes we seek what we already have. This tree is describing meditation…

“Meditation is an optimistic practice. The theory is that, by closing your eyes (or leaving them half open) and doing nothing, you can change your consciousness. Most people are too pragmatic to accept this harebrained notion, but scientific studies suggest that it’s true…

“Meditation is like practicing the guitar, but without the guitar….

“At some point your practice will be threatened — by a sudden emergency, a family crisis, a crucial deadline. Feel free to stop meditating or, conversely, to charge into the face of the enemy and meditate twice as long…

“If you offer your meditation to God, it becomes a prayer. If you offer your meditation to the universe, it becomes an affirmation. If you offer your meditation to humanity, it becomes activism.

“Don’t be afraid of the word God, but don’t get too excited about it either.”

***

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

25 Dec
2019
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Christmas at My House

May your holidays be happy, however you have them.

19 Dec
2019
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It’s an Illusion.

This week I haven’t been be able to post as often as I would have liked. I’m sorry about that. The trend may continue, however, since my mother’s dementia is worsening and it takes more time now to be able to help my father cope with the situation.

It’s hard. For him. For her. For me. For everyone.

As novelist Juan Gabriel Vasquez writes,
“Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control and perhaps even depends on it. I mean that mirage of dominion over life that allows us to feel like adults, for we associate maturity with autonomy — the sovereign right to determine what’s going to happen next.”

Pernicious. Yes.

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Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

13 Dec
2019
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We Become Attuned

Matthew Brensilver also writes:
“The more attuned we are to our hearts, the clearer our ethical behavior becomes.

“So, the more we actually become embodied, start to feel our body fully, to feel our heart, the clearer ethical conduct becomes. It’s like we become attuned to our own system in such a way that we begin to feel that doing good feels good.

“And the kind of karmic loop, when we act out of alignment with our own deepest integrity, that feedback loop gets shorter and shorter, so we really feel it. And this clarity breeds more careful, non-harming behavior.”

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Text quoted: The Buddha’s Path: Sila, Samadhi, Panna, by Matthew Brensilver, PhD, Spirit Rock Teachers Council Member; published in the Jan-May 2020 issue of Spirit Rock News

Photo credit: Liberty Park Music

11 Dec
2019
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The Year of Opening to Mystery

Long-time DharmaTown readers may remember that a couple of years ago, after hearing Phillip Moffitt’s New Year talk about “Making This the Year of….”, I decided to try out the practice he was suggesting by making 2018: The Year of Listening. Which turned out to be such a revelation that I decided to try it again by making 2019: The Year of Getting to Know Goodwill. During which I discovered a virtual sea of goodwill that I have been swimming in, all my life, without recognizing it. (That we’ve ALL been swimming in, actually. It’s everywhere. Nothing happens without it. That sounds dubious, I know, because goodwill’s not the only thing we’re swimming in. But give it a year and see for yourself!)

So now this year: After all that listening and getting-to-know-ing, I seem to be moving into a whole new awareness of and openness to — the mysteries of this life. The mystery of being alive, for example. Of being conscious. And embodied. Of having a mind that is sometimes so dismissive of others, so opinionated, and so stuck on itself, but also, somehow, underneath that, also full of love, and beauty, and selflessness.

It’s such a mystery.

I love what Matthew Brensilver writes in the latest Spirit Rock News,
“To be mindful of goodness brings love, and to be mindful of pain brings love. That is something like a miracle, this weird asymmetry, that to attend to goodness brings love, and to attend to suffering also brings love. That’s not something we should take on faith. But this [the Buddha’s path] is the laboratory…

“The steadier and more unified the mind gets, the deeper the love can be. Sometimes the mind gathers so singularly around an object — the breath, a metta phrase, the body, sound, sight, looking into the eyes of another person — the mind just becomes unified. And all the static, fragmentation, and division collapses. And in that mind state, it’s like a drop of love reaches everywhere.

“The mind is said to be boundless. That’s not making a statement about the nature of mind, but the actual experience is that in this moment there is love without end, without discrimination, without preference…”

This is just one of the mysteries to which I find myself opening.

***

Text quoted: The Buddha’s Path: Sila, Samadhi, Panna, by Matthew Brensilver, PhD, Spirit Rock Teachers Council Member; published in the Jan-May 2020 issue of Spirit Rock News

Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

9 Dec
2019
Posted in: Generosity, Practice
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Freely Offered

While I was in California, I was talking with Phillip about my practice of posting on this Dharmatown website, and he asked me if I use a royalty-free site for the images. I told him no, that I just google around until I find something that fits. He didn’t say anything and so I went on talking about other things.

But the question has stayed with me. Truth is, I haven’t been particularly careful about checking whether or not the images I use are — in the strictest sense — freely offered. (As in: I undertake the precept of not taking that which is not freely offered.) I’ve always figured that if it’s already on the web, and it doesn’t have an obvious copyright mark, then it’s OK for me to use — since I’m not claiming ownership or making a profit from it or anything like that.

But now that doesn’t feel quite right.

So I’ve decided to take more responsibility for the images/texts I use. You may have noticed that since I’ve come back from that trip, I’ve either used images/texts that belong to me personally or I’ve credited the source of those images/texts and provided a link.

And as a way to make amends for my previous lack of attention, I’ve decided to try to use more images that I, personally, create — the drawing of this teapot, for example — and, explicitly, to offer them freely.

***

Idam me silam maggaphalananassa paccayo hotu.
(May my ethical conduct lead to the highest fruits of liberation for myself and for all beings.)

2 Dec
2019
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Just Protect It from the Breeze

If you grasp a leaf on a tree and try your hardest to hold it still, no matter how hard you try, you’ll never succeed. There will always be some vibration caused by slight tremors in your muscles. However, if you don’t touch the leaf and just protect it from the breeze, the leaf comes to a natural state of stillness. Ajahn Brahm

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I didn’t want to fly on the day before Thanksgiving, so I stayed over at this lovely AirBnB — which has a private deck — and held my own little after-retreat retreat!