Being a “next-thing” Junkie

Addictions are the topic of many blogs, research studies, journal entries, news reports and conversations. At this point in the Western lexicon, someone can be “addicted” to practically anything: drugs or alcohol, of course; shopping; gambling; sex; food, particularly sugar, caffeine or wheat; fame; books; porn; the internet; and, any of a million possessions, collections, hobbies or activities.

Turns out I am genetically or personally lucky enough not to have an actual addiction, even by the above standards (unless you count obsessions as addictions, which is another discussion). However, I am about to confess what I discovered during my first six-week #Buddhist #meditation #retreat: I am a “next-thing” junkie. Whatever I am experiencing, regardless of how wonderful it is, how much I like it, I am always looking to the next phase.

When I am swimming, I fantasize about what I’ll do when I am finished. When I am writing, I consider when I will eat and what. When I am in the shower, I wonder about what I’ll write that day. During a meditation session, whatever practice or portion of the text we’re in, I want to be in the next part. When I’m silent, I want to talk. When I’m in conversation, I long for silence and solitude.

When I’m celibate, I daydream about sex. During sexual encounters, I want to have the aftermath, the closeness and intimacy of the more emotional kind, to be finished with the physical part. On and on.

This is my version of being a “Hungry Ghost,” a #Preta, one of the creatures doomed to exist for however long karma dictates who have extremely large bellies and very constricted throats: constantly starving and thirsty but never able to be satisfied. That is my dilemma: I am never satisfied, or not for very long.

Preta

I am not unique. I am not alone. In fact, I am in this way more mainstream, more ordinary than I am in almost any other component of my unusual life. When I brought this discover to my great #Tibetan #Buddhist teacher in the #Vajrayana #Nyingma #dzogchen lineage of #meditation, Lama Drimed, he talked to me about the known 51 “mental factors” that are considered part of the possible experience of sentient beings.

Want to know how many ways we can be caught up in experiences, thoughts, feelings? Fifty-one. Count ’em.

Here they are:

THE 5 OMNIPRESENT (EVER-RECURRING) MENTAL FACTORS
1. Feeling (the first aggregate)
2. Recognition / discrimination / distinguishing awareness (the second aggregate)
3. Intention / mental impulse – I will …
4. Concentration / attention / mental application – focused grasping of an object of awareness
5. Contact – the connection of an object with the mind, this may be pleasurable, painful or neutral as experienced by the aggregate of Feeling.

THE 5 DETERMINATIVE MENTAL FACTORS
6. Resolution / aspiration – directing effort to fulfil desired intention, basis for diligence and enthusiasm.
7. Interest / appreciation – holding on to a particular thing, not allowing distraction
8. Mindfulness / Recollection – repeatedly bringing objects back to mind, not forgetting
9. Concentration / Samadhi – one-pointed focus on an object, basis for increasing intelligence
10. Intelligence / Wisdom – “common-sense intelligence”, fine discrimination, examines characteristics of objects, stops doubt, maintains root of all wholesome qualities.

THE 4 VARIABLE (POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE) MENTAL FACTORS
11. Sleep – makes mind unclear, sense consciousness turns inwards
12. Regret – makes mind unhappy when regarding a previously done action as bad, prevents the mind from being at ease.
13. General examination / coarse discernment – depending on intelligence or intention, searches for rough idea about the object.
14. Precise analysis / subtle discernment – depending on intelligence or intention, examines the object in detail.

THE 11 VIRTUOUS MENTAL FACTORS
(Note that 18 and 19 are not necessary always virtuous. The first 3 are also known as roots of virtue.)
15. Faith / confidence / respectful belief – gives us positive attitude to virtue and objects that are worthy of respect. Three types are distinguished, with the last one being the preferred type:
a. uncritical faith: motivation is for no apparent reason
b. longing faith: motivation is by an emotionally unstable mind
c. conviction: motivated by sound reasons
16. Sense of Propriety / self-respect – usually the personal conscience to stop negative actions and perform positive actions
17. Considerateness / decency – avoids evil towards others, basis for unspoiled moral discipline.
18. Suppleness / thorough training / flexibility – enables the mind to engage in positive acts as wished, interrupting mental or physical rigidity.
19. Equanimity / clear-minded tranquility – peaceful mind, not being overpowered by delusions, no mental dullness or agitation
20. Conscientiousness / carefulness – causes avoiding negative acts & doing good; mind with detachment, non-hatred, non-ignorance and enthusiasm
21. Renunciation / detachment – no attachment to cyclic existence and objects
22. Non hatred / imperturbability – no animosity to others or conditions; rejoicing
23. Non-bewilderment / non ignorance / open-mindedness – usually understanding the meaning of things through clear discrimination, never unwilling to learn
24. Non violence / complete harmlessness – compassion without any hatred, pacifist
25. Enthusiasm / diligence – doing positive acts (specifically mental development and meditation) with delight

THE 6 NON-VIRTUOUS MENTAL FACTORS

THE 6 ROOT DELUSIONS (Delusion is defined as any secondary mental factor that, when developed, brings about suffering and uneasiness to self or others.)
26. Ignorance – not knowing karma, meaning and practice of 3 Jewels, includes closed-mindedness, lack of wisdom of emptiness.
27. Attachment / desire – definition: not wanting to be separated from someone or something. Grasping at aggregates in cyclic existence causes rebirth & suffering of existence
28. Anger – definition: wanting to be separated from someone or something, can lead to relentless desire to hurt others; causes unhappiness
29. Pride – inflated superiority, supported by one’s worldly views, which include disrespect of others
30. Doubt / deluded indecisive wavering – being in two minds about reality; usually leads to negative actions
31. Wrong views / speculative delusions – based on emotional afflictions. Distinguished in 5 types: belief in the self as permanent or non-existent (as opposite to the view of emptiness); denying karma, not understanding the value of the 3 Jewels; closed-mindedness (my view -which is wrong- is best); wrong conduct (not towards liberation)

THE 20 SECONDARY NON-VIRTUOUS MENTAL FACTORS
Derived from anger:
32. Wrath / hatred – by increased anger, malicious state wishing to cause immediate harm to others
33. Vengeance / malice / resentment – not forgetting harm done by a person, and seeking to return harm done to oneself
34. Rage / spite / outrage – intention to utter harsh speech in reply to unpleasant words, when wrath and malice become unbearable
35. Cruelty / vindictiveness / mercilessness – being devoid of compassion or kindness, seeking harm to others.

Derived from anger and attachment:
36. Envy / jealousy – internal anger caused by attachment; unbearable to bear good things others have

Derived from attachment:
37. Greed / avarice / miserliness – intense clinging to possessions and their increase
38. Vanity / self-satisfaction – seeing one’s good fortune giving one a false sense of confidence; being intoxicated with oneself
39. Excitement / wildness / mental agitation – distraction towards desire objects, not allowing the mind to rest on something wholesome; obstructs single pointed concentration.

Derived from ignorance:
40. Concealment – hiding one’s negative qualities when others with good intention refer to them this causes regret
41. Dullness / muddle-headedness – caused by fogginess which makes mind dark/heavy – like when going to sleep, coarse dullness is when the object is unclear, subtle dullness is when the object has no intense clarity
42. Faithlessness – no belief of that which is worthy of respect; it can be the idea that virtue is unnecessary, or a mistaken view of virtue; it forms the basis for laziness (43)
43. Laziness – being attached to temporary pleasure, not wanting to do virtue or only little; opposite to diligence [25])
44. Forgetfulness – causes to not clearly remember virtuous acts, inducing distraction to disturbing objects – not “just forgetting”, but negative tendency
45. Inattentiveness / lack of conscience – “distracted wisdom” after rough or no analysis, not fully aware of one’s conduct, careless indifference and moral failings; intentional seeking mental distraction like daydreaming

Derived from attachment and ignorance:
46. Hypocrisy / pretension – pretend non-existent qualities of oneself
47. Dishonesty / smugness – hiding one’s faults, giving no clear answers, no regret, snobbery & conceit, self-importance and finding faults with others

Derived from attachment, anger and ignorance
48. Shamelessness – consciously not avoiding evil, it supports all root and secondary delusions
49. Inconsiderateness – not avoiding evil, being inconsiderate of other’s practice, ingratitude
50. Unconscientiousness / carelessness- 3 delusions plus laziness; wanting to act unrestrained
51. Distraction / mental wandering – inability to focus on any virtuous object

from http://viewonbuddhism.org/mind.html

So, the next time you are trying to “control” your mind, or meditate, or refrain from a particular thought or emotion, consider this: another one is likely to arise in just a moment and you might prefer it.

#Impermanence can be our friend.

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Who is YOUR inner “Hungry Ghost”?

http://www.yogachicago.com/mar08/hungryghost.shtml

Amy Weintraub (bio and links, above and below) writes very personally about her own inner “Hungry Ghost,” known as Pretas in #Tibetan #Buddhism, the 5th of the 6 Realms I am contemplating for my home retreat.

I’m just beginning this phase of my #Tibetan #Buddhist, #Nyingma #Vajrayana #retreat and wanted some inspiration. Found it!

Her last paragraph, quoted below, was IT for me. I hope it inspires you, also, in whatever #meditation, #contemplation, or other personal #growth and #recovery practices you are engaged in for your own improvement. Best to you!

Today, I write from the memory of seeing the Hungry Ghost in the mirror. There are times, even now, where I see her everywhere, when any mindless action I take follows the old call-and-response pattern of my life. I thoughtlessly judge someone I love. I reach for a cracker when I’m not hungry. I pour another glass of wine. And behind all these actions, she looms, ready to devour, with that E.T. head and too-thin neck, refusing to see the great blossom of her belly beneath, recklessly craving more. No room for my lungs to take a deep breath. No room for my heart to feel compassion for my life. Over the years that we’ve lived together, I’ve learned two things. When I feed her, I am left ravenous and longing for more. When I embrace her with compassion, the wild yearning is pacified and, together, we have learned to dance. Sometimes, my Hungry Ghost still leads the dance, but more and more, it is compassion that leads the way.

Amy Weintraub, MFA, E-RYT (500), author of Yoga for Depression (Broadway Books) and founding director of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, leads professional certification trainings in LifeForce Yoga for #Depression and #Anxiety for mental health professionals and #yoga teachers internationally. She is also a senior Kripalu teacher and mentor. Amy is featured on the CD Breathe to Beat the Blues and the first DVD home yoga practice series for mood management, the award-winning LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues. Her bi-monthly newsletter includes current research, news and media reviews on yoga and mental health. To sign up, go to http://www.yogafordepression.com. For more information, visit http://www.yogamind.com or call 773.327.3650. This is from a 2008 post, so not sure if it’s active, still.

Failing Without Failing at #Buddhist practice, part 452.

Last day #contemplating the Animal Realm for my #Buddhist #meditation #retreat

I do not know how to inhabit the mind or body or life of anyone but myself. Not really. I can pretend. I am imagine. I can sympathize. But, do I (or anyone) ever actually empathize, get inside the experience of another being and feel, see, think, sense it the way s/he/it does?

Well, if anyone can do this, I’d like to hear about it. I really can’t.

This part of my #meditation #retreat—#contemplations of the beings of the Six #Realms, as some of you may be following—starts with the “Gods” Realm; moves to the “Demi-Gods” or “Jealous Gods” Realm; then to the Human (I did almost all right with that one…); and now, my last day of the Animal Realm. Tomorrow I start trying to inhabit the “Hungry Ghosts,” or “Pretas” Realm. I end this section of the four-month retreat with the “Hell” Realm(s) (oh, yes; there are more than one of those!). I wasn’t ready to admit failure until the Animal Realm was about to end, so what does that say about my human arrogance, eh?

I just can’t become a squirrel, a dog, a fox, a minnow, an eagle, a spider—anything besides a human—with any credence or authenticity. I can fabricate, because I am a writer and I can use my fantasies to concoct whatever I want. But, actually, am I BEING a cat? NO.

Nor was I able to become a being that would be a deity of any description. I can predict I won’t be able to be a hungry or thirsty ghost nor any being inhabiting one of the many Hell Realms, either.

What keeps me going? Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist practices and meditation exercises in the Vajrayana tradition work even when the practitioner doesn’t understand or know what to do, does it incorrectly or incompletely, and basically messes it up. I know this because that has already happened for me with the preliminary practices (Ngöndro), all of the visualization/deity practices, and the first level of dzogchen (trekchöd). I knew nothing, didn’t even believe it all, didn’t understand most of it and it works, anyway.

What do I mean by “works”? Our main teacher, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, quoting the Buddha, would explain the signs of effective practice something like this: “If you are less angry and more patient, less selfish and more generous, if compassion arises even some of the time within you without effort, your practice is working. Keep going, either way.” People around me and my own assessments agree: my practice is working.

Why do these practices work even when the practitioner is a dolt, like me? Because these are not religious practices. They do not rely on someone’s beliefs to be effective.

Vajrayana practices (and most of Buddhist practices in any school or lineage) are scientific, tried-and-true, proven methods for training and taming one’s mind, opening one’s heart and developing spontaneous compassion, decreasing selfishness and anger, increasing patience and generosity and generally becoming a better, more beneficial person. Whether you like it, believe it, do it absolutely right or not, these practices succeed.

Think of Buddhist practice as medicine: does your belief in the drug or understanding of how it was created or the way it operates in your system really affect whether or not a prescription works? Of course not. You can be unconscious, an infant or demented and medicine still works.

Yes, perhaps everything is more powerful when we do believe, when we are comprehending. Certainly I know that the power of prayer and positive thinking has its place. But, I also know, from personal experience, that one’s inner feelings and doubts don’t really matter when the methods are effective. They just work.

Lucky for me, the only thing I need to contribute is perseverance. That I can do. I can keep going, maintain my commitment, continue the practices and hope for the best outcomes possible to benefit all beings. I am disciplined, if nothing else. Most of the time, that is.

I keep using the methods, taking the medicine. I made vows to do so and I maintain my vows.

Faith helps, for certain. I know that when the practitioner has deep faith in the dharma, the teacher, the practices, things go more smoothly and perhaps more quickly. Without at least some faith, it’s impossible to be motivated enough to maintain discipline. I do have faith in the teachers and the practices.

Pray and hope with me, if that pleases you. Have some faith in whatever you believe in. Continue. Support others to continue.

Thanks. I appreciate it. Onward.

Mayflies, Pumpkin Pies and #Impermanence

Mayflies live their entire adult lives during only a few hours or perhaps up to three earth days. They belong to an entire order of insects, Ephemeroptera, which means lasting a day in Greek.

Adult Mayfly

Pumpkin pies also usually last only a few hours or up to perhaps a couple or three earth days (depending on how many are baked and how many are eating them).

Pumpkin Pie

With these and so many examples of #impermanence surrounding us, how is it that we can be so surprised when someone leaves us through choice, accident or death? We ask, “Why?” as if there would an answer different than this, just for us, just for this occasion: “because everything ends.”

Why are we so caught up in our illusions of continuation that we neglect to recognize the preciousness of each moment, each hour, each day we inhabit these fragile, ephemeral bodies? We meet, greet, hang out with friends, family, colleagues, groups of loved ones and leave without realizing that one or more of us may never see one another again in these bodies, in this lifetime.

I am struck at this time of year especially by how much we take for granted, how many of our days we deny the temporary nature of the license any of us has to go on living. I feel lucky that, as a #Buddhist, I intentionally spend a part of each day in an integral part of my practice reciting and recalling the truth of impermanence. We do this whether we are #Zen, #Theravadan, #Vipassana, #Mayahana, Vajrayana or non-sectarian practitioners.

Impermanence is one of the key concepts we learn as beginning students of #Buddhism and we contemplate it repeatedly: everything is impermanent and bound to die. Everything that exists ends. Everyone who is born dies. Nothing earthly lasts. No one escapes this fate. Relationships, jobs, activities, emotions, diseases, meals, sexual encounters, pleasures and pains of all descriptions eventually end.

I am in a state of melancholy. I am ebullient and filled with hope. I am curious. I am anxious. I love. I fear. I receive. I give. I end.

During my mini-#retreat I begin each day with the Ngöndro, the preliminary practices for #Vajrayana #Nyingma #Tibetan #Buddhist #meditation. These practices themselves begin with “The Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind,” and one of these is the contemplation on impermanence.

The way this contemplation affects me has changed over the the 17 years I’ve done this practice daily. At first, I was resistant, looking for the loophole. Maybe everyone ELSE dies, but I will not. Maybe YOUR relationship, YOUR job, YOUR life ends, but MINE continues. On and on, denial after denial, to the point of absurdity.

At one point, some friends and I joked that one of us was the “designated dier,” meaning, the one we chose would die on all of our behalves so that the rest of us, i.e., we, would not have to die. We volunteered D. He objected, but we prevailed. We kept telling him this for many years. Luckily, he’s still alive, so I do not feel guilty about this. However, I do remember feeling a tremendous sense of relief that the group had not chosen me to be the designated dier; I do feel guilty about that relief.

Regardless of anyone’s guilt or innocence, being chosen or not, D could not take my place or anyone else’s. We all die.

More than many people I know, I have lost friends and relatives to death, starting when I was 7 years old and was with one of my great-grandmothers when she died while getting dressed. Since I didn’t know she had died at the time, I was not afraid, merely puzzled that she would choose to lie back on her bed to take a nap while putting on her stockings.

When I was given to understand that she had died, I realized that I hadn’t been scared because there had been nothing frightening or startling in her death. One minute, she was talking with me (in Yiddish), putting on her clothes. The next minute, she stopped talking, laid back, her stockings in her hands, and was silent, the stockings resting on her body. No clutching at her heart or head, no screams or moans. Just gone.

While the dozens of others who have died around or right in front of me did not go so silently or easily, I still do not find death frightening. Sad, often. Feeling sorrow and compassion for those in pain or suffering, surely. But afraid? No. I often miss the person who dies for many months or years, grieving with great sobs, laughing and reminiscing about those I yearn to see again.

But, I never think: “Oh, why did s/he die?” I know the answer.

We all die.

The best any of us can hope for is to appreciate one another while we are alive. So, this is what I try to do. I tell people I’m grateful. I say “I love you.” I give them what I can of mine: time, stories, gifts, resources, help, support, encouragement. I let them know often, not just when they’re sick or I’m in pain, how much they mean to me.

Many call me “sappy,” or “sentimental.” I prefer to view my actions as realistic. We truly never know when we are going to die, which of our loved ones will die and when, between one visit or encounter and the next. Not knowing this, I treasure each call, each visit, each email, even when I don’t tell them this.

What else can we do? You tell me. Comment here. And, go tell someone you love that you love them. Again.

#Buddhist #Meditation #Retreat part 4: Animal Realm contemplations

Some of you know I’ve been doing an at-home, part-time #Buddhist #meditation #retreat in the #Vajrayana #Nyingma #dzogchen tradition of #Tibetan #Buddhism for about two months and plan to finish on Tibetan New Year (#Losar) on March 2, 2014. This retreat consists of the preliminary practices, or #Rushan, for #T’högal. Some of what I’m learning and doing are only to be discussed with dzogchen teachers or similarly or advanced practitioners, but some I can talk about. I share what I am able and wish to in these blog posts.

This portion’s contemplation and prayers are on beings of the Animal Realm. Of all the 6 #Realms, as Tibetan Buddhists conceive of our shared illusory reality, the Animal Realm is the closest akin to ours, so close that Humans can co-exist consciously with Animals. This means we can readily see, smell, hear, feel, and taste Animals in our everyday existence. For most Humans, our senses are not so easily stimulated by beings of the other Realms.

The first time I heard teachings on the 6 Realms, as I mentioned in a previous post, I thought the teacher was being metaphoric or joking. I was so stuck in my senses’ ordinary experiences that I could not believe the other Realms actually co-exist with ours.

There are some Buddhists who do treat the 6 Realms as a metaphor. These meditators prefer to use these concepts to recognize the ways that humans experience all of the Realms’ conditions while being human rather than believing that there are actual beings living in each of the Realms. I leave it up to you as to how you conceive of the Realms and the beings’ experiences.

For me, it’s more important to contemplate those experiences and generate empathy and compassion for them, regardless of how they occur. The main characteristics that Tibetan Buddhists assign to Animals as distinct from Humans are explained in this way by Barbara O’Brien in her article on the Buddhist Wheel of Life (samsara, in Sanskrit):

“Animal Beings (Tiryakas) are solid, regular and predictable. They cling to what is familiar and are disinterested, even fearful, of anything unfamiliar. The Animal Realm is marked by ignorance and complacency. Animal Beings are stolidly un-curious and are repelled by anything unfamiliar. They go through life seeking comfort and avoiding discomfort. They have no sense of humor. Animal Beings may find contentment, but they easily become fearful when placed in a new situation. Naturally, they are bigoted and likely to remain so. At the same time, they are subject to oppression by other beings — animals do devour each other, you know.”
http://buddhism.about.com/od/tibetandeities/ig/Wheel-of-Life-Gallery/Animal-Realm.htm

I don’t happen to agree with this conceptualization of animals; I never have. I do not see all animals as “ignorant,” and some definitely have a sense of humor! They are certainly a lot less bigoted than most humans I know and know of. As for the being “subject to oppression” part, even devouring each other, we’d have to include humans in that activity, wouldn’t we?

Animals are also most certainly NOT “un-curious,” and many employ what Temple Grandin calls “seeking” behavior in their everyday lives. (Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals , Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). In fact, Grandin’s research proves that animals need more than their basic physical and psychological requirements to be met. Yes, animals need (or certainly would prefer) to be free from hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear and distress. However, Grandin proves resoundingly that animals respond positively when allowed to use “seeking behaviors” and “play.” Some animals, particularly pigs and primates, can malinger, become self- or other-injurious, kill or even die without these outlets.

I spent a few weeks listening to this amazing book on CD this past summer, not yet knowing I’d be doing this retreat or contemplations this fall. Generally, I have not had a close relationship to animals or pets (except for others’ pets I happen to live with or encounter over the years). However, forging new relationships with animals via interspecies communication devices and aliens-humans encounters and relationships are central to my sci-fi novels in The Spanners Series, so I listened to Grandin’s book and watched the biopic about her early life (“Temple Grandin,” starring Clare Danes as Grandin; great movie) as research for my series.

Now that I’m in this section of my retreat, I find myself remembering many parts of both the film and the book, considering animals from Grandin’s perspective rather than Tibetan Buddhists’ concepts. Her philosophies, attitudes and understandings are closer to my own. I go further than she does, though: I am more in harmony with Douglas Adams, the late, sorely missed and amazing author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a five-book “trilogy.” One of these volumes is entitled: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. In this, Adams posits the superiority and other-worldly origins of dolphins, which I have no trouble believing.

I also believe in the superiority or at least equality with humans regarding intelligence, compassion and creativity, of all forms of cetaceans, elephants, wolves and many primates, cephalopods and others in the Animal Realm. To me, it’s impossible to ignore or deny the ways elephants grieve and remember, wolves communicate with their packs, whales gather intentionally for fun and protection, and many other examples of animals’ social, altruistic, creative and communicative behaviors not at all inferior to humans’ activities. I also can’t ignore or deny how disappointed I am in the selfish, unintelligent and socially perverse ways of humans.

This week, as many vegans rail against humans eating turkeys as well as pigs, fish, chickens, cattle and whatever other animals humans eat, I have to remind myself and others of the inherent suffering in all existence, the nature of samsara, according to my Tibetan Buddhist teachers. Humans can’t survive without killing, even when it’s unintentional. We kill billions of beings every day in service to providing us with shelter, food (even vegan food), clothing, work, transportation, education, tools and entertainment. We can’t plow fields or harvest their bounty without killing. We can’t breathe or walk without killing. Every day and every night, all twenty-four hours of every day of our existence, we are murderers.

Contemplating this and Grandin’s book and life make me want to mitigate the suffering of animals, for sure. However, I do not pretend I or any human can eliminate it. We can’t eliminate our own suffering, either. What we can do is change the ways it occurs, lessen or alleviate it, and feel compassionate about it enough to respond appropriately and less selfishly.

So, if you are NOT a vegan, here is my advice: do not waste your animal food. Only purchase, cook/prepare what you and your loved ones will consume. Honor the spirits of the animals who gave their lives to feed you with prayers, thoughts, songs, smoke, herbs: something sacred. Be conscious as you spend your time this week and every week hereafter of the gifts animals give us and the ways we exploit these gifts. Be humble. Be grateful. Be caring.

I will try. I hope you do, also.

Dilemmas while #meditating on being human

During each of the current days I am #meditating during this mini-#Buddhist, at-home #retreat, I #contemplate what it means to be human. I examine the emotional, physical, interpersonal, mental experiences I am familiar with myself and then I attempt to empathize or at least sympathize with others’ experiences as deeply as possible: the pains and pleasures, sorrows and joys, defeats and successes, fears and hopes, worries and excitements. What motivates every being is clear: each of us wants to be happy.

However, as I know for myself and observe in others, we often are extremely inept, even self-sabotaging in our attempts to achieve happiness. Furthermore, this happiness is only ever temporary. Impermanence is a fact of existence.

Spending so much time and focusing so such keen attention on humanness intensifies my recognition of these failed attempts on my own part and for others. Also, I become more acutely conscious of my failures to acquire even a bit more comfort.

At the pool, I have my “favorite” swimming lanes. These are the ones I prefer because of their proximity to the inflow jets, which act like those in a hot tub. The pressure from this inflow eases the tightness in my back when I hang in front of it. Or, these are the ones I like because they’re closer to the ropes and have more room around the “lane” (this pool, for unknown reasons, does not rope off lanes, only sections). Or, I like this or that lane because, when I do the backstroke, the line on the ceiling’s architecture exactly matches the line I am supposed to follow that represents my lane (which is faintly painted on the pool’s floor), so I have a fighting chance to stay in my own lane (appreciated by all).

Seems so silly, so trivial, so selfish and absurd when I lay it out like this. Yet, as I enter the pool building every morning, I feel a tightness in my chest and my breathing increases, signaling anxiety. Worried questions hum beneath the surface of my thinking: “Will I get a ‘good’ lane?” “Will I get a lane at all?” “Will the people in adjacent lanes bump into me?” Luckily, swimmers can pre-select our lanes as soon as we arrive, before we get into our suits. My anxiety is relieved as soon as my lane is chosen.

I am told the policy is to choose the lane I want and show my choice by placing an item on the floor above it, signaling that this lane is taken. Then, I go change and return to my “saved” lane and get in to swim.

This system works well enough, usually. When I get into the pool area, I choose a “good” lane, which is empty. I put a kickboard down and go to change. But, yesterday I approached my saved lane and saw that someone else was swimming in it. I waited until she was at the wall and I tapped her: “Excuse me,” I said, “You’re in the lane I saved.”

“Oh, no,” she replies. “There was no one here when I got here.”

I pointed to the blue kickboard on the floor in front of the lane and say, “This is my kickboard. I put it here a minute ago and went to change.”

She looks at the kickboard and up at me and says, “You’re supposed to put something else on the kickboard. How do I know that it’s really saved and not just abandoned by the previous swimmer?”

I look at her, dumbfounded, feeling my anger and irritation rising. This stupid, selfish woman is ruining my swim and my swimming time is elapsing as I stand here and discuss her mistake with her. I am also laughing at myself, inside, and pitying her. But, I am mostly fuming. “I don’t have anything else to put there. Just me.”

“You could have have put your goggles down,” she says.

“Look,” I say. “You made a mistake. Please just find another lane.”

“You could find another lane,” she points out.

“I could,” I say, “but this is the lane I saved and you didn’t. So, please move.” Now, I feel as if we’re in grade school arguing over who got here first. I feel ridiculous, but this is the lane I like, remember? I really prefer it.

“Oh, fine,” she says, irritably. She moves to an adjacent lane and swims off in a huff (I didn’t know that was possible, but she did it).

I get in the pool, hang in front of the jet which is now “mine” and feel horrible. Terrible. Anxious, embarrassed, selfish, tight, ridiculous. What kind of a Buddhist am I? A shitty one, obviously. Completely self-absorbed. Small-minded. A failure. Am I happy now, in my favorite lane? Of course not. I feel bad.

I want to apologize. I want to give it back to her. Even that seems silly. I just swim, meditating on humanness and foibles, mine especially, as I swim.

Eventually, I get into the rhythm of it and calm down. I look over and notice she’s gone already. She probably only swims 20 minutes to my 45 and I could have just waited.

Feeling even more ridiculous and small, I continue my swim. I attempt to offer myself compassion, tenderness, amusement. My attempts are mostly failures.

Few choose the Tibetan #Buddhist or other culture’s #Vajrayana path, even though it makes it possible for practitioners to attain long-lasting, many lifetimes’ happiness in one lifetime. Why? Because we practitioners become unflinching observers of our own minds and behaviors. We commit to, we must continue facing ourselves every day, all day (and all night), in every situation, not just while “formally” meditating. It’s frightening, or at least humbling, to notice day after day what I have not achieved after meditating on this path since 1996. Sheesh.

I have a long way to go in my practice. Good to know. I plan to keep going. And, keep swimming.

#Meditation: it’s not for wimps.

Jackson Peterson writes about Realization and Liberation

Jackson Peterson, teacher of Non-dual Traditions: #Dzogchen, #Advaita, #Zen and #Mahamudra at #Meditation Teacher and Life Coaching, posted on Facebook today something so inspirational I have to share it before I devote some of my day to its contemplation. Find him at: http://www.wayoflight.net/‎

The Five Principles of Realization and Liberation

The first principle is becoming aware of our thoughts and the nature of thought.
“By taking the position of just being an observer of the thoughts and images that come and go, we discover all thoughts are the same: they are temporary appearances that come and go like clouds in the sky. Give no importance to one thought over another.
“If we pay no attention to any thought but remain in the ‘observer’ role, it seems the space of awareness becomes more open and thoughts less demanding of attention. We discover all thoughts are without substance and importance. We could say our thoughts are ’empty,’ like clouds: appearances without any core or entity.

The second principle is recognizing our stories and emotional dramas are structured only from thought, our ’empty’ thoughts.
“In continuing to observe our thoughts, we should notice how they tend to link together in chains of meaning and particular significance. It is this linking together of thoughts that creates our stories, beliefs and emotional dramas in a convincing and powerful way. As a result, we may spend most of our time going from one mini-daydream to another. It is this trance-like state of mind that we need to break up again and again, as often as possible.
“We do that by shifting our attention from thought to the presence of the five senses in immediate now-ness. Just notice your physical environment and the direct sensory experience, free of analysis. Practice this shifting away from mental engagement in thought to noticing your physical environs as often as possible. Hopefully the trance-like habit of living in your thoughts constantly will be broken.
“In this way, we can free ourselves from anxiety and emotional suffering as both are caused by the mind’s stories that are rarely challenged. It is possible to discover that our stories and emotional dramas are as empty as last night’s dreams. In fact, our daydreams and stories are no more real than our dreams at night. We discover our stories are also just as empty as the clouds that group together in the sky in various formations that disperse and disappear in the next moment, leaving no trace.

The third principle is recognizing that one’s sense of self is also only an empty story made of thought. [Self is] a mental construction without an actual identity as an entity that exists independently and with self-determinism.
“Studies have determined that our coherent sense of personal identity doesn’t appear until about the ages between 18 and 24 months. That means, previous to that time, there was no personal ‘me’ story or self-image. That also means the newly appearing sense of ‘me’ is totally the result of thought-stories that the mind constructs about identity. There is no personal self present other than this make-believe ‘me’ story.
“Even science makes clear there is just one unified field of energy as the universe without separate parts. The entire field is interdependent without any breaks or splits in the unity. The sense of being an independent entity. like a ‘personal self,’ is just an illusion and has never existed in fact.
“By observing the ‘me’-thoughts that arise from moment to moment, we can notice the ‘personal me’ is nothing more than a chain of linked thoughts about identity that are supported by memories and imagination. Seeing this directly and clearly, not just intellectually, the emptiness of personal identity becomes obvious to the mind. [A]t [this] point, the illusion ceases. But that cessation will only occur according to the degree of the depth of this self-inquiry.
“If it doesn’t occur, the understanding is too shallow and not convincing enough to the deeper levels of mind grounded in conditioning and habitual ‘selfing.’ In such a case, one should revisit the first and second principles again and establish a deeper state of observation regarding the experience of the ‘me’-thoughts arising and dissolving until it becomes clear that no personal self exists outside of the mind’s belief otherwise.
“When recognition arises, it becomes clear [to the meditator] that the notion of there being a personal self is as empty as a single huge cloud that dominates the sky yet disappears in the next moment without a trace.

The fourth principle is recognizing what exactly is the nature of that which is observing and experiencing the empty nature of thoughts, stories and personal selfhood.
“What is doing the ‘recognizing’? What is this impersonal aware consciousness that perceives and knows? In these recognitions, there seems to be an ever-increasing evolution or revelation of wisdom. As a result, one’s cognitive space seems expansive, open and vividly transparent without a center.
“What exactly is this state of impersonal consciousness? It clearly has a sense of being aware, empty and knowing. Can we be aware of being aware? Is this aware consciousness present in all experience, inseparably so?
“Let’s look directly at this impersonal, aware knowingness: In a well-lighted room, close your eyes. Notice at your eyelids that the light of the room shining on your eyelids creates an inner glow upon your closed, translucent eyelids. You will see an orangey-red color at your eyelids. What is it that is observing this color?
“It will seem as though your aware consciousness occupies a place a few inches behind the eyes and its attention is directed at the eyelids in front. Notice your aware presence as being the place from where you are looking forward at the orangey color. Are you ‘aware’ of the color?
“Now be aware of your awareness just as it is. Does this awareness have any color, shape, substance or dimension of its own? Or is it simply an empty presence of aware knowing?
“Review these last two questions again and again until it becomes clear that ‘you’ are actually this empty, clear and aware knowing. When this is seen clearly, instead of recognizing the emptiness of thoughts and self as the empty nature of the clouds that appear in the sky, the empty nature of the sky itself is recognized: the empty cognitive space in which all appearances appear and disappear.

The fifth principle is recognizing the inseparable relationship between one’s empty, aware ‘seeing’ and the five senses.
“One can’t find awareness separate from one’s sensory perceptions. There isn’t first a sensory perception and then an awareness of it. The five senses are this ‘knowing awareness’ seeming to be split up into five separate sensory components.
“These sensory capacities are not limited to the physical five senses. ‘Knowing awareness’ can perceive independently of the five physical senses with no limitations regarding time and space.
“Merging our attention fully with the five senses instead of with the mental phenomena of thoughts, stories and beliefs in personal identity, reveals a state of total ‘nowness’ beyond thought and mind. A limitless vista of knowing transparency and Clear Light reveals itself to be our true nature, beyond any descriptions or assumptions of mind. In merging our attention totally with the five senses, the luminous nature of appearances reveals the empty vividness of our Aware and Knowing Space.

“If one incorporates and integrates these five principles into one’s daily practice, in my opinion, no other methods or practices should be considered necessary.”

I appreciate Jackson Peterson’s clarity and analysis enormously. I do take exception to his final paragraph, however: only someone who already had spent many years with at least one if not more other practices could attain this clarity and be able to meditate successfully with these 5 principles. Therefore, it is specious and disingenuous, in my opinion, to recommend to people who may be beginners or who are probably less experienced than he that doing these meditations is all they would ever need. Not so.