Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Moment in Love. How to Live in a Relentlessly Impermanent World. #3

Before we can live a life centered in the present, we have to let go of the past. Easier said than done, right? I can only tell you how I go about staying in the moment and what works for me. It requires the acquisition of wisdom and a lot of determination. I have to do it even when I don't want to. When I can live in the present moment, I am happy. I am very well acquainted with the fact that pain resides in the past and fear resides in the future. Truly the only place I can be comfortable is in the present moment.

Letting go of the past does not mean forgetting the past - it means letting go of the emotional baggage that we have accumulated in our many experiences. It seems like our minds have been conditioned to think and act in a certain way, hanging on to everything emotion (especially unpleasant ones) and we bring all of it into our lives everyday. It is
as if we recreate the past in the present moment.

For instance, if we had a relationship several years ago that ended sadly and we still feel the pain when that person comes to mind, maybe great pain, we can ask ourselves why we feel so much emotion over something that does not exist anymore. How can we feel so bad today over something is totally gone? I think the reason is that we are recreating the past in the present. Its not what happened in the past that is the source of the problem, its what's happening in the present.  Dragging the past into the present and reliving it as if it were real is a very bad habit. It will flavor our minds with sadness and it will make it very hard to do anything truly new, truly fresh and it will cast a shadow over our joy.

I have heard people say, and I have said it myself, that when you suffer a painful loss you never get over it completely. Today I find this idea horrifying. If it is true that you never completely get over losses, then life will always be filled with pain piled upon pain. By the end of our lives, we will be very, very sad.

Buddha's teachings on impermanence and subtle impermanence contain a powerful method to counteract the habit of hanging on to past pain. Habits can be changed - we can replace pain from the past with a day by day happiness in each moment. Again, easier said than done. I have all of the societal thoughts and training most Americans grow up believing about loss and pain. Its takes concerted effort and a lot of time to change these habits. But its so worth it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Moment in Love. How to Live in a Relentlessly Impermanent World #2

I hate everything today. I'm in the past I'm in the future I'm feeling like shit.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Moment in Love - How to Live in a Relentlessly Impermanent World. #1

These clouds on this windy day, remind me how beautiful
(and sometimes fleeting) a moment can be. - R.M.
Anyone who reads my blog knows that I'm a lesbian working the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, that I believe the Buddhist path is the right path for my life and that I believe in God, a power greater than myself that knows my name and loves me. I struggle with impermanence, living in the moment and with loneliness. When I am diligently staying connected to God and living my path the three things I worry with the most fade into the background and I experience a freedom that is truly wonderful. I have recently learned that impermanence and living in the moment are intimately connected and vital to each other. Living in the present moment, this instant here and now, is a way to survive and thrive in what seems to be a relentlessly uncertain world.

Having said all of that, I had a love affair that has ended but it changed me and propelled me forward in my understanding of impermanence, living in the moment and loneliness. My top three. I learned incredible things about what exists in the moment when I stop and pay attention. The moment contains more life, more dimensions, more feeling and emotion, more possibilities than I ever knew about. The wide and abundant life currently existing in the moment all around us truly amazing. This is a very large statement I am about to make - I think all of life, more life than I ever knew existed and access to new levels of experience are contained in the moment. If I am reliving the past or tripping into the future, this new illuminated knowledge is not available to me.

Impermanence is a fact of life. Everyone dies, everything changes, nothing stays the same, at this writing I am not the same person who woke up this morning and this is my truth. Everything is continually flowing and changing. How are we to cope with this? Is there a way to feel anchored in anything or do we have to always be floating or floundering? I think one answer to living in an impermanent world is simply living in the moment. The simplest answer is usually the right one. Where am I right now? What is happening in this exact moment? Where are my feet? Do I want to just float along letting things happen to me or do I want to stay awake and be a part of something much larger?

This intro is short, but it took me all afternoon to write. I'm going to take a nap and pick this up tomorrow.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Living in the Moment

Mindfulness can be seen as the practice of “being in the moment” – but what does this actually mean? Does it mean that if we’re mindful we should never think about the past or the future, never try to plan or to reflect on our past experience?

Being in the moment means being mindfully aware of what is going on right here and now, in our experience, and this includes any thinking we do about the past or future. Much of the time our experience does not have a quality of  mindfulness. A lot of the time we are like robots, automatically living out habitual patterns of self-pity or anger, future-tripping or fear, etc. These habitual tendencies take us over and run our lives, and we aren't able to stand back and decide whether this is what we actually want to be doing. It's shocking when we realize just how habitual and automatic our lives are and when we realize how much robotic  thinking leads to emotional pain -- suffering.

When we’re in this robotic state, we’re not mindfully aware of what’s going on. We may know on some level that we’re in fear, but we probably don’t realize that we have the option not to be afraid. We fantasize without any discernment of whether what we’re thinking about is making us happy or unhappy. In fact, a lot of the time when we are letting our unexamined, automatic thoughts dominate our minds, we are not making ourselves or anyone else happy – usually its the opposite.

Being in the moment is another way of saying that we are aware of what is. When we aren't in the moment, we're re-living the past or tripping into the future. We might be dwelling on the past – brooding about some past hurt. Or we may be fantasizing about a future were we have won the lottery and are living in some imaginary paradise, or daydreaming about being in the perfect career. Often these fantasized pasts and futures are not even real possibilities but simply fantasies of how things might be or of how we would have liked them to be. As with all unmindful activity, we have no idea this fantasizing is pointless. All it does is reinforce unhelpful emotions that can never truly enhance our lives.

There are ways of mindfully thinking about the past or future. Being in the moment does not mean that we are stuck in the moment. We can mindfully and creatively call to mind past events, or imagine what might happen in the future. We can think about the past and think about how we might have acted differently, or wonder why something happened the way it did. We can think about possible futures, and of how the actions that we commit now will make those futures more or less likely. When we are thinking about the past or future while being in the moment, we are conscious that we are reflecting and we’re not lost in thought. We don’t confuse fantasy with reality. We don’t stray from thinking about the past in order to construct imaginary pasts in which we said or did the right thing. We think about the future, but rather than it being idle daydreaming we’re thinking about the consequences of our actions or maybe thinking about where we want to go in life.

Sometimes mindful daydreaming can be creative. It can be wonderful to relax the reins of consciousness and give the creative unconscious mind the opportunity to express itself. But it’s generally far more useful to have a part of our conscious mind standing by, watching for any sign that the unconscious creative expressions turning into repetitive and reactive expressions of old and unhelpful emotional patterns. The conscious mind can intervene at such moments with a light touch, a gentle redirection of our thoughts so that we stay in the present and be aware, mindful, and creative.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

I Visited Christianity and Return to Buddhism, My Entire Experience Explained in A Zen Koan - Is That So?

Is That So?  

The Zen Master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life. A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near by. Suddenly, without any warning signs, her parents discovered she was with child.This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment she at last named Hakuin.

In great anger the parent went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say. After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him. He took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else he needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth - the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish market. The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length and to get the child back.

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: "Is that so?"

My thinking behind using this koan to explain my whole Christianity experience is pretty simple. The Christians I met are sure their belief is the only right one, that everyone should believe what they believe and act & think like they do. There is no room for doubt. They seem to accept everything their pastor says as solid, indisputable truth and do no investigation on their own. Most of them have not studied the Bible and could not answer the simplest question. So when they told me homosexuality is a sin I knew they didn't know why they thought that, they couldn't tell me where to find it in the Bible and did not want to look any deeper. My response to them: Is That So?

I don't think they will ever hear the truth or come to me and say they were wrong. Fortunately, I don't need them to.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Eightfold Path: A Secular View of Right Understanding

The path of awakening begins with a step the Buddha called right understanding. Right understanding has two parts. To start with, it asks a question of our hearts. What do we really value, what do we really care about in this life? Our lives are quite short. Our childhood goes by very quickly, then adolescence and adult life go by. We can be complacent and let our lives disappear in a dream, or we can become aware. In the beginning of practice we must ask what is most important to us. When we’re ready to die, what will we want to have done? What will we care about most? At the time of death, people who have tried to live consciously ask only one or two questions about their life: Did I learn to live wisely? Did I love well? We can begin by asking them now.

This is the beginning of right understanding: looking at our lives, seeing that they are impermanent and fleeting, and taking into account what matters to us most deeply. In the same way, we can look at the world around us, where there is a tremendous amount of suffering, war, poverty, and disease. What does the world need to foster a safe and compassionate existence for all? Human suffering and hardship cannot be alleviated just by a simple change of government or a new monetary policy, although these things may help.

On the deepest level, problems such as war and starvation are not solved by economics and politics alone. Their source is prejudice and fear in the human heart— and their solution also lies in the human heart. What the world needs most is people who are less bound by prejudice. It needs more love, more generosity, more mercy, more openness. The root of human problems is not a lack of resources but comes from the misunderstanding, fear, and separateness that can be found in the hearts of people.

Right understanding starts by acknowledging the suffering and difficulties in the world around us as well as in our own lives. Then it asks us to touch what we really value inside, to find what we really care about, and to use that as the basis of our spiritual practice. When we see that things are not quite right in the world and in ourselves, we also become aware of another possibility, of the potential for us to open to greater loving-kindness and a deep intuitive wisdom. From our heart comes inspiration for the spiritual journey. For some of us this will come as a sense of the great possibility of living in an awake and free way.

Others of us are brought to practice as a way to come to terms with the power of suffering in our life. Some are inspired to seek understanding through a practice of discovery and inquiry, while some intuitively sense a connection with the divine or are inspired to practice as a way to open the heart more fully. Whatever brings us to spiritual practice can become a flame in our heart that guides and protects us and brings us to true understanding.

Right understanding also requires from us a recognition and understanding of the law of karma. Karma is not just a mystical idea about something esoteric like past lives in Tibet. The term karma refers to the law of cause and effect. It means that what we do and how we act create our future experiences. If we are angry at many people, we start to live in a climate of hate. People will get angry at us in return. If we cultivate love, it returns to us. It’s simply how the law works in our lives.

Someone asked a vipassana teacher, Ruth Dennison, if she could explain karma very simply. She said, ‘‘Sure. Karma means you don’t get away with nothing!’’ Whatever we do, however we act, creates how we become, how we will be, and how the world will be around us.

To understand karma is wonderful because within this law there are possibilities of changing the direction of our lives. We can actually train ourselves and transform the climate in which we live. We can practice being more loving, more aware, more conscious, or whatever we want. We can practice in retreats or while driving or in the supermarket checkout line. If we practice kindness, then spontaneously we start to experience more and more kindness within us and from the world around us.

There’s a story of the Sufi figure Mullah Nasruddin, who is both a fool and a wise man. He was out one day in his garden sprinkling breadcrumbs around the flowerbeds. A neighbor came by and asked,

‘‘Mullah, why are you doing that?’’

Nasruddin answered, ‘‘Oh, I do it to keep the tigers away.’’

The neighbor said, ‘‘But there aren’t any tigers within thousands of miles of here.’’

Nasruddin replied, ‘‘Effective, isn’t it?’’

Spiritual practice is not a mindless repetition of ritual or prayer. It works through consciously realizing the law of cause and effect and aligning our lives to it. Perhaps we can sense the potential of awakening in ourselves, but we must also see that it doesn’t happen by itself. There are laws that we can follow to actualize this potential. How we act, how we relate to ourselves, to our bodies, to the people around us, to our work, creates the kind of world we live in, creates our very freedom or suffering

Friday, January 08, 2016

A Secular Look at the Eightfold Path

The Dharma Wheel
The Eightfold Path is common to most Buddhist traditions, and secular Buddhists consider the Eightfold Path to be the heart of practice. The Eightfold Path, or path as it’s called, is a guide for areas to explore and practice. There is great wisdom in this path, all of which can be tried out and tested in everyday life. In following and practicing the path, you learn to see life realistically, without delusions crowding out your mind and creating a lot of mental noise and anguish, and you’ll benefit in many other ways.

The path is not linear. In fact, many of the areas of the path can’t really be explored without practicing other areas. For instance, Right Mindfulness and Right Intention go into all parts of the path. I would say all areas of the path are of equal importance.  Over time you’ll settle into exploring them naturally.

You’ll notice each of these areas of the path begins with the word Right. There is much discussion about this, and many would agree that the word right actually means something more like wholesome or skillful, with non-harm in mind. The meanings of these areas are mostly the same across traditions, but Right View differs a bit for secular Buddhists.

Right View
Seeing the world as it is is Right View, with an understanding of the Three Marks of Existence, and the Four Noble Truths. When you fully understand the marks and truths, then you see the world and yourself without delusion, hatred, greed, etc. Some of the traditions also include kamra (kamma) here, but most secular Buddhist view kamma as intention or action, so we place it under Right Action. Additionally, with secular Buddhists, kamma is not believed to be a system of justice that goes from one life to the next, but instead is about developing wholesome intention behind our actions so we behave ethically in this life, with Right Action.

Three marks of existence
In Buddhism, the three marks of existence are three characteristics shared by all sentient beings, namely impermanence (anicca), dissatisfaction or suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anattā). These three characteristics are mentioned in verses 277, 278 and 279 of the Dhammapada.

Right View also touches on our own views of the world, how we may cling to them, how we may consider them permanent, when they are really impermanent, and how we can get caught up in a “thicket of views”. Exploring the Three Marks of Existence helps you see through getting caught in your own views.

Right Intention
In order not to create more suffering, we need to rely on paying attention (mindfulness) to what our intentions are with others and with our actions. If our intentions stem from anger, resentment, or greed, then we are more likely to do harm than if our intentions are driven to help, to understand, to better our actions in the world. We also need to use intention when we sit for meditation, when we want to speak or act effectively, etc. and to practice the path. Learning how to be mindful to intentions before you act, speak, or write takes some time to learn. But it’s fascinating once you start digging deeply into this area. Once you are aware of your intentions, you sometimes need to consciously set new intentions and let go of the old ones. This is a big part of practice. And it takes practice!

Right Action
With wholesome intentions, our actions are more likely to be skillful as well. This part of the path asks us to pay attention (mindfulness) to how we act or behave in the world, that our actions go towards helping and not harming, that what we do is skillful and don’t do what leads to more suffering. Keep in mind, we are not giving you specifics of what you should do or shouldn’t do. Instead, you learn to develop an ethics meter so to speak, good judgement, based on whether or not your action will bring harm or suffering to yourself or others. You learn to make sure your actions don’t cause suffering.

Right Speech
From the above, you probably figured out already that Right Speech is talking, and includes emailing/messaging,  in such a way that you don’t hurt feelings, you don’t lie, don’t use deceptive or intentionally confusing language, that you don’t gossip, or intentionally make people angry with your speech. Why? Because doing so causes suffering to the people you speak or write harshly too. That doesn’t mean you have to withhold your opinion. It does mean, learning to pay attention (mindfulness) to the intention behind what you are saying, and deciding if it’s going to do more harm than good.

Intention plays a big role here. Examine your intentions for wanting to share your opinion, for wanting to correct or criticize, etc. Right Speech, can also be thought of as Right Writing as well, because what we are really talking about here is communication. We want our communications to be of benefit, not harm. This can be tricky in a world where we come across a multitude of opinions and ideas daily. Sometimes we know people’s views are skewed, wrong, delusion, or divisive. Set an example for healthy, helpful communications.

Right Livelihood
Right Livelihood addresses how we earn a living and more. I’ve seen a lot of debates online where people argue about whether it’s ok or not to work at certain places. Again, this is another part of the path that asks us to determine for ourselves if what we do for a living is causing suffering, or whether what we do is neutral or helping. It’s not a matter of this place is bad and that place is good. Mindfulness and intention come into play in how we interact with our coworkers (action), what our jobs ask of us, how we approach our work ethics. You could be working at a place that does service to others, but if you are treating coworkers unfairly, or you are cheating your employers out of hours or money, then you might want to examine your intentions. This is an area that is worth deep and detailed exploration. The Eightfold Path helps us learn to make our own judgement calls on where we work, how we can make the most of it, and how we interact with others while doing our jobs.

Right Effort
Without effort, our practice is toast. Of course, we all know that to accomplish anything we need to put effort in. For our practice, however, this effort has the motivation/intention of lessening suffering. So, the effort we put into our practice is the impetus for dropping whatever gets in the way of our developing ethics, compassion, and it motivates us to let go of greed, fear, angst, hatred, self loathing, etc. By practice, I mean all your interactions in the world. Being mindful of where we put our effort in our actions and speech each day is really important. And, of course, we need to apply effort toward other areas of our practice, such as developing mindfulness in meditation so that we can put it to good use throughout our days.

Right Mindfulness
Mindfulness in a nutshell is paying attention, but it stretches beyond that. The norm for many of us is to go through our days, living mostly in our heads, with thoughts of the past or future, in conversation with people who aren’t present, ruminating over and over problems. Now, that’s not to say thinking and problem solving aren’t necessary. They surely are, but there is a time and place for thinking and musing, and it’s not all day long. Mindfulness helps keep us anchored in the present, so we can interact in the world appropriately, so we can apply just the right effort to various tasks, and to help prevent from creating and worsening problems. Living entirely in our heads is a habit that is hard to break. Living in our heads can cause us to do poorly in our jobs, distract us from driving on the road well, and in general can just cause a lot of angst.

But with proper intention, effort, and mindfulness, you can train yourself to be present, and deal with whatever arises appropriately. You’ll find over time, mindfulness becomes the new mode of being, a new healthy habit, and you’ll find yourself lost in thoughts much less frequently. Meditation is the tool to develop mindfulness. As you develop mindfulness in the quiet, still environment of meditation, you then extend mindfulness to include all your daily life.

Right Concentration
Right Concentration, sometimes called Right Meditation, and is the practice of focusing the mind solely on one object. Where mindfulness is open to whatever arises, concentration is focusing on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. Both concentration and mindfulness are tools to sharpen the mind, and bring it out of the shadows of discursive thinking and root us in the present. In some traditions, concentration is developed through the practice of the jhanas. This is not a common practice in western Buddhism, but as neuroscience finds benefits to meditation, there seems to be renewed interest in using jhana techniques to develop very specialized forms of concentration.

Concentration also improves naturally through mindfulness meditation. Concentration requires use of Right Effort, Right Intention, and Right Mindfulness. Some argue that you can’t have really good concentration until you’ve developed the ability to let go of anger, hatred, discursive thinking, negativity, etc. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try developing concentration until you have a free mind. Indeed, working on concentration is what helps you to learn to drop unskillful thinking. Once mindfulness and concentration are established, then you can develop greater insight overall because your mind is cluttered with thoughts that inhibit wisdom.

It’s important to review the Eightfold Path from time to time, and to focus on areas as needed. Over time, you’ll notice the overlaps, how each part of the path works with other parts. Working the path is an ongoing lifetime effort that brings many rewards and improve the quality of life.