Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Start Your Week Skillfuly

The original intent of the Sabbath was to have a day of rest from endless toil. In this day and age for most of us the labor we do is not as physically hard as it was for the people in the time of Moses. However since we have embraced multi-tasking our mental states continue at a backbreaking pace. It is our minds that toil endlessly. For our minds there seems to be no day of rest. Thus it is really advisable to set aside a couple of hours at the end of the week to regroup with yourself before you rush off into another round of multi-tasking your way through another week.

In September I will be offering a group on Sunday evenings that does just this. The following is a preview of things we will be doing. You needn’t wait until September to begin. This guidance is yours now and it’s free! Why not put it to use?

The following are two guided meditations you can do with yourself. In the first we put the cares of the past week to bed. Find a quiet and comfortable place for your body. Take three long deep cleansing breaths. Allow your breathing to return to normal and focus on your breath as it appears to you. You may find yourself focusing on the rising and falling of your chest, or the air as it enters and leaves your nostrils, or any place in between. Drink in this air as if it were a healing elixir because it is. Feel it permeate all parts of your body relaxing and nourishing them. Stay with this focus as long as you can until a thought arises about something in the past or future.

If the thought is from the past look at it as if it were a child you are responsible for taking care of. Pick it up and say, “You occurred so many hours (days, years) ago. Now it’s time for bed.” Then gently tuck it into bed. Next, proceed to review your past week looking for events, issues, or feelings that call out for your attention. Pick them up one by one and tuck them into bed. (Not your own bed of course. You don’t want to sleep with them. Put them in the bed of time passed.)

If your first thought was of the future pick it up and say “I see you now but such and such a time (when you will be able to take action regarding it) is the appropriate time for me to give attention to you. Until then, patience my friend.  You will just have to wait. I know you can do this.” And with that you place it in a container of your imagining. Make this container really nice, something you will enjoy seeing as you go through the next week. Then proceed to search your mind for future events, concerns, issues that are calling out for your attention. Repeat this process for each one of them, taking your time with each one. When you are done close the container. If it doesn’t have a lid as for baskets and bowls, cover it with a beautiful cloth. Having done this it is crucial you be impeccable with your word. If you told a thought you would give it attention at such and such a time you must do so otherwise these thoughts will keep popping out of their container. The clarity and firmness of your intent is what keeps them safely inside until the appropriate time.

It is best to do both meditations, past and future, though the order in which you do them doesn’t matter. Between these two meditations you can take a break but then restart with the breathing exercise. Your week is now laid out and organized. Thoughts from the past will not be haunting you. Concerns of the future will not be claiming your attention before you are able to deal with them. Your mind will indeed have obtained a measure of rest. And the rest of your week will be a lot easier.  

For Giving

I’m all for giving. Giving is an expression of gratitude and thus we get a taste of the elixir of gratitude when we give. Forgiving is also a way of giving, a gift you give yourself. With forgiveness the negative mind states of holding a grudge drop away and in their place is the bliss of freedom. My teacher taught me this little phrase to remember the mechanics of forgiveness: like thee, like me.

Forgiveness occurs when we recognize another person’s negative trait within ourselves. Instantly animosity vanishes. Instantly the negative trait vanishes. How is this possible? It occurs because we have stopped projecting our own negative traits outward. We have stopped seeing them in others. We have stopped being annoyed at seeing our own negativity upon the screen of an other. Forgiveness is the end of projection. It’s as if you pulled the plug of a movie projector. All the images vanish into nothingness. All negativity vanishes into nothingness. It can vanish so quickly because it was only an illusion.

We can sit in the movie theater of our lives and say “correct thinking indicates that my life is an illusion”. This of course has no effect whatsoever. The images keep playing. But when we experience that we ourselves are the movie projector the show stops. Even when we find that little bit of film inside us that corresponds to what we thought originated outside of us, we are suddenly blessed by a freedom from that little bit of suffering.

When you find yourself wanting to forgive or are unable to forgive stop looking outside yourself. Stop thinking about that annoying person. Look inside yourself and remember: like thee, like me.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Abandonment of Suffering

Abandon suffering. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? An easy do? No. Ninety-nine percent of our news is about people causing suffering for themselves, for others, for animals, for the planet… Why is there so much suffering in the world? And why can’t we seem to stop it?
The abandonment of suffering is the subject of the Buddha’s second noble truth “This noble truth of the arising of suffering is that it be abandoned.”  And of himself, he states “The arising of suffering has been abandoned.” The whole of Buddhism is a mind-training method precisely in service of this goal. It takes a lot of effort and a long time.
Why would we cling to suffering? Why would we persist in hurting ourselves and others? The answer is a bit ironic: suffering insures our self-identity. This is our most prized possession. What person willing lets this go? And yet a false self-identity is the root of the insanity of all inhumanity. Both Buddhism and A Couse in Miracles make it very clear that this is the case. In the Samyutta Nikaya the Buddha gives an analogy of a dog tied by a leash to a stake being like the mind of a person whose self-identity is tied to form, feelings, perception, fabrications, consciousness of sensations: “He keep running around and circling around that very form…that very feeling…that very perception…those very fabrications…not set loose from consciousness. He is not set loose from birth, aging and death; from sorrows, lamentation, pains, distresses and despair. He is not set loose from suffering and stress.”
Another thing that the Buddha abandoned was teaching theology or cosmology. It was his considered opinion, that these subjects are simply a waste of time and effort when you are suffering, not only that, they lead to pointless arguments which entail more suffering. There were great theological debates raging in Buddha’s time and he simply refused to join in. He caught some flak for that. Yet this was the brilliance of his teaching: he taught a method for the cessation of suffering and only that. Everything else, he reasoned, each one understands upon the cessation of suffering. In fact the cessation of the arising of suffering is a necessary condition of the mind for the attainment of such knowledge, before that its mere speculation which leads to misunderstandings.

There does come a point where a person weighs the evidence, clearly perceived and chooses to abandon suffering and with it all formerly cherished self-identifications are let go. This is the end of specialness, the end of ownership, the end of me-and-mine, the end of story. With the abandonment of suffering, comes a state of mind of pure harmlessness and a state of inter-being. There arises a mind that can say, like Jesus, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” This is because all interests are seen as shared interests. The “me” is no more special than the “you”. And with the abandonment of suffering comes a state of mind which can say “All things are well and all manner of things are well” (Julian of Norwich) because in such a mind there exists a profound state of well-being.

How Do You Know?

We as a culture believe in many invisible things. Among them are wind, electricity, gravity and love. For these things the word “belief” is perhaps not quite correct because we say that these things exist. Though invisible all of these things are known through their effects. In the case of wind, electricity and gravity these effects are measurable. No one has yet found a way to measure love but I doubt there are few, if any, scientists who have not felt the effects of love in their lives. Thus they would have to concur that love exists.
Thus invisibility does not preclude existence or even our ability to believe in something. Many people now-a- days seem to find invisibility a stumbling block to a belief in God. I hope I have shown that this need not be a problem when considering the existence of God. Like wind, electricity and gravity God is also know by effects and the qualities of those effects. The New Testament actually gives a definition of God. It is in 1John 4:8 “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” By this definition even atheists who know love, know God. There may be many people who reject this definition of God, and that is fine but as there are so few definitions of God out there I think it should be considered carefully. It is very possible that most religious doubts and arguments stem from differing concepts of what God is, yet who is stepping up to define what they mean when they say “God”?
Jesus used the word “Abba” (Father) when speaking of God. Jesus was a master of metaphor and analogy; clearly he was not referring to a biological father but to his Creator. A father is a creator to the child and likewise extends love and protection to his children, in most human cases. It was these qualities, creator, one who loves and protects, that Jesus was referring to when he said the word “Father”. What love is, what God is, is beyond the capacity of words to capture. Words can only be used as pointers toward an experience of love, of God. That is why Jesus used metaphors and analogies.
The people Jesus ministered to were like himself, ordinary people doubly oppressed by a foreign occupation and by a top heavy, spiritually bankrupt religious organization. Jesus met these people where they were. He talked to fishermen, housewives, farmers, herdsmen and made up stories using their activities to teach them how to reach God, this Father of his. He saw their spiritual poverty even though they might be complying with all the rules of their religion. He met them at the level of their spiritual poverty and at the level of their occupations and said “See, you can do this. It’s like sowing a seed or making bread…” This was the brilliance of Jesus’ teaching style. He used ordinary words and ordinary situations not only to point at something that is beyond words but to show the way to reach it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Nature of the Mind

The mind has two characteristics, that of abiding in awareness of itself and that of projection, or creation. The mind ceaselessly projects the creation of thoughts, thoughts about the past and future and thoughts about sense impressions.

When the mind projects itself into a world of form suffering necessarily arises because the mind has separated from itself. This is the origin of loneliness, the sense that something is missing. This leads to the seeking of fulfillment in sense objects. This is the tragedy of ignorance wherein the mind has forgotten it separated from itself. Pitifully it seeks fulfillment in its own creations, the objects of its own separation which only distract it from returning to itself. This search leads to everything from rampant consumerism to art, music and poetry, to science and the study of the phenomenal universe, and to all religions.

As if to compound the error the mind, having lost track of its true identity in itself, seeks a self-identity with the objects of its creation. To claim a self-identity with one or more of the minds creations causes suffering indeed. The mind’s creations live only by feeding upon themselves, thus they are in constant fluctuation so one’s self-identity is always threatened. Think about the life of a tree from seed to sapling to fruit bearing mature tree to firewood to ashes and smoke, or to a pile of rotten wood chewed on by beetles. In all it is simply a morphing of forms, as is the case with our own bodies, the sense objects we most strongly identify with. From birth to aging to sickness and death our body simply morphs until its component parts are recycled in the flow of changing forms we call life. This is not really Life. It is merely a procession of deaths. This is what Jesus meant when he said “Let the dead bury the dead.” He used this shocking statement when speaking to a man who was stuck in this procession of deaths and could not step outside of it to see his true identity in the deathless.

True Life is the nature of the mind when it abides in itself. This Life neither changes nor ceases. It is the constant source of all that was created and all that never was created and all that will be created. Quite simply the end of suffering is a shift in identification from that which changes, that which dies, to that which never changes, the unborn, the eternally constant that resides in us all, that some call God.

Working With the Mind

There are two commonly held beliefs that limit our ability to change our minds. Unfortunately these two beliefs are held by many practitioners of psychotherapy and thus they appear to be sanctified by that profession. These two beliefs are:
1.      You are a victim of your conditioning, i.e. someone else is to blame for how you feel.
2.      Telling your story or analyzing the circumstances that caused suffering will heal it.
 These are simply untrue. Bringing the past into the present is simply a way of reliving it. Sometimes it is necessary to tell your story when the past is incessantly pushing its way into the present. A witness can be helpful the way a relief valve is helpful for the build-up of steam pressure. However until the heat source is turned off steam pressure continues to build up and need release. In the case of emotional pressure the heat source is the belief you are a victim. The moment you take responsibility for how you feel you are no longer “victimizing” yourself. It doesn’t change what happened in the past. What it does do is open up the present as a gift for you to use as you wish, instead of mindlessly playing old tapes of the past in it.

In working with the mind belief is everything. Belief empowers thoughts. It keeps them going.  Without belief a thought system will grind to a halt like a car running out of gas. Telling your story can have the effect of reinforcing your belief in it. It is much more fruitful to find your current attachments to the suffering. These exist in the present and must be undone in the present.

All we have to work with is our own minds. No one else can enter our minds and clean them up for us. Perhaps a good way of viewing it is not to wonder who messed up our minds. Just decide it doesn’t matter. There is a clean-up to be done and we’re going to do it. I remember the time my apartment was broken into by a thief. I came home to find drawers turned upside down and stuff all over the place. At the time there was a sense of violation that someone had been into my stuff and taken my grandmothers jewelry. But that was because I was attached to my stuff. I identified with it. Now 40 years later where is all that stuff the thief messed up? Gone. Gone who knows where. And so what? It is no longer relevant to my current life at all. When I faced having to clean up my apartment I didn’t want the thief there to do the work of putting things away. He was clearly untrustworthy so why would I want him in my apartment again? I wanted to clean it up myself.

When someone steals your peace of mind it is equally foolish to want them to make it right for you, to want them to take back what they said or did, which is impossible because it happened, or for them to feel guilty for what they did. If you have tried this you know it doesn’t make you feel better. Chances are the one who has wronged you is still an unreliable character so why would you want them to fix your life for you? If your peace of mind is stolen only you can get it back. This is everyone’s challenge in the world.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Talking to Your Child about Spirituality

If you want your child to think exactly as you do then this article is not for you. All you have to do is tell them what to think. If however you wish to explore spirituality with your child and grow closer to him/her as a result, then herein lie a few suggestions.

Usually children are exposed to the religion of their parents through holidays, stories and religious practices and customs. Rarely, if ever are children asked for their own thoughts or spiritual experiences. Children however very often have their own thoughts about spirituality, questions or experiences they shy away from expressing because there is never a forum for that. It is my experience that thinking things through for one’s self and sharing one’s spiritual experiences is spiritually empowering. Far too often in practicing a religion we give our own power away to the priest, minister, rabbi or whoever. We want them to lead us to God or illuminate our minds. There is nothing wrong with seeking the council of those who dedicate their lives to spiritual pursuits, in fact it is usually necessary, but to expect someone else to do the work for us is counterproductive. It is a way of further separating ourselves from the truth we seek.

A way to open up a conversation with your child about God would be to ask: Have you ever thought about God? If your child’s answer is “no” then wait until he or she has begun to think about God. If the answer is yes, then proceed with a series of questions to draw out how your child thinks on this subject. The idea is to let your child know you are interested in listening to what he or she has to say. If your child asks you questions you can respond with: What do you think? If he or she really wants to know what you think he/she will ask again and at that time it would be appropriate to share your belief or experience. Children can ask questions that require us to think through our spiritual beliefs and grope to find words to express them. “What is God?” and “Why can’t we see God?” may need answers that use a metaphor or analogy. Above all if you don’t have an answer it’s best to say “I don’t know.” This leaves the door open for further exploration for both you and your child.

If your child expresses gratitude, wishes well to another, or feels sorry you can point out that these are spiritual experiences. Prayer is at heart a well-wishing as is the Buddhist practice of metta (compassion). These practices can be illustrated to children in very simple terms by giving concrete examples of how to apply well-wishing in your child’s life.
It is my opinion that there are no wrong answers to spiritual questions. At any given time there are only provisional answers which may change during the life long quest for spiritual knowledge. If your spiritual belief system has ever changed or evolved you know the truth of this.