Group January 12th 2017

We began with a practice derived from Jeffrey Brantley's 'Daily meditations for calming your anxious mind' called 'Noticing space, silence, and stillness: a meditation for opening heart and mind'. Here, we are encouraged to look afresh at things we often take for granted - things in our visual field, including spaces between objects;  sounds, and silence between sounds; and then to our thoughts and feelings - noticing how they arise from and return to silence and stillness. In this way we can learn to use space, silence and stillness to hold and support us in our practice, and in our daily lives. Having opened ourselves in this way, we concluded the practice by moving our attention to the practice of 'equanimity: finding peace within the process of life', a practice 'rooted... in the wisdom and openness of heart that follows acceptance of the inevitability of change at every level' (Brantley,2008). This practice is not about 'getting it right' but about discovery, wisdom, and gently not taking it all so personally! This practice uses reflections such as, 'Despairing at my own weakness and vulnerability, may I remember how every life contains these things' and, 'Speaking with absolute certainty, may my next remark be laughter at myself'. In the self-guided retreat 'Noble Heart', Pema Chodron reminds us that equanimity is about growing a vast mind, one that doesn't narrow down into 'for and against' 'picking and choosing' - it's 'big sky mind, i.e., taking the bigger perspective on things - the 'Hubble telescope' view on life'. And as a path through life she describes eqaunimity as about 'putting oneself in another's shoes', which can then engender compassion and loving kindness, which can themselves be worked with and opened up to prevent these 'catalysts' from becoming over-whelminng and 'frozen up'.

We followed the practice with personal enquiry. Moving into a broader context, we touched on the current focus of the 'politics of fear' but how community and coming together in positive and constructive ways can act as a useful and life-affirming step away from fear and hate (see e.g. www.lionsroar.com)

Regarding our individual practice, the group again discussed the difficulty of doing compassion practices for others (especially towards those who arouse strong negative feelings in us, but as a general practice as well). Rather than struggling it's perhaps better to continue to work gently with this, with the intention of opening this out little by little - remembering the notion that compassion is often regarded as complex and multi-layered, preceded by self-nurturing, with the motivation of the alleviation of suffering at its core (Gilbert and Choden).  

Susan Piver's talk from a recent 'Science of Meditation' online summit (from Soundstrue.com) was touched upon - she mentions three ways to sustain practice: 1. consistency (little and often rather than lengthy but infrequent) 2. taking our growing understanding of ourselves and tapping into the wisdom and knowledge of others - teachers, spiritual guides etc. 3. meditating with others from time to time.

Finally, some Rick Hanson 'wisdom'  - 'You are what you pay attention to' (also from the 'Science of Meditation' summit) and how such training opens up and broadens our minds, opening up from the brain's mid-line tendency to ego, and away from the brain's protective bias to fear and avoidance towards approach, empathy and openness.

We finished with a quote from the late Oliver Sach's:

'My predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure' (Gratitude, 2015)

 

 

Dealing with life's difficulties: Nos 2&3

Here are the second and third mind-training slogans (lojongs) from the 'Lion's Roar' article in October about dealing with what life throws at us - the good, bad and frankly bewildering. 

Contributed by a group member         

                                                ****                            

2. Drive All Blames Into One

Drive all blames into one means that you take full responsibility for everything that arises in your life. Your reaction may be  : This is very bad, this is not what I wanted, this brings many problems. The questions to ask may be : What am I going to do with it? What can I learn from it? How can I make use of it for the path?

Your answer maybe that you do have the strength and the capacity. Drive all blames into one is a tremendous practice of cutting through the long human habit of complaining and whining, and finding on the other side of it the strength to turn every situation into the path. Here you are. This is it. There is no place else to go but forward into the next moment. Repeat the slogan as many times as you have to.

                                                ****          

3. Be Grateful to Everyone : this is very simple but very profound.   Did you grow the food that sustains you every day? Did you make the car or train that takes you to work? Sew your clothing?  You need others every single day, every moment of your life. Thanks to others and their presence and effort you have the things you need to continue, and you have friendship, love and meaning in your life. Our dependence on others runs even deeper. Where does the person we take ourselves to be come from?

Apart from our parents’ genes and their support and care, and society and all it produces for us, there’s the whole network of conditions and circumstances that intimately makes us what we are. Where do our thoughts and feelings come from? Without words to think in, we don’t have anything like a sense of self, and we don’t have the emotions and feelings that are shaped and defined by our words. Without the myriad circumstances that provided us the opportunities for education, for speech, for knowledge, for work, we wouldn’t be here as we are.

The idea of an independent, isolated, atomised person is impossible, Cultivate every day this sense of gratitude.If you feel grateful for what is possible for you in this moment, no matter what your challenges are, if you feel grateful for what is possible for you in the moment, no matter what your challenges are, if you feel grateful that youare alive at all, that yu can think, that you can feel, that you can stand, sit, walk, talk - if you feel grateful, you are happy and you maximise your chances for well-being and for sharing happiness with others.

                                                 ****    

Dealing with life's difficulties : No 1

From a group member: -

Our discussions often deal with the way we approach difficult situations usually accompanied by complex cocktails of emotions.  It was in the October 7th edition of the Lions Roar e-mail that I saw the title : Life is Tough –here are six ways to deal with it by Norman Fischer (2013), reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications. (Cherry has referred to this article on the home page). The following passages resonate with me:

While trying to avoid difficulty may be natural and understandable, it actually doesn’t work. We think it makes sense to protect ourselves from pain, but our self-protection ends up causing us deeper pain.  We’re attached to what we like and try to avoid what we don’t like, but we can’t keep the attractive object and we can’t avoid the unwanted object. So, counterintuitive though it may be, avoiding life’s difficulties is actually not the path of least resistance; it is a dangerous way to live. If you want to have a full and happy life, in good times and bad, you have to get used to the idea that facing misfortune squarely is better than trying to escape from it.

This article on transforming bad circumstances into the path addresses the underlying attitude of anxiety, fear, and narrow-mindedness that makes our lives unhappy, fearful, and small. Transforming bad circumstances into the path is associated with the practice of patience. There are six mind-training (lojong) slogans connected with this:

1.Turn all mishaps into the path.

2.Drive all blames into one.

3.Be grateful to everyone.

4.See confusion as buddha and practice emptiness.

5.Do good, avoid evil, appreciate your lunacy, pray for help.

 6.Whatever you meet is the path.

 

The following is about no 1. Each month there will be a contribution around each of these 'slogans'.

 

                                              ****

1. Turn All Mishaps Into the Path

Turn all mishaps into the path, is about training the mind. We do this by practicing patience, which is the capacity to welcome difficulty when it comes, with a spirit of strength, endurance, forbearance, and dignity rather than fear, anxiety, and avoidance. Fischer refers to patience as his “all-time favourite spiritual quality; the most substantial, most serviceable, and most reliable of all spiritual qualities” something I would agree with from a Christian viewpoint.

 

When tough times cause our love to fray into annoyance, our compassion to be overwhelmed by our fear, and our insight to evaporate, then patience begins to make sense.  

The practice of patience  : When difficulty arises, notice the obvious and not so obvious ways we try to avoid it—the things we say and do, the subtle ways in which our very bodies recoil and clench when some- one says or does something to us that we don’t like. To practice patience is to notice these things and be fiercely present with them (taking a breath helps; returning to mindfulness of the body helps) rather than reacting to them. We catch ourselves running away and we reverse course, turning toward our afflictive emotions, understanding that they are natural in these circumstances—and that avoiding them won’t work. We forestall our flailing around with these emotions and instead allow them to be present with dignity. We forgive ourselves for having them, we forgive (at least provisionally) whoever we might be blaming for our difficulties, and with that spontaneous forgive- ness comes a feeling of relief and even gratitude.

We are talking about training the mind. Meditating daily with the slogan Turn all mishaps into the path, in your sitting, writing it down, repeating it many times a day, then you could see that a change of heart and mind can take place in just the way I am describing. The way you spontaneously react in times of trouble is not fixed. Your mind, your heart, can be trained. Once you have a single experience of reacting differently, you will be encouraged, and next time it is more likely that you will take yourself in hand. When something difficult happens, you will train yourself to stop saying, “Damn! Why did this have to happen?” and begin saying, “Yes, of course, this is how it is. Let me turn toward it, let me practice with it, let me go beyond entanglement to gratitude.”

                                           ****

 

 

Group December 8th 2016

We started with a talk from Reggie Ray's 'Guests for tea - Part 1 from Dharma Ocean' - find at: https://www.dharmaocean.org/episode-134-guests-for-tea-part-i/

The talk spoke of how we can be gripped by judgement, self-criticism and perfectionism but how loving-kindness (maitri) practice can soften these negative tendencies within us.

We followed with a loving-kindness practice adapted from Rick Hanson's 'Buddha's Brain' (pp 171-172).

Then we had a period of enquiry around loving kindness practices and our responses to the various elements - for example, how we approach the practice of sending loving kindness to our 'enemies' - those we may indeed hate - and the difficulty we can obviously have with this. Pema Chodron would say such a practice helps us move from suffering to happiness, helpng us (non-conceptually) get the notion of what is the root of happiness and what causes it to grow, suggesting that by starting with ourselves, using this practice has the potential to open our minds and help us grow individually, but also collectively, for we are not naturally isolated being, 'we are all part of a flow of energy, a process, part of a whole' ('Noble Heart' by Pema Chodron, chapter 4).

We finished by tapping into the 'wisdom' of Don Miguel Ruiz (The Four Agreements) who talks abut the dangers of 'gossip' in our society (written before the explosion of the internet and social media):-

'Gossiping has become the main form of communication in human society. It has become the way we feel close to each other, because it makes us feel better to see someone else feel as badly as we do ....One little piece of misinformation can break down communication between people, causing every person it touches to become infected and contagious to others...'

We finished with a brief loving-kindness closing practice.

Group November 3rd 2016

We listened to a talk from Pema Chödrön's 'Noble Heart' - a recorded retreat. Pema is a Buddhist nun, ordained in 1974, she is resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. The chosen talk was number 3, 'Developing Inner Strength and Trust'. She describes how, when we watch our minds, we realise we perhaps aren't what we thought we were - there are cravings and aversions - and fear. We usually turn away from fear but she describes how feeling fear helps us move beyond our usual and habitual view of ourselves. An essential part of seeing further is developing trust and inner strength. Where do we look for this? She describes 'the wrong places', i.e., addiction, dogmatic belief systems and sometimes 'transcendental' experiences - places we all look for security and comfort, but grasping and clinging doesn't make things last and so we overlook how deeper well-being can come when we open ourselves to the totality of our experience - cf Kabat-Zinn's 'Full Catastrophe'.

So developing trust and inner strength comes from opening to the present moment. The practice of mindfulness cultivates this, as does practice of the 'four great catalysts' :- maitri (aka loving kindness), compassion, joy and equanimity, all of which exist in us, but which can be nurtured and expanded. Mindfulness begins with attention and trust in the present moment - whatever that is - dark and light, joy or sadness. It's a process, it's about "dropping the speech balloon'' - that judgemental commentary on what we notice - it's 'good'/'bad', 'right'/'wrong' and instead to trust what we observe, developing a flexible mind. Mindfulness helps us relax and trust in our present experience, it's a tool to bring us back to the multi-sensory feel of the present moment, helping bring us back when we disocciate or 'numb out' and try to leave whatever it is we don't like.

Loving kindness practice helps us to work with the fear of this. It's described as 'unlimited, unconditional friendship toward oneself, which is then radiated out to all other beings', it's about 'placing the fearful mind in the cradle of loving kindness'. Fear, Pema says, makes us get away from direct experience and this weakens us, it isolates and cuts us off from each other while it is our interconnecttefness that heals.

In loving kindness, gentleness and kindness are important, so too is honesty, moving us away from self-deception. What we realise about ourselves is our introduction to what others are seeing and feeling and thinking, so giving us good heart towards others. Knowing emotions and thoughts can reduce their hold, and this includes depression, where mindfulness and loving kindness may not cure, but can soften, reduce fear and foster an aware and measured life approach.

This is a gradual path  - not to be rushed, letting things evolve at their own speed, using our own experience and our own being, going at our own pace.

'Pema Chodron explains Maitri:  (https://m.youtube.com>watch

There was then a reading from Don Miguel Ruiz's 'The Four Agreements', about Toltec wisdom. The Toltec, from south Mexico, were known as "women and men of knowledge" or naguels, they were scientists and artists and they formed a society to explore and practice spiritual knowledge and practices. Ruiz describes how this came about, around 3.000 years ago, with one human being looking differently at life:

'He could understand everyone very well, but no-one could understand him. They believed he was the incarnation of God, and he smiled when he heard this and said,"It is true. I am God. But you are also God. We are the same, you and I. We are images of light. We are God." But still the people didn't understand him.

He had discovered that he was a mirror for the rest of the people, a mirror in which he could see himself. "Everyone is a mirror," he said. He saw himself, but nobody saw himself as themself. And he realised that  everyone was dreaming, but without awareness, without knowing what they really are. They couldn't see him as themselves because there was a wall of fog or smoke between the mirrors. And that wall of fog was made by the interpretation of images of light - the Dream of humans."

We finished with 'Making a vow', a loving-kindness based practice from Germer's 'The mindful path to self-compassion' (p266-267).