Sunday, December 21, 2014

Take the Left Turn at Albuquerque: On Not Being So Predictable

This slogan made me wince when I first read it:
Don't be so predictable. 
It made me wince because I am so very predictable. I have my well-worn patterns, grooves I've worn in my life. Sometimes predictability can be comforting, but other times it can only get us into trouble. The very next thing I thought of was Bugs Bunny and his predilection for never turning left at Albuquerque. It always gets him in trouble. Sure, his troubles end up being fairly entertaining for the rest of us, but think how happy that bull would have been if he'd been left to his own devices.

The thought of BB and Albuquerque never left me as I did my typical research. Skipped ahead to the Tricycle piece and was happy I'd done so because I found a few pieces that resonated, albeit uncomfortably.
"If we do not make an effort to do otherwise, if we do not pay attention, then much of what we do will be in the form of automatic reactions. We can see this whole process as it is happening, although often we do not. We might recognize it in the sinking feeling of 'Here I go again.' We might see it coming, but our reaction is so fast that we can’t stop ourselves."
 Yes. I resemble that remark. Quite a bit. I've lost track of how many times I've said something like "Here I go again" to myself over one emotional reaction or another - especially the negative ones. It really is Bugs all over again. The things that kick my anxiety up or my anger or even my pride... there so much that is predictable. 

I can't exhort BB to trust his instincts and take that left, but I can work on my own predictability. Lief's advice will be easier to practice since I'm on vacation this week and will mostly only be seeing friends who I adore:
"When you feel threatened, don’t get defensive, pause, and then react. When you are praised, don’t just lap it up, pause, and then react. What do you notice?  Explore the contrast between using experience to further your own agenda and seeing it from a broader perspective."
So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Avoiding the Sleeping Death: On Abandoning Poisonous Food

Last week I had to abandon hope of fruition, which didn't bother me so much because I gave that up long ago with regards to my practice of Buddhism. This week, the tenet instructs us to
Abandon poisonous food.
I've learned by now that any tenet that sounds super easy - of course I'll give up poisonous food! - is not going to be straightforwards at all. And a quick glance at the translation and explanatory paragraph for this teaching on support that. Well, the translation isn't that different: "Give up poisoned food." But the explanation...
"The poison is the tendency to form an identity around any activity or training. Let go of any sense of being special because you practice mind training."
Oof. I resemble this remark. I take a certain pride in the work I do studying Buddhism, but this tenet is reminding me that this sort of pride can actually get in the way of the work I'm doing. And that's exactly what Judy Lief, in her piece about this tenet, says:
"The image of poisonous food suggests an experience that is seemingly nourishing, but in fact can kill you. In terms of slogan practice, this image refers in particular to the poison of ego-fixation and its power to transform the nutritious food of loving-kindness practice into poison."
That's exactly what happens to Snow White when the evil queen gives her that apple that will induce a sleeping death.

Or, to use Lief's phrasing, "Eating poisonous food feeds the ego and poisons our spiritual freshness and innocence."

She then goes on to exhort her readers to
"Whether you follow a spiritual tradition, or you are affiliated with no tradition, reflect on... how you approach the spiritual path and the cultivation of loving kindness. Notice how easy it is to slip into approaching spirituality as just another commodity, bought and sold in the marketplace. Pay special attention to how nutritious food turns into poison."
So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Infernos and Asymptotes: On Abandoning Hope of Fruition


When I first read the next slogan, I laughed and then groaned and then laughed again.
Abandon any hope of fruition.
Really, this is the one sentence version of my biggest hurdle with Buddhism. Letting go of that hope of perfection, that ridiculous hope, isn't impossible but it is incredibly difficult for a recovering Type A like me.

Not that I needed further explanation, but I still went through the motions of research.'s alternate translation, "Give up any hope for results," confirmed what I already knew. However, their explanatory paragraph did add bit more about the "why":
"Hope for results takes you out of the present. Do what needs to be done now because it needs to be done now, not for the result it might bring."
Living in the here & now is the goal, after all, so anything that takes me out of the present is a problem. I get that.

Next step was Tricycle Magazine's take on this slogan, written by the inimitable Judy Lief. The entire piece kind of hurt to read, but one passage that really stood out was this:
"So much education and so much of the conventional thinking about how to motivate people is based on that model of hope and fear. We learn to expect some kind of reward or confirmation any time we succeed and to expect some form of punishment when we do not.  But according to this slogan, it is better to abandon that whole approach. In that way, when we act, there are no hidden agendas or ulterior motives."
Wow, a bit too close to home for comfort, but it's exactly when I'm out of my comfort zone that I tend to learn the most.

My first thought after I'd finished all my reading was of that oft quoted line from Dante's Inferno. I think that's why I groaned and laughed. Diligence and results are are the point of a Protestant work ethic aren't they? I may have been raised Jewish and I may have become a Buddhist, but I was raised in this country and it's impossible to get away from that mentality.
But then I remembered my favorite mathematical concept, "Asymptote." I bring it up here because the concept was first introduced to me in some book or article about positive psychology and its applications. Beyond its strict application in math, for me an asymptote is about two lines that get closer and closer but never touch. I like to think I take that approach to Buddhism: of getting closer and closer to the ideal but giving up any hope of being an actual living bodhisattva.

Lief's advice for how to act on this teaching is particularly daunting to me, but all the more important for that:
"How is it possible to maintain your focus, to 'keep your eyes on the prize,' without getting fixated on results? As you go about your activities, pay attention to the difference between having a goal and being taken over by your hopes, fears, and speculations."
 So that's what I'll be doing this week. Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Removing Hurdles: On Working with the Greatest Defilements First

I have to admit that this new slogan gave me a pause at first.
Work with the greatest defilements first.
I read it three times and got a sinking feeling in my stomach. My immediate assumption was that it meant "tackle your biggest problems first." And I was worried that I wouldn't be able to live up to it. But I took a deep breath, steeling myself for the anticipated work, and turned to my research.

First, as always, I turned to Their translation, "Work on your strongest reactions first," also gave me pause... but for a very different reason. This sounded a lot more attainable. And the explanatory text put it into much better context for me:
"The strongest reactions generate the biggest imbalances in your being. You can't even see the subtle ones until the strong ones have been dismantled." 
Then I turned to Tricycle. (A quick aside: I may not always find help at UnfetteredMinds, but I really like the balance I get from visiting both sites.) Judy Lief's commentary made me feel a little less comfortable, but even more sure of the work I need to do. This passage in particular made me realize the need I have to keep this work, this study of lojong, in my life:
"At a deeper level, this slogan challenges us to analyze what really sets us back. We need to do so persistently enough to expose our core obstacles, to try to get to the root of what holds us down. It challenges to dig deeply enough to uncover our greatest defilements. And having done so, we need to stick with that defilement and keep working on it until we are free of it."
So it all had me thinking about how certain things - tasks, emotions, situations - are always major obstacles for me. I've tackled so much in the recent past, having learned how to make habits and break habits. Even still, I need to keep working, to keep vigilant and aware. Take my initial reaction to this slogan, or instance: I immediately jumped to the worst possible conclusion and assumed it would be a lot of hard work. But, after doing all my research, I remembered that bunny gif up there. I thought about how, once the hurdle was out of the way, things got so easy. I want to be that bunny.

And Lief's advice for putting this slogan into practice is definitely going to stay with me. She says, "What patterns of thought or habit do you have that block your development of wisdom and insight? What is your most consistent and frequent roadblock? Take some time to reflect on this and on how you might begin to work with it."

So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Just Keep Writing: On Not Pondering Others


I feel like I'm getting a bit of a reprieve with the newest tenet. You see, I completely blanked on what I was supposed to be doing last week. But not to worry! This week's is a slightly different perspective on the same idea:
Don't ponder others.
And because I tend towards the same kind of humor that amused me when I was twelve years old, my first thought was, "Ponder? I hardly even know her." Cue the rimshot.

Once I got beyond the dumb joke (that nonetheless made me chuckle), I moved onto my typical research., as is true more often than not, really didn't help much. Their alternate translation, "Don't dwell on others' problems," added a little bit to what I already knew. But their explanatory piece actually confused me:
"Don't pick up what isn't yours."
Then I, of course, turned to Tricycle, and was immediately rewarded with "This slogan is very similar to the last, in that it points to how easy, entertaining, and totally distracting it can be to muse about what is wrong with everybody else." Lief's piece goes on to talk about how people are prone to calling attention to the faults of others and playing up our own strengths. She also discusses how we shouldn't compare our paths with others'. We shouldn't feel bad if we're behind, or triumphant if we're ahead of the people in our lives. We should look at our own progress as a thing of itself.

That last got me thinking about the thing I'm writing as part of National Novel Writing Month (usually abbreviated NaNoWriMo). If you're unaware, participating in NaNoWriMo means you have pledged to write 50,000 new words of fiction within the thirty days of November. That works out to about 1,667 per day. As of this moment, my word total is 20,234. I should have 26,666 by the end of the day, and I know that's not going to happen. But somehow I've managed not to feel too bad about being behind. I've also managed not to feel too gloaty about others who are even more behind than I am. I work on it every day - some days I only write a few hundred words, other days I've topped 2k. Even though NaNoWriMo is a race, it's a race against myself and a deadline. Really, the point is that I keep writing, and that I have fun. That's exactly what I'm doing.

I'm going to try to extend that feeling of non-judgement to other spheres of my life this week by following Judy Lief's parting advice in her piece about this teaching:
"As you go about your day, with the people you encounter, pay attention to what comes up in your mind. Pay particular attention to the qualities of comparison mind and faultfinding mind. What is the difference between simply seeing a flaw and dwelling on it or using it to prop yourself up?"
So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Missing Petals: On Not Talking About Injured Limbs


The tenet I'm tackling today is kind of a continuation of last week's in that it's about how we make mental room for and how we accommodate other people in our lives. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me share the wording and all my research before I continue.
Don't talk about injured limbs.
If you're confused by this tenet, I'm not surprised. Is it any wonder that I need multiple commentaries to even approach the meaning of these slogans? The cultural differences between Chekawa Yeshe Dorje, the original author of these tenets, and me are oceanic to say the least.

In this case, was a huge help with their translation of this tenet: "Don't talk about others' shortcomings." Their explanatory passage didn't add much, but it did cement the meaning for me:
"Such talk doesn't help them and it doesn't help you."
Okay, so I get it. Gossip is bad. We shouldn't focus on the problems of others, as opposed to their strengths. That's all well and good, but the Unfettered Minds page felt like finger waggling instead of like help. What I mean to say is that this was enough to understand the cryptic original text, but I've no idea what to do with this tenet.

If you've read this blog before, I'm sure you know where I went next. Yup, that's right. I turned to the Tricycle Magazine column about this slogan by Judy Lief. I sighed a huge sigh of relief after I finished reading it. A few passages stood out to me as relevant to my experience with talking "about injured limbs."
"It may seem a kindergarten level of advice to be told not to poke fun of people. Of course, most of us don’t outright do that. But at a subtler level, we are both fascinated and repulsed by other people’s deformities and weak points. This leads us to dwell on those defects, and in turn, our focus on their defects turns the people themselves into kinds of defect-appendages. So although we may not be talking behind their backs or poking fun at them, we are still distancing ourselves from them. We are engaging in a technique of subtle rejection."
I thought about it for a while, but then I realized something. It's not that we have to love and accept and rejoice in every single person we meet. That would be exhausting and leave us drained. However, we shouldn't be distancing ourselves from injured or weak people just because of their injuries, because of their weaknesses.

I don't think I'll have a hard time applying this to my life because the very first thing I thought of when I finished reading was flowers. Flowers that are missing a couple of petals are still flowers and still beautiful. This goes for people, too. Heck, sometimes a flaw can be the thing that makes us beautiful. I can handle physical differences just fine. But if I'm going to be completely honest, I have to admit that people's behavior/mental injuries can prompt me to distance myself.

I'm already well aware of how we tend to be the judge and jury for other's behavioral flaws ("she's always so cranky lately!"), but the lawyers when it comes to our own mistakes ("Oh, I'm feeling cranky a lot lately, but my cat's been sick and keeping me up nights and I'm not getting enough sleep."). I also know from the last tenet that I need to give as much credence to the needs of others as we do to our own needs. All of this means I need to be mindful and intentional, but I'm feeling confident.

I'll be applying Lief's advice: "Think of a person you are embarrassed to be around, whose flaws are obvious. See if you can expand your attention, so that you can see past that person’s defects, and past your reactions and ideas about those defects, to the person themselves."

So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Please Just Be Normal Sauce: On Changing and Remaining Natural

I have to admit that the first thing that came to mind when I read this slogan was my hair:
Change your attitude, but remain natural.
I thought about how I cover the gray but stay within natural color ranges. Strange but honest and immediate associations are part of my process when it comes to studying each lojong, so I wanted to share - especially since I know there is a small but definite group of people who always read this blog who also know how fussy I am about my hair.

After I had a good laugh about my vanity, I brought myself back to thoughts of my inner life. I thought about how I do sometimes make a big deal to friends and acquaintances about my study of Buddhism. Sometimes it's to share the joy, and peace, and tools I've acquired, but sometimes it's a bit show-off-y. I hung my head in shame for a second when this clicked.

Moving on, though, I turned to the translation: "Change your intention but behave naturally." And the brief explanation offered:
"Don't make a public display of your efforts in mind training. Behave naturally with others."
Oof. Even though I know I'm not supposed to judge my progress even as I keep reaching to improve, the brief commentary from that website supported my original reaction - self-recrimination.

So it was with a mix of trepidation and hope that I moved onto the Judy Lief piece on Tricycle's website. I should know better than to worry about what Lief will have to say, since she has such a wonderful way of making these Eastern philosophies jibe with my Western way of thinking. One bit in particular stood out as helpful:
"This slogan targets one attitude in particular: the attitude that you yourself are more important than others. The attitude that you come first and others come second. It is rather embarrassing, but crude as it may sound, most of us carry this attitude or assumption with us all the time. It is definitely our default position, and deeply ingrained."
So it's not about Buddhism in general; it's about how I relate to the world. And some how, in the middle of thinking and writing about it, my mind clicked over to a particular scene from 30 Rock. The episode is one in which Liz Lemon, the main protagonist of the series, is trying to get approved for adoption. The case worker is coming to Liz's office and Liz asks the people who work for her to "Please, just be normalsauce for one day." She is asking them to keep her needs in mind as they move through their day. And that is what this slogan is asking: for me to keep other's needs in mind even as I go through my day. Not to place their needs above mine, but to avoid placing mine above theirs. It is telling me to weigh the needs and roles equally and to not see myself as the center of the universe. 

Being an educator and being a boss has taught me that I'm just one voice and one need among many, but I need to be more intentional. Lief's advice for putting this into practice is exactly what I'm going to do: "When you notice your attitude turning inward, fixating on yourself, give it a gentle nudge and turn it outward to include other beings. Don’t punish yourself for your selfishness or give yourself a gold star for your altruism. Simply apply the slogan and move on."

Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Buddhists Wobble, But They Don't Fall Down: On the Three Principles

So much of my study and practice of Buddhism is acknowledging that I will never be perfect at it. This idea most definitely applies to how I worked with last week's concept. I put plenty of effort into tracking when I lost my way, especially with regards to kindness and openness. Doesn't seem to have any effect yet, but I'm going to keep working on it. I'll get better eventually. I just have to give myself time and space to work on it.

This idea of being patient with myself plays into the tenet I'm examining this week:
Always abide by the three basic principles.
I did not pass go, did not collect $200, didn't even try to reason out what this meant before heading to The translation they've presented, "Always train in three principles," is essentially the same. The explanation did add to my understanding:
The three principles are: intention, action, and balance. 
I can't help thinking of Weebles whenever I think of balance in this kind of context. In my mind, a bodhisattva might wobble, but they don't fall down.

That idea didn't leave me completely as I moved onto reading the Tricycle piece on this teaching. There's something about western Buddhist writings that make me feel like I'm on the right path. That was definitely true here. I pretty much always find comfort and resonance in Judy Lief's interpretations and commentary. For instance, in her piece about this tenet she says: "On the spiritual path, over and over again it is a good idea to keep coming back to a few basic principles. By doing so, you can bound your actions with discipline. You can keep your practice on track." Yes. Exactly that.

As she got into the heart of it, though, she had a slightly different explanation of what the three principles are:
"This slogan suggests you work with three basic principles: honoring your commitments, refraining from outrageous actions, and developing patience."
She goes on to explain that these aren't just with regards to your actions, commitments, and patience for others, but also for yourself. This idea is so important. I need to constantly remind myself. For those moments when I fall into my old habits, when even I'm startled at my snark or cynicism, I need to remember to be patient with myself instead of getting angry. Also, touching back on last week's practice, I need to use these moments to reaffirm my commitment to this path.

And that's what Leif wants us to think about as we work with this teaching: "What does it mean to make a commitment? What helps you to maintain the commitments you have made, and what throws you off track?"

So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Making the Best of a Bad: On Practicing Even When Distracted


Yes, it's been a while. I'm teaching a class this semester and that seems to have eaten up all of my spare time that's not spent with friends or at work or doing crazy extravagant things like, yanno, sleeping and eating and chores. Despite having pretty good reasons for having ignored this little blog of mine, I've been feeling guilty about it. Then, when I saw the new tenet, I felt even guiltier:
If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained.
Really? A guilt trip? Also, isn't practice the opposite of distracted? <theatrical sigh> I have been meditating pretty much every day (missed three times in the last month, and I was sick for two of those), but I haven't done much beyond trying to be mindful and meditation. Too distracted.

As is my pattern with these teachings, I turned first to to see if they have an alternate translation and/or a helpful explanation. Their translation of this teaching wasn't very helpful, "Proficiency means you do it even when distracted." Their explanation helped, however:
"Your training arises naturally to correct imbalances when you encounter unexpected events, just as an expert equestrian corrects imbalances without thinking about doing so."
That passage made me think of a cat who does something utterly klutzy, but manages to make it look like the whole maneuver was on purpose - like that kitten above. Like you might get off balance, but you work with it and right yourself smoothly. (On a side note: I keep thinking about giving up on, but then I get occasional gems like this...)

Tricycle's piece echoed this idea of being able to regain your balance, but Lief added one further idea:
"According to this slogan, instead of waging a kind of battle with distractions you can co-opt them as supports for your practice. It is like setting a default tendency toward mindfulness and bodhichitta, so that the moment a distraction arises, it brings us right back. The instant we notice we have lost our attention, we have regained it. So for a well-trained mind, when sudden distractions arise, they do not interrupt your practice, but reinforce it." (Source)
And that gets at the whole reason lojong attracts me - the idea of using my daily life to inform my practice of Buddhism. It's about making the best of a bad situation. She adds one further idea in her suggestion of how to incorporate this tenet into practice more concretely:
"In your practice and during your daily activities, pay particular attention to the points at which you lose your mindfulness. In terms of bodhichitta practice, pay particular attention to the points at which you lose your openness or kindness. Notice the process of losing it and coming back."
So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Always Look on the Bright Side: On Maintaining a Joyful Mind

If the tenet I worked with last week was something I needed to hear, then that goes double for this week's:
Always maintain only a joyful mind.
Like most other homo sapiens, I get bogged down from time to time. Sweeping world events, momentary personal upsets, and everything in between,.. any of it can rev up the negative.'s translation, "A joyous state of mind is a constant support," gives a bit of an answer to the "why?" I heard myself asking after reading this lojong tenet. That site's commentary adds a little as well:
"A deep and quiet joy is always present when your internal peace is such that you aren't disturbed or thrown into confusion by events in the world or by your own thoughts and feelings." (Source.)   
So, okay. I get it. Maintaining a positive mindset is a good thing. All lives end in tragedy eventually, so you might as well enjoy the ride. As absurd as that Monty Python song might be, it makes some sense. Regardless of systemic racism or global warming or mold on that bread I was saving to make bread pudding, life doesn't get easier if I'm angry or anxious about it.

So, not only to I get it, I'm on board with maintaining a joyful mind. But how? How do I do this?

Enter Judy Lief, as always, with some fabulously helpful commentary:
"Clearly this slogan is not referring to an ignorance-is-bliss type of joy. And it does not imply that everything is okay. Buddhism is known for telling it like it is and for not being afraid to face hard truths—and the truth is that everything is not okay. Yet we are still advised to be joyful."
Lief always manages to make these tenets concrete and tangible for me. And after reading her short piece on this topic, my interpretation is that this particular tenet is about enjoying the ride while recognizing the steep hills the roller coaster has to climb sometimes.

Further, her recommended practice makes even more sense:
"For today’s practice, I would simply like to pass on a practice I received from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche which is simplicity itself, but oddly effective: No matter what you are feeling or what is going on, smile at least once a day." [Inserted link mine.]
Even if I can't be joyful in ever moment, I can make sure to be joyful at least once per day. So that's what I'll be working on this week.

Until next time, namaste and all that. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Being Self Aware: On Holding the Principal Witness

This is a tenet I need to hear:
Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one.
The translation from is a little different, and adds a layer of understanding for me: "Two witnesses: rely on the important one." And the commentary added even more:
Feedback from others is unreliable. You know when you are clear and present. Rely on the witness of mind itself.   
After going that far, the commentary on this teaching from Judy Lief at Tricycle didn't feel necessary, but I always go there and I'm glad I stuck to my pattern. One phrase in particular stood out to me: "within a [community] of one hundred members, there are a hundred different paths." I sometimes worry that I'm doing this Buddhist thing wrong, that I'm not present enough or kind enough to myself and others, that I'm off the path. But this key phrase reminded me that I'm never off my own path - even if it goes by the woods and then through a garbage dump and finally along a highway, it's still my path.

I read on and found another passage that resonated strongly:
"It is hard to accept this kind of existential aloneness in ourselves or in others. We want people to really know us, and we want to have some way of truly understanding others. But no matter how much we bare our hearts, we can never convey the fullness of our experiential reality. And no matter how much we probe, we can never fully penetrate another person’s experience."
And that's the moment when that silly marmalade kitten seeing himself as a lion came to mind. I don't think I should always disregard my friends' observations, but really I'm the only person who can know when I'm present and in my skin - and being present is the whole point of my studying lojong.

Lief's parting advice in her piece about this tenet is a perfect way for me to navigate between needing the reflection my friends present and needing to trust my own experience: "Pay attention to the loneliness of experience. Notice the difference between seeking for confirmation and direct witnessing. What makes you trust or distrust your own experience?"

So that's what I'll be doing for a while. Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Being Present: On All Dharma

Yes, it's been a while. All the energy I'd been devoting to this blog got sidetracked into a class I was taking - a great class that was interesting and that will serve me well professionally. Every week I looked at this blog, took a deep breath, and pulled out my homework instead. For those of you who've been reading Lojong Ruminations steadily, I'm sorry for the long silence. The class is over and I'm back for now,

Now, onto the new tenet...

It's a short, simple slogan this time:
All dharma agrees at one point.
My journey with lojong has taught me to reserve judgement until I've read the commentaries and given my brain a chance to mull it over, and this time was no different. From, I got a succinct summary:
"Presence is the one aim of all practice instructions. Forget about measuring your achievement and rely on the single question: Can I experience what is arising right now?" (Source.)
A good starting point, since being in the moment instead of worrying about the future or the past is part of what brought me to this religion. Turning to Tricycle, I found a bit more depth. Lief posits that this tenet is about how we judge ourselves and others in our application and pursuit of Buddhism.
"There are a lot of trappings in the realm of spirituality. Some teachers have many followers and others only a few. There are all sorts of costumes, titles, and robes. Teachers compete for students, and students evaluate teachers and sanghas by all kinds of criteria. Sometimes one style of Buddhism becomes trendy for a while and then fades out of fashion. Cultural and gender biases abound. People speculate on how enlightened this teacher or that may be, and look for signs of official recognition, status, and power. So what should we look for in a teacher or a sangha?" (Source.) 
Since I have neither sangha (I've tried a couple of groups in this area, but none felt like a good fit.) nor teacher, unless you count my few Buddhist friends who occasionally make recommendations for readings or the authors of those readings, I have had to be my own sangha and my own teacher. This means I'm left thinking about how I measure myself.

When I measure myself, I think about how I feel/act/think now versus four or five years ago when I first found the writings of Pema Chodron. I know I've become more myself in that time, more comfortable in my skin, more in tune with who I want to be/am as opposed to who others expect me to be. I also know I have a long way to go. The ideal I have in mind is based on what I see from non-human animals. Whenever I see a squirrel or an owl or a crow or even my cat, I can tell the squirrel/owl/crow/cat is completely in the moment. If the squirrel is hungry, it eats. If the owl is tired, it sleeps. If the crow is curious, it investigates. If the cat is happy, it purrs. And it is that ever-present way of living to which I aspire.

Lief suggests a way to become more aware of what is happening when you've stepped away from the present:
"As you go about your day, try to pay attention to the points when your solid sense of separateness is provoked. Notice the thoughts and sensations that arise with reactions such as defensiveness and territoriality.  Pay attention to the thoughts and sensations arise when something has drawn you out, beyond your self-absorption." (Same source as above.)
So that's what I'll be doing this week. Until next time, namaste and all that. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What Anybody Gets: On Consciousness at Death

From "Chapter 3" of Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman

This week's tenet is a bit of a head scratcher at first. I apologize ahead of time if I can't explain it to you sufficiently, but I have linked to the usual sources which helped me and will (I hope) help you.
The mahayana instruction for ejection of consciousness at death is the five strengths: how you conduct yourself is important.
Huh what? I know that "mahayana" means "great vehicle." I also assume that the five strengths are the ones that I researched for last week's post, but when I first read this tenet I felt as stupid about Buddhism as I did when I first started this blog. Not the end of the world, but not a comfortable feeling.

Next, as I always do, I turned to I felt even more confused after reading what that website has to say on this teaching. The translation they have is odd: "The five forces are the mahayana instructions for dying. Posture is important." (Source.) And their explanatory paragraph is even weirder:
"The same five as in the previous point, summary of essential instructions, but the order is changed to counteract the reactions that arise as you die: virtuous seeds to counteract denial, dedication to counteract anger, regret to counteract bargaining, momentum to take you through despair, and training to facilitate acceptance."
Isn't living the same as dying? It also seems that they brought Kubler-Ross' stages of grief into the discussion, so which is the Buddhist thought and which isn't? 

At this point in my research and reading, I was starting to feel desperate for a clear explanation. I'm so thankful I found the Tricycle series by Lief. If all else fails, I know I'll get sense from her writings about Lojong. That's exactly what happened this time. In fact, I sighed with audible relief after reading what she's written about this teaching. Lief discusses how the previous tenet was about living and this one is about dying, but she boils it down further and points out that it's really about fear.

I think I was initially confused because death isn't one of my big fears. It's not a comfortable thought, no, but there are things in the here & now that scare me way more than death. Like Neil Gaiman's Death, from "The Sandman" series, says in that quote up above - we all get a lifetime, after all. But even if we aren't all afraid of death, we all have our fears. This blog is at the edge of my comfort level for public sharing, so I'm not going to go into detail about what scares me more than dying. Instead I'm going to share Lief's advice for working with this tenet:
"Spend some time contemplating the things that make you afraid, and how you react. Contemplate times you are in pain, and how you deal with it. Notice whatever causes you to lose your mindfulness. Determine to hold the perspective of mindfulness and compassion even in the midst of fear, pain, or dying."
Being mindful about the things that take me out of mindfulness? Wow, that's going to be hard - but it will be worth it if I can get there. So that's what I'll be doing this week.

Until next time, namaste and all that. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Attentiveness and Intention: On Practicing the Five Strengths

After publicly confessing last week about my difficulties with meditating every day, I managed to pull it off - an entire week of meditating for 5-10 minutes every single day. Sometimes it didn't happen until the evening, but it always happened. I'm happy with my progress and feel like I'm building momentum, which feeds nicely into this week's lojong tenet:
Practice the five strengths, the condensed heart instructions.
The translation isn't very different, "A summary of the essential instructions: Train in the five forces." On the other hand, the explanatory passage they provide does add to my understanding - especially since it actually explains the five forces:
The five forces are: developing momentum through consistent practice, training in all areas of your life, sowing virtuous seeds through acts of goodness and kindness, feeling regret about reactive states of mind or destructive actions, and dedication of personal benefit to the welfare of all beings. (Emphasis theirs.) (Source.)
Before I move onto the Tricycle passage that stuck out to me, I want to explain the gif up above. As I started to consider the five strengths/forces, I realized that my recent confession and ensuing uptick in meditation is an example of the kind of momentum one can develop through consistent practice. I also realized that I'm also already pursuing all of the other strengths/forces. The picture accompanying the passage on is of a flower, but if the five strengths are like a flower then surely I'm a butterfly who is dependent on the flower. It's like I'm there, and I'm doing what I need to do, but I need to be attentive and intentional about it - or moreso.

And that brings me back to Lief's piece about this tenet. The bulk of what she wrote mirrors what I shared above, but her suggestion for how to live with this teaching is interesting - and once again it's a thing I already do:
Pay attention to how you decide to spend your time. How much of your activity each day is intentional? Choose a day and try deliberately setting an intention to place whatever you are doing that day within the context of mindfulness and loving-kindness practice.
The loving-kindness part might be hard, since (like everyone else) I'm prone to being overly critical of myself. However, that's what I'll be focusing on this week.

Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Meditate, Meditate, and What Was that Other Thing? Oh, yeah. Meditate.: On Joining with Meditation

This week's tenet is straightforward. Understandable even to people who aren't trying to constantly wrap their heads around ancient teachings, no doubt:
Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation.
The translation at isn't necessary for understanding, but it does add more depth: "Work with whatever you encounter, immediately." Unlike with the last few tenets I've examined, the explanatory paragraph at that site adds even more:
All experience is in the present. You either open to it right now or you fall into reactive patterns and reinforce them. (Source.)
Even though I felt fairly confident I had a grasp of where to go with this teaching, I still consulted Tricycle, and I'm glad I did. Right at the beginning of Lief's discussion, it resonated super strongly:
When our lives are going relatively smoothly and predictably it is easier to maintain our mindfulness. But when things are happening fast, it is hard to remember to join what we encounter with meditation. It is also easier to think of others if we ourselves are not currently either in the midst of some crisis or caught up in some amazing opportunity. But it seems that no matter how hard we try to stay on an even keel, we keep being blindsided by unexpected events. (Source.)
All I can say in response is, "Guilty as charged." I do manage to meditate every week, but I have a hard time with every day. I've gotten to the point lately where I can make myself sit down by promising myself I only have to do 5-10 minutes. I know that's enough, really, but I miss being able to sustain the concentration and find time for 20 minutes daily. However, that's not the point of this tenet. No, the point of joining "with meditation" isn't about chastising myself for not meditating. It's about noticing when I'm not and trying to figure out why I'm not. I'm still working on not judging my actions, as I wrote about last week, and this exhortation to work with whatever, immediately, is another way to do that. Another way to be aware.

Not much interpretation needed here, at any rate. A pretty straightforward tenet, so I'll close with Lief's suggestion for working with this teaching:
In order to join experience and meditation, it is helpful to begin by noticing when that does not happen. So today’s practice is to pay attention to “losing it.” Strangely, simply seeing such moments more clearly, without too much judgment or commentary, is a way to extend an attitude of practice more consistently and deeply into our ongoing activities. (Same source as previous Tricycle quote.)
So that's what I'll be working on. Until the next time, namaste and all that. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Wind and Rain are Just Another Kind of Good Weather: On the Four Practices

Like the last tenet I examined, this new one sent me looking for commentary before I could get my head wrapped around it:
Four practices are the best of methods.
According to one source I consulted:
"The four practices are generating goodness, clearing away negativity, filling obsessions with awareness, and nourishing wakefulness in your life."
I can get with that, but really I need more. So of course I turned to Tricyle. According to Judy Lief, the four practices are accumulating merit, putting away evil deeds, welcoming your neurotic attacks as wake up calls, and maintaining self-awareness. My interpretation is, "keep doing good; stop doing bad; don't get so stuck in your head about the good or bad; and be aware of where your head is."

After I read all the things and thought about it for a while, I found myself remembering a movie I watched a long while back - Casanova. It's very much a typical romantic comedy but in a historical setting with real-ish characters. I don't actually recommend it, but there is a quote from that movie that's stuck with me all these years later:
"Love, love is something else. It's the weather being good every day because wind and rain is just another kind of good weather. That's love."
Without rain, no flowers or food or babbling brooks or rainbows. Without the neurotic moments, there's nothing to push me to deepen my practice and to work on my self-awareness. It's odd that I was just having a conversation about this very point with a friend last night. I told him that the neurotic moment isn't about the issue running around his brain, so he should stop thinking about that thing and breathe and then look at something cute on the internet and breathe and then think about something concrete like the feeling of his feet against the ground or the sounds going on around him. After I'd calmed him down, he told me he appreciated what I'd said because, "You're blunt but not judgmental." One of the best compliments I've ever gotten, and it seems to me that - beyond reducing the bad and accumulating the good - that's the point of this tenet. No giving myself brownie points or demerits for my good deeds or bad, just awareness and intention. Not judgement, just awareness and intention.

Lief's advice for putting this tenet into practice is going to be a stretch for me, but considering that conversation I had last night, I know it's possible:
"When you do something good, try to remove any add-on of self-congratulation or righteousness.  When you make a mistake, try to remove any add-on of self-punishment or guilt. Instead, simply commit yourself to refraining from such actions in the future. Tune in to whatever arises as a way to reconnect with kindness and awareness." (Source)
So that's what I'll be doing this week. Until the next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

It Must Be Indicative of Something Besides the Redistribution of Wealth: On Examining Confusion

This week's tenet is a doozy:
Seeing confusion as the four kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection.
Lolwut, right? Kayas? Shunyata? Huh? After reading the slogan, I immediately navigated to, which gave me a different translation - "The ultimate protection is emptiness; know what arises as confusion to be the four aspects of being." - and that made me laugh. A slogan about confusion is confusing? I'm not even vaguely surprised. The explanation provided by added a little, but not enough:
"All experience is empty, vivid, and the two together heighten awareness. These three qualities are inseparable. Experience your life this way."
So there I was, confused about confusion. Going to a meta level about my emotions and mental processes is nothing new to me: I've been anxious about anxiety many times. But being familiar with the phenomenon doesn't make it easier to tame. So, as you probably know if you've read this blog before, my next stop was Tricycle and that was exactly what I needed.
"Basically, the point here is that if we really look closely at the way our mind works, even in the midst of confusion, we always find the same process: one of continual awakening. This process is described in terms of what are called the four kayas or 'bodies.' Through careful attention and meditative practice we begin to see how every perception begins with uncertainty and openness (dharmakaya); then starts to come into focus (nirmanakaya); then develops energy and begins to come together (sambhogakaya), and finally clicks, synthesized as immediate present-moment experience (svabhavikakaya). It is as though confusion is awakening in disguise."
And that's when it started to click. Examining shunyata, or emptiness, is the way to live a life. Not just the confusion but the examination of the confusion, and finding the emptiness underneath, is the point. And Lief's advise for acting on this tenet was the moment when I understood completely:
"In your sitting practice, pay attention to the arising and dissolving of perceptions. Notice how your sense of self seems to arise simultaneously with each perception, ready to respond to any threat; notice the subtle undertone of fear.  What are you actually protecting?"
Once I understood it, my mind immediately turned to one of my favorite films, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (the title of this post is a quote from one of the earliest scenes in the movie). In that film, two minor characters from Hamlet become the main characters. They are trying to figure out why they are there, trying to control their paths, but inexplicably drawn along with the plot of the play regardless of all their efforts to the contrary. The movie is confusing and hilarious, and the best way to enjoy it is to let go of trying to understand the plot. So, yes, I'm going to "pay attention to the rising and dissolving of perceptions," but I'm also going to let go and try to enjoy the confusion.

Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nourishing the Flower in You: On Being Grateful to Everyone

The next lojong tenet embodies a concept with which I've been working for a while: gratitude.
Be grateful to everyone.
The translation at is identical to the text I'm using, but their explanation adds depth:
"Every encounter with another person gives you an opportunity to practice mind training and presence, whether the encounter is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral." (Source.)
The Tricycle piece about this tenet is behind a paywall, so I've grabbed a little more than normal for you:
"Conventional gratitude is based on distinguishing what we like from what we do not, good fortune from bad fortune, success from failure, opportunities from obstacles. By practicing conventional gratitude, we may begin to better appreciate times of good fortune and opportunity. But what about all the obstacles, unpleasant people, and difficulties in our life?

According to this slogan, we should be especially grateful for having to deal with annoying people and difficult situations, because without them we would have nothing to work with. Without them, how could we practice patience, exertion, mindfulness, loving-kindness or compassion? It is by dealing with such challenges that we grow and develop. So we should be very grateful to have them."

After I got that famous "thank you sir, may I have another" Kevin Bacon scene out of my head, I remembered my favorite quote from another Buddhist writer, Thich Nhat Hanh: "And if you have no compost, you have nothing to nourish the flower in you. You need the suffering, the afflictions in you." This idea, of feeling grateful for the negative because it gives you an opportunity to push your practice, an opportunity to turn the negative into positive... this idea is what brought me to Buddhism more than anything else. So this is something I already do, but I'll be doing it more consciously and intentionally this week.

Until next week, namaste and all that.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Examining Assumptions and Blame: On Driving All Blames Into One

I've been trying to write this post for a week now. Recent events (especially the misogyny fueled tragedy at UCSB last week) have made it hard for me to wrap my mind around this tenet. I'm making myself sit down, though, because I need to get working with this teaching and I need to move on.

So, the newest tenet:
Drive all blames into one. has an almost identical translation ("drive all blame" instead of "blames"), so it doesn't add any depth. Their explanatory text isn't very helpful either:
"Reactive patterns bring about precisely what you try to avoid. When things go wrong in your life, blaming circumstances doesn't help. Look at the role your own patterns play in bringing about the problem." (Source.)
There's some of the same self-examination I've seen in previous lojong teachings, but for me their explanation doesn't line up well with what I know of driving all blames. As I always do, I turned next to the Tricycle piece by Judy Lief. If you want a fuller examination, and lots of wisdom, about this teaching please follow that link. The quote that hit me hardest, though, was:
"This slogan is quite radical. Instead of blaming others, you blame yourself. Even if it is not your fault, you take the blame. It is important to distinguish this practice from neurotic self-blaming or the regretful fixation on your own mistakes and how much you [are] at fault. It also does not imply that you should not point out wrongdoing or blow the whistle on corruption. Instead, as you go about your life, you simply notice the urge to blame others and you reverse it."
I am someone who tends toward self-blame as it is, but the juxtaposition of this tenet with the shootings... Wow, it brought things home. It's one thing to look for the causes of ingrained and socially acceptable misogyny, systemic racism, and the like, the things I know were at the root of the events last week. It's quite another to take the blame myself. This led me to thinking about the role I play in our racist culture. I can tell you that the moment I went from being a White Feminist to being a feminist who just happens to be Caucasian was definitely tied to me taking the blame, to seeing my privilege and how I've benefit from the systems in our country just because of where I was born and to whom.

But taking all the blame for everything isn't the point of this tenet. "The Middle Way," which is an important concept in Buddhism, talks about finding a way between extremes. It is more tied to navigating between a purely material and a purely spiritual life, but it's a philosophy I try to apply to other aspects of my day to day. So, yes, I will work with taking the blame no matter what it is, but I'll also work with not beating myself up for it. And I'll follow the advice with which Lief closed her piece about this tenet:

"Pay attention to how blaming arises and what patterns it takes.  See what happens when you take on the blame yourself. Notice what changes in your own experience and in what you observe around you."

Until next week, namaste and all that.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Forgiveness and Growth: On Transforming All Mishaps into the Path of the Bodhi

Yes, a long silence. To the 15 of you who read this blog regularly, I apologize. I had a series of busy weekends, and then there's the fact I've pledged to get more sleep. The upshot is that this side project, as much as I love it, had to be left by the wayside for a while. The point of Lojong Ruminations, as I keep saying to myself, is not to adhere to some schedule like I do with my other blog. The point of this blog is the exploration, and so long as I keep going along the path it's serving its purpose.

Now onto the real subject at hand: the next teaching.
When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps into the path of the bodhi.
The bodhi tree is the tree under which the Buddha was sitting when his enlightenment happened. In the context of this tenet, "bodhi" can be understood to mean "enlightenment" or "awakening." This can be seen in the translation of this tenet provided by "When misfortune fills the world and its inhabitants. Make adversity the path of awakening," (source). The explanatory paragraph they provide adds a little more:
"Whatever adversity comes your way, use it as a basis for taking and sending, Take in all the similar misfortunes of others and send out your own sense of presence and equanimity."
After sitting with the original wording, the alternate translation, and the explanatory note for a while, I turned to the Tricycle piece on this mind-training. The first paragraph hit me hard:
"When things go wrong, when we encounter obstacles, the last thing on our minds is the dharma. Instead, what is the first thing on our minds? Ourselves! It is all about how we are being inconvenienced, burdened, put upon, attacked, misunderstood, rejected—you name it. Not only do we lose track of the path, but our concern for others goes into hibernation as we focus front and center on our own particular problem."
I highly recommend reading Judy Lief's whole piece about this particular teaching. The idea of using our personal mishaps to push ourselves along the path to enlightenment is the very thing that attracted me to studying lojong. We, all of us, have upsets in our lives. Every single day. Multiple times per day. Sometimes they're major, like a divorce or the loss of a job or the death of a friend. Other times they're minor, like someone not finding a good parking spot on a rainy day or the grocery store being out of a favorite flavor of yogurt. It's not the things that happen to us that make up who we are, it's how we react and move on from the events.

And that brings me to the people you see in that picture above. I've been working on The Forgiveness Challenge lately. Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho Tutu, have literally challenged the entire world to forgive. It is a 30 day long effort, with daily mini-challenges such as writing about a time when you were hurt by a close friend, what you did in response, and how it made you feel. It dovetails so nicely with the lojong teaching under consideration. For Desmond and Mpho Tutu to transform the pain of Apartheid into this beautiful idea of helping people everywhere heal... awe-inspiring. One quote in particular resonated more than anything else so far: "You forgive to set yourself free, not the other person." For me, that kind of freedom is the thing that brought me to and keeps me practicing Buddhism. I aspire to the kind of equanimity I see in Desmond Tutu, and his personal religious practice isn't as important to me as his actions are. So that's what I'll be working with this week (and for a few more weeks to come).

Until next week, namaste and all that.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Closer to Home: On Beginning the Sequence with Me

I know. It's been a couple of weeks this time. I've told myself that it's okay. I was busy the last couple of weekends - busy with good things, even. Spending time with close friends is important. But still I've been beating up on myself a bit about letting it go that long. As it happens, though, the tenth lojong tenet is about self-compassion.
Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.
How did I get self-compassion from that odd phrase? Like I always do: I'm a librarian, so I research. My inevitable first stop was The translation there is even shorter: "Begin the sequence of taking with you." That seems like self-something, but not self-compassion. To my thinking, that sounds like selfishness. Their explanation wasn't much help either:
"Note how you react to the suffering of others or your own happiness and wellbeing [sic]. Do taking and sending with your own reactions first. When they release into awareness, then do taking and sending with others." (Source.)
I do have some context for "taking and sending," but I'm not sure about "release into awareness."

When I moved onto Tricycle, that's when things clicked into place. So much so that it's hard to pick a quote that resonates most. "We need to look into our many layers of suffering, including everything from physical pain, emotional confusion, regrets, anxieties, fears, the whole deal. We cannot hide out," hit hard. I have been known to hide from issues and pretend everything is hunky-dory. But then I read this:
"It is to be compassionate to yourself as well as other beings. Seeing clearly the nature of your own suffering is a way to understand more clearly the suffering of others."
I get self-conscious when I have an acne break out - like everyone else. I feel overwhelmed when I hear of yet another episode of school violence - like everyone else. I have unreasonable fears, fervent hopes, and silly nightmares - like everyone else. It's that commonality that lets me be compassionate, both towards others and towards myself.

So I'll be practicing some introspection this week... figuring out the sources of pains, both big and small. After all, in the words of one of my favorite (fakey fake) philosophers, Henri:

We cannot escape ourselves.

Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some Training Montage From an 80's Movie: On Training with Slogans

Last week was a bad week for meditating. Crap sleep one night and working the night shift another made mornings anything but routine. I did work with the idea of labels, so it wasn't a complete loss, but finding the concentration and desire to meditate was mostly impossible. Back to it this week, though, and with no guilt for the lapse because I never stop training in the preliminaries.

Anyway, let's move onto this week's tenet:
In all activities, train with slogans.
I grasped the intent right away (that this work should be a constant companion), but my mind still wandered. The first thing that came to mind was, of course, pop culture oriented. I thought of obligatory movie and television training montages. That brought to mind a scene from one of my favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Once More With Feeling," the episode, and a training montage the scene (which is even funnier because Buffy worried, earlier in the episode, that "this whole session's gonna turn into some training montage from an 80's movie.")

After I got over the giggly feeling I always get when I think of that episode of BtVS, I turned to The translation they provide is straightforward: "Use reminders in everything you do." Their explanation for this tenet is also helpful:
"As you go about your day, constantly use such verbal reminders as:
Gain is illusion; loss is enlightenment.
I take all loss and defeat from others; I give all victory and gain to them.
" (Source) [emphasis theirs]
Wow are those clear marching orders. I still felt the need to consult Tricycle to round out my understanding. I'm so glad I did. One particular bit of Judy Lief's commentary hit me hard, like punch in the gut hard:
"Once you understand the underlying point—to increase loving-kindness and concern for others and to decrease self-absorption and ego fixation—you can make up our own slogan. One suited to where you feel most stuck." (Source)
It punched me in the gut because I've done precisely that, but for a different reason. I recently took an online class taught by Brené Brown, and one of the assignments was to come up with a personal mantra. Sound familiar? It's perfect for the purposes of this tenet because my mantra started as more about loving-kindness and concern for myself, but I say it to myself about others on a regular basis now. As part of the class, I had to create art for every assignment, and here's what I ended up with for my mantra:

Always Learning; Always Growing.
I'm going to work with my mantra more intentionally this week, but I'm also going to follow Lief's suggestion for this slogan: "Where do you place the boundaries of your practice? Where do you shut it down? Choose one situation outside that boundary to include in your slogan practice." (Same source as earlier Lief quote.)

Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Nothing's More Suspicious Than Frog's Breath: On Taking Responsibility for Our Own Reactions

Frog's Breath

I'm happy to report that, although I didn't meditate every day last week, I did practice tonglen multiple times. I couldn't bring myself to do it for a whole meditation period, but I did spend a portion of every time I meditated breathing out the good and breathing in the bad. Not sure it had any impact on my perceptions of the person I kept in mind, nor on my general demeanor. On the other hand, it's rare that these things have immediate effect on my day-to-day life. I know it's a good way to remove bias, though, so I think I'll try to add tonglen as a regular part of my practice - perhaps once per week - in hopes it will have a cumulative effect. In the meantime, onto the next slogan:
Three objects, three poisons, and three seeds of virtue.
At first blush, this reads more like a kōan than a tenet of lojong - very riddle-y.'s translation is almost identical, only omitting the "and." And the explanation that website provides is only slightly more helpful:
"Whenever attraction, aversion, or indifference arises in you, do taking and sending to transform the three poisons into seeds of virtue." (Source.)
Okay, so it seems that attraction, aversion, and indifference are the three poisons. ("Taking and sending" refers to tonglen.) What the heck are the objects and the seeds of virtue? As always, I turned to Tricycle next. The commentary provided by Judy Lief is illuminating with regards to applying this tenet to my daily life (I'll come back to this in a moment), but didn't answer my question about the objects and the seeds of virtue. Casting my net a little wider, I found another commentary website. I'm such a big fan of and of Judy Lief that I don't know how often I'll consult it in the future, but it did come in handy today:
"In this practice, 'the three objects' refers to those objects that provoke our emotion of attachment, aversion, or indifference, while 'the three poisons' are the emotions of attachment, aversion or aggression, and stupidity. Then we imagine that all living beings dissolve into the emotions we have as they arise; and peace and virtue are formed with the wish, 'May all living beings be free.' In this way, the three poisons are transformed into the three roots of virtue. This is the practice of relative bodhichitta that we do during post-meditation." (Source.)
My questions answered, I let it all sit for a moment and thought. Strangely enough, the thing that came to mind first was a scene from the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. If you've not seen that movie, be warned: spoilers ahead.

Sally, who was created by Dr. Finkelstein, is dissatisfied with her life of drudgery. She is constantly poisoning her creator (a process that only puts him to sleep instead of killing him) in order to get away for a bit. The one time we see her do this, Sally puts deadly nightshade (poison), frog's breath (a strong flavor of which Finkelstein is suspicious), and worm's wort (apparently a highly desirable flavor). When presented with his soup, the doctor says "Nothing's more suspicious than frog's breath!" and makes Sally taste it. She fakes tasting and then the next thing we see is Finkelstein snoozing away. If Finkelstein had trusted his suspicions, he wouldn't have been poisoned, but then again - neither would we have had the rest of the movie.

The thing is, I'm not a character in a movie. I do sometimes feel suspicious of my reactions and my automatic labels, and for good reason. I won't jeopardize the story arc if I listen to my instincts and might actually have a more enjoyable one as a result. And that leads me back to the Tricycle piece. Lief's commentary talks about labels and our reactions to the labels, and she focuses on taking responsibility for those reactions. I've been working on my reactions to things for a long time. This is something that predates my embracing Buddhism, so much so that I've collected quotes that embody this thought. I even have a favorite: "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."

So I'm going to think about my thinking again, and think about my reactions. Judy's suggestion for putting the rubber to the road is helpful:
"Pay attention to labeling and notice how tenacious such labels are. When you react, notice what you are reacting to and where you place the blame. Explore the connection between the poison and the object." (Source.)
I've promised myself that I won't slack off because it's something I've done in the past.

Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Out with the Good and In with the Bad: On Riding the Breath

Does it count as slacking off if I didn't work too hard on last week's slogan, even though the reason I didn't work on it was because that's the way I look at the world already? Not that I don't get caught up in the shadows flitting on the wall of the cave, but when I stop to think about it, I have no problems reminding myself of the illusory nature of things.

Regardless, let's move onto this week's tenet:
Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.
What the heck does that mean? Even's alternate translation didn't help: "Train in taking and sending alternately. Put them on the breath."

Moving onto the commentaries, I found my answers:
"As you breathe in, imagine all the suffering and negativity of others as thick black smoke coming in through your right nostril and into your heart. As you breathe out, imagine all your own happiness and wellbeing [sic.] as silvery light coming from your heart and going out through your left nostril to all beings everywhere." (Source)
Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it? This idea, tonglen in Tibetan, is something I encountered before starting this journey and this blog. It's something I've even practiced in the past, having been influenced to do so by the work of Pema Chödrön. For those of you who are reading this because you do want a little glimpse into Buddhism, tonglen can be seen, through Judeo-Christian eyes, as praying for good to come to those around us and helping with their burdens.

The danger for me when I worked with tonglen in the past was not setting down the pain of others, and of adding it to my own. It built up quickly, and felt as though my body was suffused with that thick black smoke. Thinking about my past problems with tonglen was exacerbated as I read the Tricycle piece about it. In particular:
"It feels great to pray for others and to be all warm and loving. But that is not all there is to it.  The practice of sending and taking, or tonglen in Tibetan, brings to light the boundaries of that love and caring. If you pray for your friends and family, how about other people and other families? If you pray for those you like or admire, how about those who you dislike or reject? What about those you disagree with, or simply find annoying? What about those who do harm? The idea is to go beyond bias, to include more and more, to let the heart grow and expand." (Source.)
I'm a little nervous of devoting my meditation time this week to this practice (and yes, I've meditated every day - yay for getting back on schedule!), but I'm going to work to keep in mind Judy Lief's parting words in her piece about the seventh slogan: "In your tonglen practice in general, at the end of each breath, drop whatever you have breathed in or out. Let it go completely. Keep a light touch."

Until the next time, namaste and all that.