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.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sidewalk Art and The Cave: On Being a Child of Illusion


First, I need to confess something: I've been slipping in my preliminaries. A road trip and then being sick with the flu for 5 days threw my routine completely off. So the fact that this week's slogan has to do with meditation, or more specifically - postmeditation, means I'm feeling a little guilty.

Second, onto the slogan:
In post meditation, be a child of illusion. translates this slightly differently: "In daily life, be a child of illusion," and then goes on to explain:
"Carry the sense of all experience being a magical illusion into your daily life." (Source.)
This time,'s explanation gave me plenty of fodder, but to be safe I also consulted my new favorite, Tricycle. The piece about this slogan was interesting, as Tricycle pieces always are, but there was one part in particular that stood out to me:
"So rather than trying to make our world solid and predictable, and complaining when that is not the case, we could maintain the glimpses of the illusory nature of experience that arise in meditation practice, and touch in with that open illusory quality in the midst of our daily activities. That looser more open quality is the ground on which the compassionate actions of the bodhisattva can arise." (Source.)
After reading all of this and spending some time thinking about it (once I'd gotten over the guilt of not meditating regularly lately), the first thing that came to mind was sidewalk forced perspective chalk art illusions, like the one above. Anything with a forced perspective illusion, actually, even videos that make it look like water is moving against gravity.

While meditating, I try to let go of things by concentrating on my breath. I'm not good at keeping my mind blank, so my way of blanking things out is a kind of mental white noise. I'm not sure there is a transition from meditation to postmeditation, as the Tricycle piece suggested, but I know I can work on carrying the sense of illusion in my life. If nothing else, my being forced to read Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" when in college has given me a way to think about my daily experiences. I don't think I'll have a problem being a child of illusion.

Until the next time, namaste and all that.