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.