Sunday, May 31, 2015

Got My Thinking Cat On: On Keeping the Three Inseparable

Last week was a bit of a challenge since I've been out of my normal patterns - took some "use it or lose it" time off from work and did a bit of traveling. Yesterday and today have been back to typical, and there's some comfort in that even though I've enjoyed myself during my time off.

Anyway, onto the new tenet:
Keep the three inseparable., my usual first stop, was pretty helpful this time. Their translation, "Engage all three faculties," actually confused me a bit. However, their explanation made things really clear:
"Engage all three faculties in your practice. Physically, move and sit in attention, aware of your body and behavior. In speech, be aware of what you are saying and how you are saying it. In mind, cultivate attention and taking and ending all the time."
I felt calmer after reading that - I usually feel a little stress as I encounter and deal with new aspects of Lojong. I turned to Tricycle next, and Judy Lief gave me the missing piece: how to apply this to my life. She talks about how these three, body and mind and speech, need to work together. One part in particular fel like someone had conked me over the head with a cricket bat...
"When you practice wholeheartedly, it shows in your thinking patterns. Part of lojong training ha to do with simply noticing how your mind works. What do you do with your mind? What do you think about most often? By applying lojong to your mind, you can begin to reverse the habits of preoccupation and self-absorption that take up so much mental energy. As a result, your mind becomes less tight. It begins to relax and turn outward."
Ouch. Every time I think I've got a handle on this, I realize I've still got so far to go. This is an example: there are two or three things that take up probably 90% of my mental energy. Yes, I do struggle with anxiety issues, so it makes sense. Even still, this is yet another way I can work on the problem.

She goes onto give more specific advice for applying this teaching:
"When you think about your lojong practice, does it seem balanced and wholehearted or one-sided and limited? What helps you come into harmony in your body, speech, and mind and what tends to make you lose that feeling of harmony?"
I will have my thinking cat on, tracking what pushes me out and what brings me back into harmony.

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

We Are Worthy: On Paying Heed that the Three Never Wane

When I picked up the card for the next tenet and read it, I had an immediate association. 
Pay heed that the three never wane.
Because of the way I'm wired, the popular culture association was powerful and immediate:

And it made me laugh. I set the thought aside and consulted the commentaries I use every week., as usual, gave me a different translation: "Take care to prevent three kinds of damage." Not the same thing as what I found on the card, but not enough different to make me think I'd gotten the wrong page. The explanation gave me something to consider, but didn't quite seem to go with what I'd read on the card:
"Lack of appreciation damages your relationship with your teacher. Lack of enthusiasm damages your practice. Lack of mindfulness in your behavior damages conditions conducive to practice."
I've learned that I can't skip, since Tricycle sometimes leaves me confused. I really do need both, and today was a good example. Lief's piece on this teaching put things into perspective. The three that need attention are the flip side of the three kinds of damage: devotion to those that teach us the dharma; appreciation for the practice and process of mind training; and a disciplined approach to the practice.

One warning she gives rang true for me:
"Our initial inspiration to study with a teacher or to practice the dharma has a tendency to fizzle away over time. It is one thing to enjoy a burst of enthusiasm, but it is quite another to keep going after the initial excitement wears off. But that is exactly the point when you begin to practice for real."
That fizzling is the reason I started this blog. Writing for a real (if small) audience gave me an external reason to be more disciplined. Sure, it's a bit of a crutch, but forming new habits can be hard and a bit of support helps.

Also, it turns out that my mind turning immediately to Wayne's World wasn't completely off-base. Lief warns against the kind of hero worship that can result from blind devotion to our teachers, devotion without the balancing factors of appreciation and discipline. The whole point behind the practice of loving kindness is knowing we are worthy.

Lief's advice for applying this teaching might not be something I can do this week, but I can think about how I've handled it in the past:
"Reflect on the balance of the three qualities of devotion, appreciation, and discipline in your practice. Notice the waxing and waning of inspiration on the path, and how easy it is to let your initial inspiration just fade away. When that happens, what brings you back?"
So, that's what I'll be working on. Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Finding a Stable Base: On the Three Principle Causes

I guess the best place to start is with the teaching itself:
Take on the three principle causes.
As usual, had a different translation: "Foster three key elements." Not much help there, but the brief explanation did give me some insight:
"The three elements are: a teacher, an effective practice, and conditions conducive to practice."
But what do those really mean...?

Well, Judy Lief (as is typical) resolved things for me right away:
"It is good to be aware of the convergence of circumstances that makes it possible for you to practice the dharma. By attending to the underpinnings that support you on the path, you can create and maintain a strong base for moving forward. You can develop greater appreciation for your good fortune, and not take it for granted."
She then goes on to talk about how each of us who found the dharma had someone, whether it was a friend or a book or a movie or something, that brought it to our attention. We also have begun the work of mind training. Finally, we have a way to continue that mind training because our financial and social and spiritual lives are conducive to the work. We may not have all of these elements at the same time, and need to look to which of the three might be lacking. We also need to reach out to others and try to help them along the path.

All of this made me smile since I'm giving a talk next week at a librarian conference. I'm actually one of the keynote talks (gulp!), so it will be me talking to *everyone* attending the conference - all at once. And the reason I smiled? Because I'm going to talk about a basic part of Buddhism: how attachment is the source of suffering, and a lot of it is our attachment to who we think we should be and how we think things should turn out. I won't be proselytizing, per se, but I may be that first source of the dharma for someone in the audience.

Regardless, Lief's advice will inform a lot of my practice this week:
"What kinds of supports could you put in place to help strengthen your practice? Do you need more guidance (the first cause), more confidence and conviction (the second cause), or a more stable social or economic base (the third cause)?"
I am confident in the guidance I've found - attending to each of the tenets in turn, one per week, helps tremendously. I'm not lacking for conviction - I see how this plays out in my life and can feel results. I do, however, need to work on my social and spiritual base.

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Just Order the Roast Roadrunner: On Training in the Three Difficulties

This tenet falls under the category of "maintenance" apparently, and it is timely considering the ups-and-downs I've had of late are evening out a bit.
Train in the Three Difficulties.
I'm beyond the "lolwut?" response that I had to obscure sounding teachings back when I started this project. With where I am now, eager and happy for each new piece of the puzzle, I don't even try to interpret the slogan before turning to my commentaries. So, knowing I'd have very little insight ahead of time about what those three difficulties might be, I just turned to

When I got there, I found an alternative translation that had me scratching my head a bit: "Learn to meet three challenges." However, the explanatory paragraph helped a bit:
"The three challenges are: to recognize a reactive pattern, to develop a way to work on it, and to work on it until it releases."
All I could think was, "Okay, but how?" So I turned to Judy Lief, and her opening paragraph affirmed that this teaching isn't a starting point by reminding her reader of what we've gotten ourselves into by studying lojong.
"Mind training or lojong is a way to uncover and develop confidence in our inherent goodness and that of all beings. It is a way to cultivate loving-kindness. You might way that is the good news. But the way to go about that is by going directly to the dark side, to what prevents that awakened quality from manifesting which is not an easy task. You might say that is the bad news."
And it is a constant process. Cyclical and iterative. That's kind of the point of mindfulness and lojong, to go beyond and change your ways. After reading everything, I sat back and thought. As usually happens, as I mulled it over I thought a lot about pop culture. Self-awareness is sorely lacking in a lot of characters in pop culture. However, something Lief said later in her short piece (included below) made my mind turn to the one who I think could be a poster child for "the definition of insanity": Wile E. Coyote. He was constantly bruised, banged, burned, smooshed, and shamed. He was always my favorite when I was younger, but no longer. All I can think is that one ounce of self-awareness might have kicked him out if his reactive patterns and into an order for "roast roadrunner" from Acme. (The Vimeo above was their earliest appearance, and still one of my all time favorite cartoons in general.)

Lief's advice for this tenet will help: "Instead of battling big deal emotional hang-ups, practice paying attention to the tiny little shifts of thought that, like a match to a fuse, cause a big explosion of confusion." I'm also going to keep Wile E. in mind, and do the opposite of what I think he'd do in any situation.

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

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Practice, Practice, Practice: On Observing These Two

The next tenet was a bit of a head scratcher when I first read it:
Observe these two, even at the risk of your life.
I know better than to think this is some kind of action film catch phrase, but it definitely confused me. And the translation wasn't much better: "Keep these two, even if your life is at risk." It still sounds so ominous, don't you think? Their explanation helps soften it a smidge:
"Internal transformation s the organizing principle of your life. Let go of your commitment to it, and you lose your life. Mind training is the method you use to transform your life. Let it go, and you fall back into reactivity."
Still a little unfriendly, but not life-threatening.

This is one of those weeks when I really needed Judy Lief's insight, and she brought it to bear right away in her commentary on this teaching:
"The two primary vows or commitments of the Buddhist path are the refuge vow and the bodhisattva vow. More generally, the two primary commitments one makes on the spiritual path are to work on oneself and to help other beings. These two vows provide fundamental guidelines for how to approach your practice and your daily life."
That's when it clicked: this is the next evolution of all the mindfulness I've been practicing. It's like that old joke about Carnegie Hall. But now, it's not just paying attention: it's about what to do with the things I notice. In the mindfulness, I need to remember to practice loving kindness with others and with myself. And working on mindfulness and presence gives me the opportunity to take that pause and have my actions guided by these principles.

Lief's parting advice resonated as well:
"What would change if you took seriously the two principles of working on yourself and helping others as the measure of your actions? How committed are you to yourself or to others?"
So, that's what I'll be working on. Until next time, namaste and all that.