Sunday, June 28, 2015

In the Middle of Here and Now: On Practicing the Main Points


The next tenet gets at the heart of how I turned a corner in a troubled relationship and I'm trying to do the same with other problems:
This time, practice the main points.
I'll admit I needed a different translation, because my first thought about this was, "what time?" Turned to and found something that made more sense: "Practice what's important now." The brief explanation helped a lot as well:
"What's important right now is the level of attention you can bring to what you are experiencing. Nothing else really counts."
I turned to Judy Lief's great series on the Tricycle website next. I highly recommend you read that entire post. The whole thing resonated deeply for me, but two sentences in particular stood out:
"Loving-kindness is not just a warm fuzzy add-on, but it is the very core of the Buddhist path. Too much focus on self-improvement can make us even more self-centered, while what we really need to cultivate is greater love, compassion, and sympathy for our fellow suffering beings."
It brought to mind my favorite book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I'll leave it to you to read the synopsis of that fable-ish tale, but one moment of the book is particularly pertinent:
"Sullivan sighed, but he did not argue. 'I think I'll miss you, Jonathan,' was all he said.
'Sully, for shame!' Jonathan said in reproach, 'and don't be foolish! What are we trying to practice every day? If our friendship depends on things like space and time, then when we finally overcome space and time we've destroyed our own brotherhood. But overcome space and all we have is here, and overcome time and all we have left is now. And in the middle of here and now, don't you think we might see each other once or twice?'
Sullivan Seagull laughed in spite of himself. 'You crazy bird,' he said kindly."
According to that book (which I first read when I was a pre-teen and that has informed a lot of the adult I've become), love is the highest and hardest skill to practice. I know that book is a huge part of why I was primed and ready to think about "loving-kindness" as the core of my adopted religion.

Lief's advice for applying this slogan will be helpful since I struggle with loving-kindness:
"Loving-kindness begins simply, with connection. Notice in your interactions the ways in which you are continually connecting with and disconnecting from others. What draws you out of yourself? What causes you to pull back?"
So that's what I'll be working on. Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Just Keep Working: On Not Being Swayed by External Circumstances

This week's tenet is a nice follow up to last week:
Don't be swayed by external circumstances.
I knew right away what this meant: that good or bad, keep working on mind training. Or, more to the point, don't let the bad days get in the way. The different translation at gave me a different perspective that helped expand my understanding: "Don't be dependent on extraneous conditions." That idea of "extraneous," of the outside stuff is superfluous, struck a chord. And the explanation provided deepened my understanding further:
"Conditions don't affect taking and sending practice. If your experience is good, internally or externally, use the good experience in taking and sending. If things are difficult, do taking and sending with the difficulties."
In other words, it's not a matter of ignoring what's going on in your life and practice no matter what. It's about *using* what's going in on your life to enhance your practice.

That sentiment was echoed in the commentary Tricycle has published:
"It may seem that the slightest little glitch is all it takes to throw you off course. However, lojong practice is completely impartial: if your external situation is not so good, you can breathe that in; and if it is excellent, you can breathe that out. In that way, instead of being a victim of circumstances, blown here and there by whatever arises, you can cultivate mind training no matter what is going on."
And that's why it fits so nicely with the slogan I considered last week. That situation isn't going away anytime soon, but I can use the thing that is provoking so much resentment as fodder for my sending and receiving. Judy Lief's advice is particularly pertinent:
"Pay attention to what causes you to turn on and turn off your mind training practice. When does it arise more naturally and when does it completely disappear? What external circumstances are most apt to throw you off course, and how can you utilize those same circumstances to return you to the practice?"
Even though I've been at this for a while now, I should probably admit that sending and receiving has never felt a natural practice to me. I have to consciously and intentionally cultivate it. But I know a lot of why, and I can work with it. I'll just keep working, like that cat with the tennis ball, no matter what and with whatever arises.

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

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reflecting on Reflections: On Meditating on Whatever Provokes Resentment

I read the commentaries as always this week, both the one on and the Tricycle piece. They both confirmed the meaning behind this gut-punch slogan, but I'm going to move away from my usual treatment of these tenets because this one is so very close to my heart.
Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment.
I don't remember where or even when I realized that my anger/resentment/etc. (you can substitute any negative emotion here) was always more about me than about the person who was provoking it, but I know it's been at least a decade. It is always a reflection of something about me.

The thing is, it's so much easier to be mad at someone else. It means we don't have to change anything about ourselves. There is a particular thing in my life right now that is bringing up a lot of resentment and I've been trying to parse the situation into its components. I've also been avoiding practicing sending and receiving with this situation, but I'm going to take this new tenet as a signal that it's time to get to it.

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

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Wholehearted: On Training Without Bias


The next slogan might be designed specifically for me:
Train without bias in all areas. It is crucial always to do this pervasively and wholeheartedly.
The translation is essentially the same: "Train on every object without preference. Training must be broad and deep." And the brief explanation held no surprises:
"Mind training must embrace every aspect of your life. Whatever you ignore or overlook will consume you."
That sounds a bit ominous, so I turned to the Tricycle Magazine piece about this slogan that was written by Judy Lief. This part hit home for me:
"Being without bias means that there are no excuses. You do not declare any areas off limits, but you relate to your life as a single whole, a back and forth rhythm of meditation and postmeditation. When you are without bias, instead of waiting for the right occasion, you apply lojong on the spot, no matter what is going on at the time. In that way your lojong practice becomes more than a hobby or accessory - it is a way of life."
I used to that do that - I thought of my time reading Buddhist writers and writing this blog and the time I spend in meditation as "Buddhism Time." It could have had a trademark symbol it was so much a part of the way I approached lojong and mind training. But then somewhere along the line I realized that wasn't helping me any. I started trying to see the opportunities, started to see the whole of my life that way. (This thinking brought to mind goofy pie chart jokes, and the one I put up there is the one that made me laugh hardest.)

Then the best thing started to happen: I am sometimes able to bring mindfulness and wholeheartedness into my daily life. I recently spent a while with someone I've known for a long time, and something happened that would normally have blown up into an argument - one of our greatest hits, as it were. But instead of letting it get beyond me, I took a moment and breathed and put myself in the other person's place. And instead of fighting, it blew over immediately.

Lief's advice should be good for me, too:
"The best way to develop a more wholehearted lojong practice is by 1) spending time practicing mindfulness and tonglen, and 2) memorizing some or all of the slogans. For today's practice, focus on one or two slogans that particularly strikes you. Touch on those slogans from time to time, and notice when they come up on their own."
So, that's what I'll be working on. Until next time, namaste and all that.