Archive for July 2011

A stem of thorns offers a rose

Our focus for the group this week is that there is a way out of  the unsatisfactory sense that life is a bit off, not quite right.  The sense of well being is available to us 24 hours a day.  
From Steve:
The thorns and the rose are parts of one whole.  The teachings of the mindfulness tradition say that if we honestly face our own unease and suffering, we will begin to find the hints of a stable, reliable well being.  Thay writes: “Embrace your suffering, smile to it, and discover the source of happiness that is right there within it…Touch your suffering. Face it directly, and your joy will become deeper.”
I find these teachings both profound and difficult to understand.  Emotional and physical pain do not seem to conceal joy.  Then, I return to the image of the thorns and the rose. 
Another approach that may help is the practice of remembering to be grateful.  No matter how bad conditions are,  there are always available to us a multitude of reasons to be thankful.

Traffic, Telephones And The Calm Center

Our focus for the group this week is the causes of dukka (unease).  Things like grasping for something solid, wanting things not to change, aversion to parts of ourselves or of the world.

 From Steve:

Traffic, telephones and the calm center

With mindfulness practice, there are many gathas and simple methods of bringing the awareness into the moment. As we move through the day, we can practice remembering to come into the present moment.  The Sanskrit root of mindfulness can be translated as “remembering”.  Here we find freshness and lightness, letting go of rushing around and playing reruns of thoughts and feelings.

 When the telephone rings, allow it to ring twice before picking up.  Let the two rings of the bell be a reminder to let go of preoccupations, remembering to be aware of how you are just now, physically and mentally.  Taking this moment to center and ground, you can be really present to the person calling on the phone.

Hurrying to an appointment, I am often caught by a red traffic light or three.  I can obsess about how many minutes I am from arrival and the lethargic change in the signal.  Or I can choose to remember to enjoy this moment of stopping.  Locating the breath and taking it deep into the abdomen, I observe the conditions in the body the breath touches.  I invite calmness with the in-breath and allow release of stress with the out-breath.  Then a little miracle occurs.  The traffic moves in unison and clears a path to my destination.  I arrive refreshed and available for listening.

Sometimes, when I notice stress pulling me around or I hear myself grumbling with anxiety, I remember a simple song.  The words are:  “In, out.  Deep, slow.  Calm, ease.  Smile, release.  Present moment, wonderful moment.”   The song is my cue to rediscover the ease of mindfulness practice, bringing the awareness into the center of the body at the solar plexus.  There, I establish the breath in the body.  The area of centered awareness expands beyond the physical body. Now there is space for the stress or anxiety to rest and let go of its grip. 

Going to and coming back from lunch, we can enjoy walking meditation.  Centering the breath, I notice how things are in the body right now, observing the physical sensations associated with my thoughts and feelings.  Am I captured by a story or riding away into a drama?  Are there echoes in my gut?  Focusing there, I note, observe and cradle the physical and emotional sensations.  Gradually, I turn my awareness to the movement of my feet, lifting from and touching the earth.  Often, it is enjoyable to slow down and just walk, feeling the support of the earth, solid and firm beneath my feet.  Usually, there are flowers and green leaves along the path to delight the eyes.  Letting go from the center of the body and being here, there is a lightness to my step.

 Bringing the freshness and liberation of mindfulness into our daily lives is a kind and generous reward for the time we may spend meditating on the cushion.  Having a regular meditation practice, preferably including a weekly group sitting, develops the skills for remembering to be mindful.  What we have discussed above are samples of the practice tools available.  To use these tools skillfully, we need the continuity of sincere practice.

A quiet restlessness

Our focus for the group this week is dukka – the sense that something is not quite right.  Often, it is hardly noticeable. Occasionally, it speaks with a clear voice.  Traditionally, in the mindfulness tradition, dukka is known as the First Noble Truth: life is not entirely satisfactory.  While meditating, especially during walking meditation, a worried whisper can arise in the solar plexus.  This is a good thing, indicating that I am bringing the awareness to the embodiment of this anxiety.  The first step in the practice of mindfulness is establishing awareness of how things are, from the perspective of the body.  As we stop, calm and breathe, more than observing, the mind becomes the body.  The breath and the conscious awareness enter into the knot in my stomach.  Body, breath and mind are united, cushioning and caring for this ball of quiet restlessness.

If you are lucky enough that you cannot recognize a similar feeling, then you do not need to practice mindfulness.  Often we practice the art of distractions, so we do not feel this subtle disquiet.  When we sit and walk, simply being the breath in the body, we let go of distraction construction.  I have a difficult time letting go of the wonderful, complex structures built and relived over a lifetime.  Over time this lush landscape has eroded into a desert and I wander with an unsatisfied thirst.  It seems unfair to have expended much of the creative energy of my life on stories that once felt as concrete as this keyboard.

Perhaps, the lucky ones are those who find a nagging lack of ease.  Mindfulness needs this uncomfortable stuff as wet clay for its wheel.  Leslie’s tee shirt reads: “No mud, no lotus”.