Monday, March 6, 2017
I've been practicing Buddhism since I was a teenager- mostly in the Tibetan tradition with some efforts in other lineages.
I'd really like to complete the Tibetan "preliminary" practices. The trouble is that my life is not at all set up to do so: I typically work 12-14 hour days; my body is not especially cooperative with the physical yogic practices; I need time to spend with my partner and time just to rest. Unfortunately, in this collapsing capitalist empire, I need to work as much as I do in order to pay my bills and student loans.
I've made more progress in these practices in the past 2 years than in any previous years, but that isn't saying much. My prostration board has grown cold since the holidays. I practice the Bodhicitta section when I can.
The flipside is that I need these practices more than ever. I'm angrier, sadder, more distracted, more confused, and less self-disciplined than at any other point in my adult life. It's really shocking. I regularly make poor decisions that surprise even myself. Perhaps the only benefit to having become more impulsive and bold is that I can channel that into positive things sometimes. Push past pain. Be shameless in the good way.
In the past six months it feels as if the rug has been pulled out from under me in the most severe of ways leading to all sorts of dark states, but there are a few benefits to this. I don't seem to judge myself all that much for my shortcomings. Or, well, I judge and sometimes feel shame about some of my actions but without much added self-aggression. And the fact that my mind seems so reactive and confused is definitely a needed wake up call. I hadn't realize the extent to which I'd let myself go.
So... time to do some work.
guru yoga: 0
Friday, December 14, 2012
The death of a child is never easy because whether or not it is expected, it runs counter to the expectations of our support systems. Parents are supposed to die before their children. And we mentally and socially prepare for the deaths of our loved ones as they age. We don't typically prepare for the deaths of children unless that situation arises, and our social networks aren't typically set up to support grieving for children.
The loss of a child becomes much harder to bear when the death is unexpected and/or violent. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross articulated a theory of stages of grief in relation to loss in her 1969 classic On Death and Dying. A person is supposed to move in time through denial, anger, bargaining, despair/depression, and eventually to acceptance. This process can become arrested in the face of an overwhelming loss due to traumatic circumstances such as today's. When someone is intimately affected by such a shock and loss, their nervous system goes into survival mode curtailing the process of healthy grieving in order to get through immediate events.
I hope that those most directly affected are able to connect with mental health services and disaster response. I have quite a bit of confidence in EMDR's Recent Traumatic Events Protocol as well as the effects of treating traumatized children with Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy including its supplement for traumatic grief.
It is terror to imagine children being killed and witnessing killing. Other than organizing for direct response in order to provide appropriate mental health services to the survivors and families, I think one of the best responses is to offer metta--real loving-kindness. May they be safe; may they be happy; may they be strong; may they live with ease.
I was an elementary school teacher for DC Public schools during the DC sniper's reign of terror. Someone called in a suspicious person on a nearby roof, which led to several 4th grader's puppy piled in a corner with me, while I anxiously read them stories for almost two hours while waiting for the "all-clear".
No one among us has not experienced overwhelming fear. Likewise most of us have experienced moments of overwhelming anger and confusion. Whether the killer was suffering from the type of extreme alienation (first described in modern psychological terms by Karen Horney) or acute mental illness (Melanie Klein's schizoid position), he was having a hellish human experience that led to the murder of children. The easiest way to widen the gap between our own state of mind and the mindstates that lead to violence is to practice kindness and clarity.
Start easy and direct your love towards the surviving children. They need it. May they feel safe. Give it also to family members of survivors and victims. May they feel strong. Add others as you can. The first responders: May they feel content and strong. The police and public officials: May they live with ease.
The perpetrator will probably be harder. Keep in mind that he once was a little baby to his caretakers. At some point along the way he became oppressed by mindstates that led to a combined lack of clarity and kindness so sever that he could take the lives of children. And whatever the circumstances, he did what he did in order to attain something that would put him more at ease. May he be released from affliction.
If you're not there yet, don't sweat it. Give yourself some metta. May I feel safe; may I feel happy; may I feel strong; may I live with ease.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Metta as a practice is radical: it is radical in its openness; it is radical in its clarity; and it is radical in its scope. (links jump down)
When we practice metta as a formal practice daily, we bring to the practice our state of mind however it appears in that moment that we sit down and then moment after moment afterwards. Whether or not we feel open in any given moment, it is a practice of opening up. We practice dropping our agenda and conventional thoughts towards the object of metta (whomever we have chosen to be the recipient). Whether the person has slighted us or nurtured us or both, we direct our kindness and openness to them. And whether we are practicing by chanting Kwanseum Bosal, or by reciting Om Mani Peme Hung, or by repeating phrases such as "May he feel safe", etc., we direct as much kindness as we can without getting caught by thoughts about the relationship.
Dipa Ma- the great meditation master of the late 20th century was known to say on several occasions to say that metta practice and vipassana were not different. The latter refines attention and directs it at certain phenomena until it becomes perfectly clear that while the car may be turning this way and that way, there's no one at the wheel. As a correlate, the deep realization of not-self necessitates an appreciation for how a feeling of self is created from moment to moment as an attempt to use an agenda to get comfortable.
In metta practice, the order is a bit reversed. We practice dropping the agenda as we direct metta towards whomever, and as we feel resistence to doing so, our agendas become crystal clear. This is not a grueling practice, when done mindfully. Metta itself creates a feeling of mental space in which things can arise clearly. And in that clarity, all the ways we resist what is happening in the moment become very clear. This is a very different state of affairs than how someone might imagine filling the mind with love. And while blissful states of samadhi can arise from this practice, my experience of this practice is that it creates a sort of reflexive equanimity. May you be well, and you, and you, and you. No exceptions. And when that equanimity doesn't arise, it's like putting a big neon sign on whatever is causing resistance. It can be uncomfortable, but that's really the fruit of practice- to be able to give attention to what requires it. Clarity is a boon.
A scary realization can ocurr when a practitioner just begins to really give himself or herself over to the formal practice of metta. I experienced it as a child might feel when he has to apologize to someone and admit that he was wrong. In this case what was brought to the surface for me was the recognition that I have nothing to lose by others being happy. For years I thought I knew that to be true and believed it. I didn't think I was a phony. I mean, I had over the course of many years of practice gotten into the habit of wishing others well, wishing for freedom from whatever binds them. I'm not suggesting that my previous years of practice and its effects were only skin deep, so much as I realized that they were conditional. Finicky, even! Metta brought home for me again and again how I imagine myself to be unhappy if a certain other becomes happy. It's a little coo-coo, but metta's radical scope (metta for all!) exposed some faulty core beliefs.
My Tibetan teacher has said something in the same vein when he has talked about how peaceful deities and their practices are much more necessary these days than wrathful ones. Wrathful deities can bring energy, and powerful compassion, and quick decisive action. But according to him, people can get caught up in ego trips relating to intensity and peak experiences, and sensory stimulation (so much blood! so many flames!). He says that peaceful deities by contrast accomplish the same goals through a different type of intensity: the intensity of unwavering love and compassion for all beings, even for all phenomena, and not as a trip but as simply an essential quality of their own being. The unwavering aspect can be quite daunting as can be the bit about no exceptions. Really thwarts the attempts at wiggling away.
I've never really thought about metta in the spirit of Zen before today. What I mean by metta in the spirit of Zen is the practice of metta without even a goal or agenda for the practice. Practicing metta simply as an expression of who we are in each moment of practice. In this way, all the yanas are united. A Theravadan practice takes on the Zen spirit of no path, no goal, no gain and arrives at what might be conceived of in tantric terms as a sort of purity or dignity. These latter descriptors are without reference and not opposed to impure or undignified, and yet they point to an energetic state being able to relax into the state of things being just as they are.
So my advice is to please practice metta with as much kindness and clarity as you can.
Monday, June 18, 2012
It's pretty incredible as a bridge between schools of Buddhism both 1) in its essential message and method that it could be said to share with the Heart Sutra, and 2) the end of the narrative (see links) wherein Anathapindika uses his dying words to suggest that there are lay followers who should hear the highest teachings because they can actualize them even without becoming monastics.
Here are some highlights (abridged by me, translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu):
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Monday, June 11, 2012
It's been too long, friend. Strange and hard and wonderful things have happened in my life since the last post. I've continued to enjoy the honeymoon period with my love, and consequently I've been working on being the best partner I can be and also thinking about what that means. I've had a bout of my recurrent illness, and I was in the hospital for a week. I've been recovering well, and I'm grateful to have health insurance and a job that gives me sick leave for this sort of thing. My birthday, and my mom's birthday, and mother's day have come and gone. And I recently learned to weave and to make simple backstrap looms.
I haven't had much contact with my Zen teacher lately due to my illness/recovery and circumstances affecting our schedules, and I miss him. He has a wonderful way of balancing the iconoclasm and freshness of Zen with Truths as they are presented in other Buddhist traditions in ways that are not in conflict. For example, I sometimes feel tension between the viewpoint of Zen schools that have stopped even talking about enlightenment or the four noble truths and teachings about liberation as they are presented in other Zen schools and lineages of Buddhism. I can eek out a point of view in which there is no conflict, but he does it with much more ease. I know there are benefits to both ways of looking at things, but easily fall into a mindset that necessitates choosing one approach or the other, whereas he sees them as not different.
Yesterday, my Dharma brother Rev. Lawrence Do'an Grecco and I gave a Dharma talk on deep listening to the Queer Sangha for which we teach. I'm sure he'll throw a link up to the audio in the next few days, so check back. It was a wonderful thing to reflect on. I was inspired to suggest it as a topic by a chapter on listening in Norman Zoketsu Fischer's book Taking our Places; a Buddhist path to truly growing up. I highly recommend this book and Normal Fischer in general.
I'm also looking forward to meeting someone I've been interested in for some time and with whom I seem to share much in common: Barry Magid- psychoanalyst and one of the Dharma-heirs of Charlotte Joko Beck. We're going to get coffee later this week.
I've been taking this time lately to pull back from some commitments and to do some deep listening inwardly and with some nears and dears. I think this may be what this season is about for me. I will try to post more often though