Friday, March 30, 2012

7 Fountains of Mindfulness

Periodically, I reflect on the teachers who inspire me most. Here is my current list - with links to their teachings in case you are interested:

Ayya Khema
I read her books, I search her writings on the Web, I watch her videos, I listen to her Dharma talks, and I plan to go on a retreat this summer with her student, Leigh Brasington. It is one of my great regrets that she is no longer alive to dispense face to face teachings. I quote from her extensively in Mind Deep. Leigh has the most comprehensive Web page on her work

Ajahn Chah
Often, I visit the old sage's website, and read his teachings at random. And each time, a new pearl of wisdom reveals itself. Ajahn Chah is the one teacher who validated the importance of 'the knot', and confirmed what I already knew intuitively. 

Ajahn Sumedho
This now elder monk was a student of Ajahn Chah. I have recently delighted in his reflections on the nature of awareness. Just like Ajahn Chah, his teachings are direct, simple, and infused with deep wisdom. He used to be the abbott at Amavarati monastery in England, and has now retired to a monastery in Thailand. 

U Tejaniya
I call him the 'attitude' monk. U Tejaniya's most noteworthy contribution centers around the importance of bringing the right attitude to practice. He is also more relaxed than most monks. U Tejaniya's teachings are freely available on his website. His Tricycle interview, The Wise Investigator, contains some very inspirational passages on how to use practice to successfully deal with depression.  I am planning to attend a retreat with him next year.

Ruth Denison
Ruth is a formidable teacher, a very wise old woman whose way of living is as powerful a teaching as the words that she speaks. Retreating with her in the desert two years ago turned out to be such a blessing. And I am glad I kept a record, both with words and videos. Ruth never wrote a book - other than Sandy Boucher's biography, but that does not really count . . . , never made a movie, and recordings of her Dharma talks are scant. She has little interest in leaving a legacy. She just wants to keep on giving, in the present moment . . . 

Gil Fronsdal
The Insight Meditation Center, Gil's community, is only 10 minutes from my house. Gil is my 'backyard' teacher. I always learn something from attending Gil's talks, all of which are available on AudioDharma. Gil has the gift of making sometimes obscure teachings into easily accessible dharma material. 

And of course, the teacher of all teachers, the Buddha himself. For an online source to the sutras, I go to Access to Insight. For good old fashioned paper books, I rely on In the Buddha's Words, and also The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha.

With much gratitude.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Not Resting on Our Laurels

I always learn so much from listening to Ayya Khema. This time, she makes very clear the need to constantly practice, not just to move forward on the path, but also to not go backward. 


Mindfulness practice is work, constant work. This is why it is called practice. This week, I visited the Mindful Living page on the Huffington Post and was struck by the number of articles attempting to trivialize mindfulness as something that can be easily captured with minimum effort. Headlines such as   'Are You Up For The 24-Hour Mini-Mindful-Moment Challenge?', 'Momentary Mindfulness', 'One Minute to Stress Less', 'Mindfulness in 60 Seconds or Less', . . . The truth is mindfulness practice flies in the face of our fast, flashy, pleasure seeking, goal oriented culture. Mindfulness practice is tedious, often times boring, and mostly about effort.



There is no such thing as taking a vacation from practice. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Retreat From Social Media

Packing for my trip to France tomorrow, I had to decide what kind of electronics to bring? iPhone, MacBookPro, iPad, none at all? The real question had to do with how involved did I want to be with social media during this time away, and how to create the conditions that would best facilitate my intention. The iPad made the final cut. Not Blogger friendly enough that I will be tempted to blog, and yet a good platform to check on emails if necessary. I am also putting my vow out here on this blog, and also on Twitter and Facebook, that I will be taking a ten-day sabbatical from social media. No tweet, no update, no answering comments on blogs, no writing posts, no surfing the Web, no Linking in. Posts appearing on this blog will have been written prior to me leaving and be posted, courtesy of Blogger automatic scheduler. 

When is the last time you have taken a break from social media? Did you notice a difference in your ability to practice mindfulness? And if so, how?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

When You Are Sick Like This

Body ridden with various aches and pain, fatigue, fever . . . the last thing I feel like doing is to sit and practice mindfulness! And yet, I know having the flu is no excuse. Being enveloped by lots of physical unpleasantness does not mean one cannot practice. Quite to the contrary, not feeling good represents the perfect opportunity for investigating mind's reactivity and aversive tendencies. And so, this morning, I willed myself into sitting first thing, heeding Ajahn Chah's teaching - from Our Real Home:
The more tired you feel, the more refined you have to keep focusing on in every time. Why? So that you can contend with pain. When you feel tired, stop all your thoughts. Don't think of anything at all. Focus the mind in at the mind, and then keep the mind with the breath: buddho, buddho. Let go of everything outside. Don't get fastened on your children. Don't get fastened on your grandchildren. Don't get fastened on anything at all. Let go. Let the mind be one. Gather the mind in to one. Watch the breath. Focus on the breath. Gather the mind at the breath. Just be aware at the breath. You don't have to be aware of anything else. Keep making your awareness more and more refined until it feels very small, but extremely awake. The pains that have arisen will gradually grow calm. Ultimately, we watch the breath in the same way that, when relatives have come to visit us, we see them off to the boat dock or the bus station. Once the motor starts, the boat goes whizzing right off. We watch them until they're gone, and then we return to our home.We watch the breath in the same way. We get acquainted with coarse breathing. We get acquainted with refined breathing. As the breathing gets more and more refined, we watch it off. It gets smaller and smaller, but we make our mind more and more awake. We keep watching the breath get more and more refined until there's no more breath. There's just awareness, wide awake. [...] When you're sick like this, gather the mind into oneness. This is your duty. Let everything else go its own way. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, whatever: Let them go their own way. Just stay focused on your duty. If any preoccupation comes in to bother the mind, just say in your heart: "Leave me alone. Don't bother me. You're no affair of mine." If any critical thoughts come up — fear for your life, fear that you'll die, thinking of this person, thinking of that person — just say in your heart, "Don't bother me. You're no affair of mine."
Being grateful for the opportunity to practice . . . and hopefully becoming more wise.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Small Boat in a Big Ocean

It started with a request from the accountant. I needed to find out the exact price I had paid for my old house fifteen years ago. Buried in a pile of old papers,  the information surfaced, and other tidbits also that brought me right back to that time. Mind was quick. The divorce, details of the parting, images of my ex, of the children so young then . . . heart got flooded all of a sudden with a strong current of emotions. Grief, sadness, remorse, regret, love welled up, and I could feel myself going down, fast. 

Now was the moment, I felt, to experience things differently. The last few days' insight still fresh, awareness begged to take a different standpoint. Image of small boat shaken by a strong wind and ready to capsize popped into my mind, and I knew of a better place to be than in it. The ocean was vast, and I could sense the vastness that can absorb all. That afternoon's ripple was very small indeed, another conditioned phenomenon, transient emotions tied to a cause that would soon vanish as they always do.

I stood, sat, and walked with the emotions, and the awareness of the emotions, and the wisdom filtering through. And responded to the even greater love calling. Oh! the joy . . . 

Another related insight I have had lately deals with the subtle common misunderstanding of enlightenment and what it must feel like. The way I view this big word, is as a moment-to-moment phenomenon, when the truth of the big ocean makes itself known. It does not mean not experiencing and feeling pain, or difficult emotions, or unpleasantness. Instead it is about being with the whole package differently, and accepting things the way they are, letting go of the wanting that life would be all pleasure and satisfaction. An enlightened person is one for whom enlightenment is an ongoing phenomena. For most of us, it comes and goes.

How do you relate to the small boat and the big ocean? Do other images speak more to you? What does being enlightened mean to you?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

5 Tips For Wannabe Mindfulness Teachers

From being a student, and also a teacher of mindfulness, I have learned a few things that I would like to pass along to 'wannabe' teachers:

1. Have integrity as a teacher
Learn from a reputable teacher. Sit every day for 30 minutes at least, and go on a long silent retreat at least once a year. Do not follow someone else's script. Instead let the words flow from your in-the-moment experience and your own practice. If not able, better have your 'student' listen to a recording of a more experienced teacher.

2. Do not add to the moment
Mindfulness practice is simply about being aware of what is. It is not about visualizing what is not there, or forcing your breath into a different rhythm. Those techniques belong to other types of meditation practices with a different goal.

3. Stay away from 'I' and 'You'
Instead go for 'we' statements, or even better, action oriented instructions without personal pronouns, e.g. "body sitting still, being breathed", or, "turning our attention to the experience of hearing sounds", etc. This way, the possibility of experiencing not self gets introduced.

4. Leave the space open for the wide range of possible experiences
Do not impose your idea of what the now ought to be. During body scan, make room for possibility not just of sensations but also of no sensations. During mindfulness of emotions, give examples of many emotions, and also possibility of not knowing. Also, do not tell people that they should not think - such a common misconception, that get unfortunately passed on by so many untrained 'teachers'!

5. Talk, but not too much
Guiding means you need to use verbal guidance throughout the meditation to hold students' experience. It does not mean placating the whole time with non stop talking. You want to give students a chance to take in your instructions, and then experience for themselves. 

With deep gratitude to those teachers from which I learned much about the art of teaching mindfulness: Gil Fronsdal, Bob Stahl, Jon Kabat-Zinn

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It's Like This

Joy has been with me, ever since I wrote yesterday's post. Tonight, I could not resist continuing with Ajahn Sumedho, along the same theme of awareness as refuge - this time from his book Intuitive Awareness:
Awareness is your refuge: 
Awareness of the changingness of feelings, 
of attitudes, of moods, of material change 
and emotional change: 
Stay with that, because it’s a refuge that is 
indestructible. 
It’s not something that changes. 
It’s a refuge you can trust in. 
This refuge is not something that you create. 
It’s not a creation. It’s not an ideal. 
It’s very practical and very simple, but 
easily overlooked or not noticed. 
When you’re mindful, 
you’re beginning to notice, 
it’s like this.
Still fragile mind needs to be constantly reminded. Earlier today, my husband asked, if I was still feeling giddy from 'the monk'. Then, I said yes. Tonight, with the interruption of an unpleasant email, I found myself slipping into anxiety, and much unpleasantness. Ajahn Sumedho was not completely forgotten though, and mind knew it was wavering off the path. T'was time to  refresh . . . and to learn once more, 'it's like this'. That knowledge is the ultimate refuge, the boundless safety that allows one to be one step removed from the fleeting disturbance. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

There is No Problem

To be in the company of a monastic, even if only through written words, always brings much clarity, peace, and joy into my life. Today, I choose to spend time with Ajahn Sumedho:
My advice is not to make a problem of yourself. Give up making a problem about yourself, or how good or bad you are, or what you should or shouldn’t be.
Yes, that sense that 'I' am a defective product that needs to  be improved . . . Or that, if only, there was not this knot, right in my core. Maybe, some day . . . I have not gotten it right, not quite yet. So many variations along the same theme, and underneath each one, a distrust, a subtle hating of the way I experience myself. Like pulling on the cord, only making the knot even tighter. 
Learn to trust in your awareness more, and affirm that; recognize it and consciously think, ‘This is the awareness ― listening ― relaxed attention.’ Then you will feel the connection. It is a natural state that sustains itself. It isn’t up to you to create it. It isn’t dependent on conditions to support it. It is here and now whatever is happening. Every moment we recognize awareness ― and really trust and learn to appreciate it ― joy comes, compassion comes, and love. But it isn’t personal; it isn’t based on liking, preferences, or kammic attachments.
Such a welcome point of view! That 'it' is there, no matter what, no matter how I feel, and that I can rest into it.  The constantly available safety of dhamma. 

The dhamma is not the destruction of conditioned phenomena, but the container of it. All possibilities of conditioned phenomena arise and cease in the dhamma; and there is nothing that can bind us once we see that, because the reality of the dhamma is seen rather than the forms that arise and cease. Mindfulness reflections are skilful means the Buddha developed for investigating experience, for breaking down the illusions we hold, for breaking through the ignorance we grasp at, for freeing ourselves from form, the limited and the unsatisfactory.
I love, love this: The dhamma is not the destruction of conditioned phenomena, but the container of it. So powerful! It's about seeing what is, not going at it with irritation and spite. The clear seeing is what leads to freedom from the tyranny of delusion. Understanding the frailty of conditioned happiness, and the temporary nature of conditioned unhappiness. We are like a small boat constantly bounced around by the currents in the deep ocean of life, whereas the bottom of the sea stays still . . . I see this every day. It does not take much for my mind to go from high to low. Sometimes, a wind from the outside, blowing in one direction or the other. Other times, inner movements from old thoughts ready to bubble up. 
Rather than teaching too many techniques now, or giving too much structure, I prefer to encourage people just to trust themselves with mindfulness and awareness.
Yes, keeping it simple. It is kind of ironic, this human tendency of complicating even the most natural of things, such as here, the practice of being with what is. Of course there are misconceptions to be dealt with, and a few traps to avoid along the way! The other day, a girlfriend of my daughter mentioned that she could not meditate. She had tried and had found it impossible "to stop my thoughts" . . . I asked who had taught her such nonsense, and she told me her martial art teacher had instructed her. 
Often meditation is taught with this sense that one has to get something or get rid of something. But that only increases the existing idea of ‘I am somebody who has to become something that I am not, and has to get rid of my bad traits, my faults, my defilements.’ If we never see through that, it will be a hopeless task. The best we will ever do under those circumstances is maybe modify our habit-tendencies, make ourselves nicer people and be happier in the world ― and that isn’t to be despised, either ― but the point of the Buddha’s teaching is liberation.
Stepping out of our habitual condition of striving for something or the absence of something.  I understand this in my head somehow . . . 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I Got So Irritated

I needed that time to sit and recollect. I needed to feel the company of my fellow dharma friends. I needed the quiet stillness to be with myself. A nice, firm pillow behind my back, feet firmly planted on the floor, off I was practicing mindfulness. 

'til, someone came and interrupted. I fancied the person to be a man. Huffing and puffing, he made his way past the whole front row where I was sitting, around the back, and planted himself on the chair right behind me. He would settle down. All that breathing, and the screeching sound of his down jacket rubbing against itself with his every move, all that would stop soon. It usually does. I started to notice my growing irritation. Thoughts of getting up and leaving, just like that. He let me see what was really stored inside this heart of mine. Not very kind, was I? I remembered similar times before, and how I had felt almost foolish afterwards, for having gotten so worked up for some candy wrappers un-twirled a bit too slowly, or other rudeness from a near fellow meditator. He was breathing hard, after all. Maybe he was ill, I wondered? Enough thinking, back to the breath, my own. No, not possible. This was an opportunity to reflect, and not so much meditate. So many attachments I have, as tonight with my insistence that the place be quiet . . . I did not get what I wanted, but I certainly got what I needed. 

The bell rang, and my neighbors and I all turned back to see. In the back of us, an old man was sitting with a hearing device. His eyes and mine met, and we exchanged a smile. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

How Technology Can Really Help Me Stay Mindful

Almost every week now, a new mindfulness app comes out, with the goal to use tech to get me to practice more. I love mindfulness, I love tech. And I also think tech people have not yet figured out how to best serve people like myself. As with any new technology, the first thing is to figure out the psychology of the user. What is it that I need as a practitioner?

I will tell you first what I don't need. I do not need another fancy timer, the one in my iPhone is good enough. I do not need another website to go to, to find other fellows to sit with. I've got Twitter and #wannasit or #OMCru with the advantage of flexibility and simplicity. I do not need a counter to keep track of how many minutes I spend meditating. This is not a competition. I do not need tech to tell me when, where, how much, and with whom to practice.

Where tech can be helpful, though, is in mitigating the potential hazards from tech use itself. What I need are built in mechanisms for all the online worlds I visit, that remind me when I have gotten lost.  I want a google app that 'knows' and can warn me when I have been surfing mindlessly for too long. I want a Facebook app that lets me know when I have been spending a bit too much time looking at my friends' pages, or visited the site too many times in one day.  I want a Twitter app that keeps my visits to a predetermined (by me) number every day . . . Of course, there is a glitch. My intention to use tech more wisely goes in the face of advertisers' goals to keep me online longer, and outside of my habitual realms. 

What are your thoughts on mindfulness and tech?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Connected, or Split Self?

Rushing through the day, I found myself eating bowl of cereal while checking emails. And got hit with the realization of the risk to one's well-being, of the mindless use of technology. Not until I paused, and sensed what else was happening, did I notice the split in consciousness that had just taken place. Sure, I had connected to the big world out there, all the way to Stanford, and MIT research labs. I had clicked on interesting folks' profiles, signed up for an upcoming event. Mind was excited . . . And yet, I had related to the world from such a narrow band of consciousness. Only thinking mind involved. 

How about the tasting of dried cherries, of crunchy almonds, of granular cereals, and sweet milk? How about the drumming of the spoon against the bowl? How about the loud sound of chewing? How about the gratitude for such good food taken in? How about the experience of sitting up straight, and bringing the cold metal to one's lips? How about the major event of swallowing? How about the breath? How about . . . ? So many sensations happening either sequentially or in unison, and adding up to a rich, multifaceted  experience. I had missed most of it. 

When multitasking on the computer, the web almost always win. There is nothing wrong with being online. It is all a matter of bringing all of oneself to the experience. Remembering, when I am working online, I am working online, and not doing anything else. I am aware of the experience of fingers clicking on the keyboard, and the cliquetis noise. I am aware of how I sit, and the sensation of the sole of my feet on the floor. I am aware of mind engaged in cyberspace. I am aware of body being breathed. 

Being connected online, and with oneself.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How It Wants to Be

I am a big fan of Charlotte Selver. Every day, I take in a bit more wisdom from her book, Waking up. Here is an excerpt that speaks directly to the importance of being honest with ourselves:
In exploration, whatever should offer itself as a problem is just there to be explored and to be gradually evened out, and that evening out, that resolution, comes all by itself when we accept the problem as a part of the way. It is not what you think 'should' be, but what is, that is interesting. When you have the expectation that something 'should' be in such and such a way, you will never learn what your nature wants. 
You have a very beautiful indication yourself, each one of you, which always tends toward more functioning, even if we don't understand how. It very often goes for a while through not more functioning but less functioning. In other words, the process doesn't go in a straight line, it goes only the way we can already permit something, no matter where that leads us. And when there is a 'no' in you, a barrier, don't try to force through it, but find out what wants to happen instead. In other words, follow up what happens in you. I say "what happens", not "what you try to create". Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you felt, "This is it," that a little moment later you felt, "No, it is a little more this way"? You thought you had it all, and then something more comes yet, and so on. That's the development of human nature. . . . How we start doesn't make any difference. When we come on the way we are on the way, and we continue to be on the way probably until we die. Every step which we make, and which we feel, unfolds us further. The question is whether we take the first step. [...] 
When you begin to wake up you feel more what is hindering you - what is 'not you', so to say. And only by following your own feeling can you get to what your nature actually wants. [...] There is something in us which can give us exact information as to how it wants to be. This is built into every person. We have been thoroughly educated not to listen to it. We are educated to follow that which should be, or ought to be, but not how it wants to be. How-it-wants-to-be follows our own way of orientation. The other way follows our conditioning and education, and since we are from our youth accustomed to "Father or Mother knows better," or, "Teacher knows better," we have been thoroughly deprived of trusting this inner wisdom, which each person has in himself, and follow rather the advice of others. There lies great unused richness in us which we gradually have to dig out and develop. And when you get to it you will be astonished what all comes into the open which you didn't know was there. 
A while ago, during an interview with a dharma teacher, I talked about the knot I had been carrying around for so long, in the pit of my stomach. The truth is I didn't know what the knot was about, but I let myself be led by the teacher's questioning, "What is the knot about?", and I rushed into a mind-made conclusion of 'self-hate'. Real wisdom would have been to stay with the 'I don't know', and stick to the raw experience of sensing the knot, letting it tell its story, instead of throwing an opinion at it. 

How open are you to the truth unfolding within?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dissolving the Disruptive Self

It has now become clear, what gets in the way of peace. Sitting quietly on the usual chair, taking a walk amidst the hills behind Stanford campus, savoring a meal . . . the familiar knot makes itself felt, sooner or later. THE knot usually comes with a various of emotions, always in the unpleasant category. Anger, fear, doubt, desire, well up in the heart and obliterate the possibility of ease. Some times, out of sheer habit and long time conditioning. On other occasions, in reaction to outer circumstances, not wished for. THE knot hits me right in the stomach. 

When I sit long enough, the root cause of such unease, inevitably shows itself in the form of  thought clusters, around various facets of 'I'. I know myself well enough to have the list down by now: the competent one, the savior, the victim, the scared little girl, the worried one, the ambitious amazon, the depressed young woman, the lonely soul, the greedy one, the aversive personality . . . They show up at inopportune times. They disturb the possibility of inner happiness. The disruptive self is no more than a collection of sticky, dirty mind habits looking to attach themselves to the pure moment-to-moment experience. It takes time to disengage. 

When faced with manifestations from the disruptive self, I like to ask myself the following questions:

What facet of the self is being triggered?
Does that aspect of the self belong to this moment?
What does the resulting suffering feel like? 
Where is it being felt? in the mind, in the body?
How old is that self habit?

The older the habit, the harder to let go of. Years of stickiness cannot be undone that quickly. One needs to be patient, and kind, same one one would be with a stubborn child. One also needs to trust that persistent 'seeing', and relaxing of the bothersome thoughts and emotions will pay off in the end. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Karma, Not Self, and Loving Kindness

Waking up in a dark mood, I did what I knew to be best for this kind of condition. 

I sat still and let myself be with all the unpleasantness. The grief, the sadness, the regrets, the guilt, and the many torturing thoughts to go with such emotions. I felt the full blown impact of negative karma from actions performed years ago, the effects of which continue to linger. And I decided to drop the guilt part, and to make the best of the situation. Negative karma is a great teacher, a constant reminder of the potency of every one of our thoughts, and actions. I cannot take back the past. I can choose however to live this moment, the best way I know how, guarding the mind from unskillful thoughts, and thinking twice before acting. Reflecting upon the fifth remembrance: I inherit the nature of my actions in body, speech and mind. My actions are the ground on which I stand. 

Karma set aside, I also pondered the fourth remembrance: All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. It helped knowing that what I was going through, was not personal. Family ties, even those I had thought so solid, are subject to the law impermanence, just like anything else. Nothing to be taken for granted, even the love of dearest ones.

Sitting some more, I noticed something else. I saw that each thought centered around 'me', 'I', and 'my' feelings, and with each such thought, a progressive tightening of mind, heart, and body, leading to even more suffering. There was no point continuing. Mind was becoming convinced of 'No 'I', no problem', and. the heart was yearning for loving kindness. Time for 'thou' and 'we'.

'May she be well, may she be at peace, and at ease.' I imagined estranged loved one, and I saw her suffering, and I wished for her heart to soften and her mind to let go. Heart welled up with much love and its own release. I was on a roll. Next came loving intention for another, one whose unconsciousness  has caused me much pain. That he too may be well, and free from reactivity. 'May he be well, may he be at peace, and at ease.' A few more faces surged in my mind, and heart continued its work, ending with giving myself some loving kindness also. 

The clouds lifted, almost completely. Only left, were a bit more wisdom, a bit more compassion for myself, and others. 

We are all trying.

Friday, March 2, 2012

One Underlying Tendency

Tonight, prompted by a 'bad day' made even worse by mind's reactivity, I went down Ayya Khema's list of the seven underlying tendencies, those deep rooted personality traits that keep on tripping us, over and over again. Here is the list:
Sensuality is part and parcel of a human being and shows itself in becoming attached and reacting to what one sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches and thinks. One is concerned with what one feels and has not yet come to the understanding that the sense objects are only impermanent phenomena arising and passing away. When this lack of profound insight is still prevalent, one ascribes importance to the impressions which come in through the senses. One is drawn to them and seeks pleasure in them. When the senses are still playing an important part in a person, there is sensuality. Man is a sensuous being. 
Where there is sensuality, there is also irritation, the two go hand in hand. Sensuality is satisfied when the sense contact impingement was pleasant. Irritation arises when the sense contact was unpleasant. It doesn't have to issue as anger, shouting, fury, hate or even resistance. It's just irritation, which results in being displeased, feeling ill-at-ease and restless. It goes together with being a sensuous human being. 
 The third underlying tendency is doubt or hesitation. If one has doubts, one hesitates: "What am I going to do next?" One doubts one's own path and abilities, and how to proceed. Due to hesitation, one doesn't use one's time wisely. At times one may waste it or overindulge in activities which are not beneficial. Doubt means that one doesn't have an inner vision to guide one, but is obsessed by uncertainty. Doubts and hesitation lie in our hearts because of a feeling of insecurity. We are afraid of not being safe.
The next underlying tendency is the wrong view of relating all that happens to a "self." This goes on constantly and we can verify that easily, as it happens to everybody. Very few people realize: "This is just mental phenomena." They believe: "I think." When there is pain in the body, few will say: "It's just an unpleasant feeling." They'll say: "I'm feeling very badly," or "I have a terrible pain." This reaction to whatever happens as "self" is due to an underlying tendency so deeply imbedded that it takes great effort to loosen its hold.
Next comes pride and conceit, which here means having a certain concept of ourselves, such as being a man or a woman, young or old, beautiful or ugly. We conceive of what we want, feel, think, know, own and what we can do. All this conceptualizing creates ownership and we become proud of possessions, knowledge, skills, feelings, being someone special [...]
Next we come to clinging to existence. That's our survival syndrome, clinging to being here, not willing to give up, not ready to die today. We must learn to be ready to die now, not wishing to die, but to be ready for it [...] Clinging to existence brings us into a dependency syndrome. We want everything to work out well for us and resent it if that doesn't happen.
Ignorance opposes wisdom, and here it concerns the fact that we disregard reality by not realizing that all our dukkha comes from wanting, even if our desire may be a wholesome one [...]
 I read Ayya Khema's advice:
It's very useful to pick the characteristic that creates difficulties for us over and over again and make it one's focus of attention. Since they are all interconnected, minimizing one will help to reduce the others to more manageable proportions.
And I could not pick just one but several tendencies manifesting all at once. Sensuality and irritation, for sure. Also, tying experiences to a monolithic "self". And last, clinging to existence:
This clinging to being alive brings much difficulty to all of us because it projects us into the future so that we can't attend to the present. If we don't live in the present, we're missing out on being alive at all. There's no life in the future, it's all ideation, conjecture, a hope and a prayer. If we really want to be alive and experience things as they are, we've got to be here now, attending to each moment. This entails letting go of clinging to what will happen to us in the future, particularly whether we are going to continue to exist. Existing in this moment is enough. To be able to let go of that clinging means to let go of the future, only then will there be strong mindfulness, real attention and clear knowing. Clinging to existence will always give us the idea that something better will come along if we just wait long enough and that denies effort. Effort can only be made now, who knows what tomorrow will bring?
I worry way too much about the future.

How about you, what are your most salient underlying tendencies? 
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