Thursday, August 30, 2012

Opening the Heart Door

Following up on yesterday's post, is a practice I developed during the retreat. I call it 'Opening the Heart Door' practice. It is not easy, but well worth the effort. It goes like this:

Whenever meeting of thinking of someone,
get in touch with your heart place
and visualize the door of your heart.
Is the door open, or closed?
How much love does it let out, or in?
If open, notice the sweetness of a fully open heart,
and rejoice.
If closed, even if just a little, notice the pain attached.
How does it manifest in the body?
What are some contributing thoughts?
Angry, blaming, wishful, hateful,
name them all, one by one.
Thoughts about you, thoughts about the other person,
thoughts about the situation.
And then, comes the hard part . . .
Getting in touch with all the love in your heart,
practice releasing those thoughts,
and visualize opening the door.
See what happens, without judgment.
If necessary, contemplate new thoughts,
wise thoughts to replace the old ones.
And remember, it is up to you
to open the door of your heart.

This practice is particularly useful when dealing with difficult people. We can look at them as our most formidable love teachers. If we can open the door of our heart to them, we've got it made, as far as love is concerned . . . 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Necessity of Gladness

I went into the retreat wanting to learn the first levels of concentration practice, the jhanas as taught by Leigh, and Ayya Khema before him. At some point, it became clear that to persevere in that exploration would not be beneficial. I learned the hard way that the release of piti energy without enough pleasantness attached, simply does not work. Three sleepless nights, and a state of being on 24/7 demanded that all means be taken to return to my normal self. I walked, and I spent time in nature. I took long warm showers. I refrained from sitting too long and from counting my breath. I shifted away from pure meditation, and contemplated instead. It took me five days before I was able to feel like myself again. This is why jhana initiation should only be undertaken within the container of a long retreat and under the guidance of a teacher.

I followed Leigh's advice to cultivate joy, a missing ingredient in my overly busy life. Specifically, I was to do some metta (loving kindness) practice. The heart needed to be ready first before the mind could proceed any further. Besides practicing formal metta meditation, I needed to spend time contemplating the nature of heart. For that, I turned to Ayya Khema's illuminating talk on 'Metta'. Here are the salient points from Ayya Khema's talk:
  1. See the difficult people as opportunity to practice unconditional love
  2. Realize the faults we see in others are also our own
  3. Love without expectations of anything back
  4. Practice mindfulness
  5. Don't blame the trigger
  6. Let go of views and opinions about other people
  7. Just love, don't discriminate and know the difference between the two
  8. Practice self-compassion
The seventh point blew my mind:
Now we deliberately start every lovingkindness meditation with ourselves. Many people find it difficult to love themselves -- sometimes because they know themselves too well. [laughter] Which means that they're judging. We don't have to judge ourselves, we can just love ourselves. Judging ourselves and loving ourselves do not have to be in the same breath. We can first love this manifestation of universal existence which we call "Me." And then, if we really want to make some changes, we can find out what needs to be changed, but we don't have to mix up those two, we don't have to mix up our bad qualities with our love for ourselves. They don't have anything to do with each other. But because we do mix those two things together in ourselves, we do that with everybody else, too. They're quite nice, but... they've got all these other qualities which aren't that nice. Or we can see that they're ok, but only if they are just doing something that we're also doing, going along with our ideas. This is totally unnecessary. This is a totally different track -- the mind's track, that's where the mind comes into its own. That's when we are discriminating between that which we find useful and helpful, and that which we don't. But the heart has nothing to do with that. The heart just has to love; it doesn't have to discriminate. And when we can see the difference between the usual judgments and just loving -- not discriminating -- we have taken a very important step.
Being in a retreat environment, I had plenty of opportunities to figure this out. 

It did not take long for the mind to start developing ideas about other folks in the retreat, deciding which one 'I' liked, which ones 'I' didn't like, all without any word exchanged. Indications of partially closed heart, that let only as much love as allowed by long held limiting habits from the mind. Of course, the hope lied in the difference made by the mindful experiencing of the pain of a closed heart. During the retreat, I had the time, and presence of mind to really 'see' the heart up close. On the second before last day of the retreat, an insight arose that filled me with great joy, and that I sealed with those words:
'It is the mind that closes the heart. The love, all of it is in the heart, all along. It is up to me to notice whenever the mind starts closing the door of the heart. The same mind that closed the door can also open it. It is up to me to intervene and keep the door open, giving myself the sweetness of fully open heart. '
A radical shift had taken place, from believing that boundless love was out of reach, to feeling it right there in the heart, always accessible.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Spinning With the Four Elements

During the retreat, I got to practice mindfulness of the four elements, as explained in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutta:
[One] contemplates this very body — however it stands, however it is disposed — in terms of properties: 'In this body there is the earth [solid] property, the liquid property, the fire [hot and cold] property, and the wind property.'
Walking the Covered Bridge trail near Cloud Mountain, I noticed the earth against my feet, and I saw the tall trees, and the big rocks, standing still, weighed down with seemingly complete solidity. There was also the gently cool breeze taking turn with the hot sun against my cheeks, and the sight of leaves dancing with the wind. And in the morning, the dew from the blades of grass on the path, that made my feet wet, just a little. 

The four elements. One can decide on just one, and keep one's awareness on that one only. Or, one can  simply notice whichever is most prominent at any moment. 

This morning, back to my daily exercise routine at the Y, I played again with the four elements. Sensing the solidity of the bike handles under my hands, and the pedals supporting my feet. Feeling the rising heat from body working hard, and once in a while the cool air from the nearby fan. Breath getting increasingly labored, forcing more and more air in and out. And, after a while, droplets of sweat, to remind me of the liquid nature of this body. 

However your body stands, however it is disposed, it is always possible to practice the four elements. According to Leigh, this practice can help us break down the appearance of solidity in one's body, other bodies and other things. It is a tool for experiencing not-self. I also found it a very grounding practice. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Letting Go of the Broken Mirror

Small, broken mirror,
denies the possibility 
of wholeness.

How to rid oneself
of the faulty mirror,
that is the question?

In the frustration
of stuck-ness,
the possibility arises.

This poem, inspired by a dream I had during the retreat, and also Ayya Khema's talk on Metta:
Our surroundings, our environment, is like a mirror. We wouldn't know what the other person has unless we know it ourselves already. [...] As long as those traits in another person are very bothersome to us, we can be quite sure we've got them ourselves. We can be very grateful that we are given this learning opportunity to see ourselves as others see us. It's terribly difficult to see ourselves clearly, because the mirror image is only in other people. But it's very useful to see that, and then use that understanding about the other person, or the things we don't like about the other person, to check out ourselves. "Do I do that too? Do I talk like that? Do I act like that?" We should try to find these same things within. There's no blame involved. If we start blaming ourselves or others for all the things we do wrong, we'll never stop blaming. It's a totally useless activity, because for any negativity that we have an heap blame on top of it, it means we've then got two negativities. What we would like is to get rid of negativity. So intstead of blaming, we look at it, accept it, and change it. [...] Our work of the purification of our heart lies in our daily encounters with anyone, particularly human beings. 
Thanking the difficult people in our life for holding up the mirror that shows us our whole self.

All for the sake of pure love.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Gradual Training

We, Westerners, who are breathing the culture of popularized mindfulness, tend to overlook some of the necessary steps before and after mindfulness. I am thankful for Leigh's teachings on the gradual training that is to be undertaken by one fully committed to the spiritual path. I asked Leigh about the current mindfulness-based movement. Here was is answer:
The modern mindfulness movement is just a way to enhance your life. The question to ask ourselves [as raised by Tibetan master] is rather, "Do you want high quality samsara, or liberation?" Mindfulness as practiced by most Westerners can be a gateway drug to liberation. And one needs to also recognize its limitations.
Leigh based his talk on the 'The Fruit of the Contemplative Life' Sutta. Summarized below are the gradual steps (as translated by me in plain English):

1. Leading a moral life:
Following the 5 precepts of not killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and wrong speech. Practicing right speech, right livelihood, right action

2. Guarding the senses:
Being aware of sense contact experience and not letting it get out of hand, not letting grasping do a number on us. 

3. Practicing mindfulness:
Noticing what we do in our activities and various postures, including change points: sitting, walking, standing, brushing our teeth, driving, etc. Being aware of our body, our breath, our mind states.

4. Contentedness:
Being satisfied with little in the material world. This includes moderation in eating.

5. Abandoning the hindrances:
Noticing, and setting aside the 5 hindrances of craving for sensual pleasures, ill will and anger, doubt about the practice, dullness of mind, and remorse and restlessness.

6. Cultivating meditative absorptions:
Starting with the first four jhanas, and also possibly adding next four (or five). Developing one-pointed access concentration leading to altered states of consciousness and increased clarity of mind. 

7. Insight knowledge:
Seeing the world as it truly is.

8. Liberation:
Freeing ourselves from the prison of our ego-driven mind. This is what is meant by emptiness. 

A clear path, that can be undertaken by all, as long as the will is there, and also the presence of a skilled teacher, one who has already taken and mastered the various steps.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Noble Silence

Silence gives one the space 
to notice one's own thoughts. 
Silence puts one in touch 
with the reality of the heart, 
whatever it might be. 
Silence makes it easier 
to watch one's actions. 
Silence protects one 
from oneself. 
Silence of the human kind 
allows other living things 
to have a voice again 
- the birds, the air, the insects . . . 
even silence itself.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Re-entering the World

Upon returning from Cloud Mountain, my daughter had this cartoon from the New Yorker waiting for me:
:)

Returning to the 'real' world after two weeks of noble silence has been, let's just say, weird . . . Our teacher had warned us. 

This morning, I woke up determined to keep the momentum from the retreat. Heeding Leigh's advice, I sat for forty five minutes, and I intend to continue every day. According to Leigh, it takes thirty minutes for the mind to settle, and the real benefit of the sitting only starts to kick in after that time. 

There is much I want to share about the retreat. I will parse it out over the next few weeks. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Finding Inner Joy

(This and the following posts for the next two weeks will be pre-scheduled blogs to keep some kind of life, here on Mind Deep, while I am away and retreating with Leigh Brasington at Cloud Mountain. Two weeks of noble silence, practice insight and concentration. A gift in the midst of what is a very busy work phase . . .

In honor of Ayya Khema, Leigh's primary teacher, I will feature some of  my  favorite videos of her.)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Very Nice Show

(This and the following posts for the next two weeks will be pre-scheduled blogs to keep some kind of life, here on Mind Deep, while I am away and retreating with Leigh Brasington at Cloud Mountain. Two weeks of noble silence, practice insight and concentration. A gift in the midst of what is a very busy work phase . . .

In honor of Ayya Khema, Leigh's primary teacher, I will feature some of  my  favorite videos of her.)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Loving the Meditation

(This and the following posts for the next two weeks will be pre-scheduled blogs to keep some kind of life, here on Mind Deep, while I am away and retreating with Leigh Brasington at Cloud Mountain. Two weeks of noble silence, practice insight and concentration. A gift in the midst of what is a very busy work phase . . .

In honor of Ayya Khema, Leigh's primary teacher, I will feature some of  my  favorite videos of her.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

All Heart And Mind


(This and the following posts for the next two weeks will be pre-scheduled blogs to keep some kind of life, here on Mind Deep, while I am away and retreating with Leigh Brasington at Cloud Mountain. Two weeks of noble silence, practice insight and concentration. A gift in the midst of what is a very busy work phase . . .

In honor of Ayya Khema, Leigh's primary teacher, I will feature some of  my  favorite videos of her.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Off to Cloud Mountain

(This and the following posts for the next two weeks will be pre-scheduled blogs to keep some kind of life, here on Mind Deep, while I am away and retreating with Leigh Brasington at Cloud Mountain. Two weeks of noble silence, practice insight and concentration. A gift in the midst of what is a very busy work phase . . .

In honor of Ayya Khema, Leigh's primary teacher, I will feature some of  my  favorite videos of her.)

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