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Showing posts from October, 2013

self reflection

One of the most common explorations of spiritual practitioners is the search to uncover a 'true self,' hoping for an answer to the question "who am I?" It's the ongoing attempt to discover a lasting identity beneath all the behavioral masks we've worn in the crusade for social acceptance, adaptation and survival. An underlying personality that predates all the roles we've performed, the characteristics that developed over time. We may believe that if we can find what creates all the inner chatter, we can gain some control over ourselves.

Yet the Buddha taught that the pursuit for a true, unique self was a misguided and wasteful quest (for example, the Ananda Sutta, SN 44.1). Why? In attempting to define a "self," (as opposed to an "other") we inevitably wind up attaching to certain tendencies that provide a continuing sense of uniqueness, while excluding other traits that we may experience but don't deem personally ours. If I belie…

acceptance: put your head in the demon's jaw

Amongst the most relaxing moments in spiritual growth are the times during which, after so much struggle and resistance, we give up battling our difficult states—depression, grief, awkwardness, loneliness, frustration—and choose to surrender to what's present, opening to and accepting the experience. It's liberating, for there is nothing more futile and stress inducing than being at war with the emotional mind, wrestling with obsessions and moods.

The practice of acceptance is not resignation, agreeing that we will always feel encumbered; rather its a realization that resistance, as the Buddha taught in his second arrow teaching, lies at the core of unnecessary suffering. Nor does it mean we act out on every impulse, or wallow in despair, or give up the practices that bring about balance, such as meditation, exercise, medications if prescribed, support meetings and on. We continue to take positive actions. Rather, acceptance lies in acknowledging and welcoming what's presen…

the other side of ignorance

"What lies on the other side of ignorance of seeing things as good or bad? The ease of of experiencing life clearly, without delusions. And what lies beyond that? Awakening…The spiritual life finds its ultimate resting place in awakening, it ends in awakening, there is nothing beyond it."

So the buddha states (in the Culvadalla Sutta, MN 44) that awakening is not only achievable, but offers a sense of security, or 'foothold,' for one who lets go of interpreting life in terms of preferences and agendas. This could be seen as an effective response to the existential question of how to establish a purpose for life: the ending of following one's innate, default survival settings, along with all the ideas about What's Best for Me, while turning one's attention to deeper and more meaningful pursuits.

The challenge of the spiritual life is returning to the fundamental experience of the present moment in and of itself, "without regard to the world" (i…

Atammayata: The Gift of Spacious Awareness

Attention is like the lens of a camera. Often in spiritual practice we're asked to focus on very specific sensations, such as softening the muscles of the abdomen or reciting metta phrases ("May I be free of unnecessary stress, suffering and fear; may I find ease amidst life's challenges"). This practice can be very useful during anxiety attacks, when the inner voice of fear is so compelling and destructive that we're best served by centering the mind on an alternative object that interrupts the triggering, such deepening in breaths and lengthening out breaths.

Sometimes, however, allowing the focus of the mind to narrow is part of the problem, not the solution. We may be caught up in obsessive worries about the future or in very real setbacks in life, such as physical pain or separations from loved ones. As the mind fixates, it loses contact with the wide variety of sensations and impressions that can create a sense of spaciousness and mantain perspective. There&…

Finding Authentic Meaning for Life

From earliest infancy and continuing throughout life, humans seek secure relationships with others that will provide enough security to allow us to explore the world around us without feeling alone and vulnerable. Supported by others, we don’t fall back on fight-flight-or-freeze programming, nor allow basic survival concerns, such as finding the next meal, to dominate all our actions. Instead we can develop additional relationships with others, and accumulate skills to support us for whatever challenging circumstances arise in the future.

In addition to providing security, belonging to a community provides us with a sense of purpose greater than survival alone: We can develop higher values, such as empathy, care and concern for others, tolerance, self-acceptance, inner peace through meditative practice. It’s not surprising that research conclusively demonstrates that people are happiest when they feel securely connected with a group.

Yet, as we move through life, seeking meaningful i…

Reasons to Forgive

Like many other primates, such as chimpanzees and macaques, humans have a strong motivational tendencies to retaliate after being victimized. After any slight, insult, act of aggression or infraction, we seek retribution against those who transgress, committing additional wrongdoings in response. Alas, these reactions generally don't put an end to misdeeds and encroachments; revenge creates a cycle of vengeance, as most acts of retaliation are perceived—by the original transgressors who receive the retribution—as disproportionate, far more painful and harmful than the first offense (which was often caused by carelessness during times of stress, rather than planned.) Consequently a back and forth, tit-for-tat series of retaliations and counter-retaliations ensue (Baumeister, Exline, Sommer 1998).

Given the disastrous results that invariably ensue, all cultures have laws and processes that codify and enact punishment, taking the retaliatory response away from individuals. No cohere…

Mindful Alarm

Mindful Alarm
Its a common practice to rely on certain phrases as self-motivating, activating mantras; mottos to get us going, to hurry us along, put a move on it, pick up the pace, set stuff in motion and focus our attention. These inner incitements come in many forms, but they all have the same, underlying message: We're really screwed this time, unless we work ourselves up into a lather.

Let's listen in on these enlivening mantras: "I've got to get myself together… It's later than I thought… I've got to get going… There's not enough time… Time's running out… There's even less time now… Oh no, I must've forgotten something… I'm not gonna make it… Get out of my way… So many things to do, and I'm not getting it done… I have to do more… There's something I have to do, but I don't know what it is…"

Put all these panic phrases together, and the underlying message is that the world will end if we don't meet a deadline or g…

Self-Soothing Techniques

There are many ways to add tension to life, from relentless busyness of packed schedules, to setting unrealistic expectations and views of oneself of others; the slight insults and miscommunications of daily life; the drive to succeed, accomplish, achieve; there's no time to rest or fully relax. The resulting, relentless momentum can hijack the outlets in life that should calm the mind; for example our exercise routines can be co-opted by feelings of "not doing enough" and guilt. Even our spiritual practices, such as meditation, can fall into the same stressful rut of "I'm not getting far enough, my mind is still wandering" and "what's wrong with me, why don't I do it more?" Nothing is more detrimental to spiritual growth than turning it into a chore driven by "shoulds" and striving agendas.

If we are to reduce our agitation, short tempers, and low thresholds for difficult emotions, we'll need more than therapy or spiritual …

The Merit Book Reflection

In sri lanka there was a wonderful cultural practice that developed virtue and self-esteem: When children first started to attend school, their teachers would set a side a journal for each student, known as a 'merit book,' (punna-potthaka). So each morning the teacher could ask her or his student 'What good deed have you done?" After the student would answer—perhaps "I helped my grandmother carry the groceries home…etc"—the teacher could instruct the student to "Write it in the punna."

If the students kept up with the practice of writing regularly in their 'merit books', eventually, over the course of a lifetime, these journals would be filled up with good deeds. Naturally, the years passed and the time would arrive when the student became old and sick and, having reached their deathbeds, their family members and friends would gather around and read their merit books back to them, as a way to put their minds at ease as they faced death.