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Showing posts from July 18, 2013

Keep it Flowing

The flowing, fast moving water of a river is far less likely to contain impurities than trapped water that pools in swamps and hollows. Standing water is an incubator for bacteria, andit’s often contaminated, unsafe to drink, and a breeding ground of mosquitoes. When feelings are allowed to flow through the body, they too are safe because they do not poison or destroy the container that conveys it. Like trapped water when our emotional life is blocked, put off by distractions and the busyness of life, it becomes toxic. When pressure builds over time, it seeks out other routes, and the blocked energy eventually floods, spreading all that has developed in this damaging state. Once we open to our feelings as they arise, we create the causes and conditions of mental and physical health. This is what acceptance based, inner awareness entails. Because it’s so vital to our well-being, it’s not a practice to put off, any more than breathing, sleeping, or consuming nourishment.

What Time Is It?

Spiritual practice involves mixing transcendent realizations with the mundane routines of daily life; we are tasked with seeking financial security while understanding that transcendent security only comes from within; we establish a social identity, solidified around skills, abilities and personality characteristics so that we can pursue careers and responsibilities, yet learn via spiritual practice that the self is not a static thing, but rather a process of change.

One of the great challenges of integrating the sacred with the profane lies in the way we relate “time.” From one perspective, time is a set of durations—ie hours, days, etc—that create a communal calendar and clock we live in, allowing us to coordinate our activities. We all race towards the same hourly increments, rushing here and there to show up for appointments at each prearranged, unified times. We coordinate our lives within these increments. Sit go, stop star, tick tock. Our lives are loaves of bread, some long, …
Most of us maintain, through diligent attention and effort, our inner autobiography, a long running, constantly updated tale of who we are, our views and opinions, what we'd like to experience in life. And yet we often act, speak and think in ways that fall outside of what we’ve established as “the respectable” or acceptable. Destructive habits—often located in the arenas of sex, intoxication, shopping, work, relationships, family—along with setbacks and disappointments in life can give rise to a chain of self imposed suffering, what has been ironically referred to as ‘shame spirals.’ We shoot ourselves with additional arrows of suffering in the guise of “I should be better” and “What’s wrong with me?”

While we’ve come to believe these internalized voices of disapproval, what Freud called the superego, are useful* and necessary to maintain correct, adequate performance in the world, such stern reprimands tend to add more agitation to a discouraged mind, often resulting in greater…

The Two Arrows of Suffering

“When hit with discomfort, the conventional reaction is to whine and regret, kick oneself, take it hard. So we feel two afflictions: 1) the inevitable, physical feelings [a first arrow the world blasts us with] and 2) the additional, mental reactions [the second arrow we shoot into ourself]. We may fail to note any relief or escape from uncomfortable feelings [the first arrow] other than to distract ourselves with sensual pleasure. So we cling to diversions, rather than observing what is actually present, the arising and passing of feelings.”
—The Buddha, The Arrow Sutta
This teaching is often summarized as “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” We have in life two forms of distress in life. The first arises from the unavoidable events that occur in life: the pains, insults, rejections, losses, separations, aging, sickness and on. Such events quickly give rise to inevitable, uncomfortable physical expressions, such as feelings that the wind knocked out of us, a hollowness in …

Making Decisions

In life we can expect to face many difficult decisions, exhausting conundrums and cliffhangers exemplified by The Clash's old, catchy track "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" For example, making up one's mind about sticking with or getting out of a stressful job, a rocky relationship, a risky opportunity and so on can make for a tormenting experiences.

The mind has an array of internal 'attorneys' who can argue back and forth for hours on end; and when we believe a verdict has been finally reached, the court case rages up again the following day. One internal lawyer, representing its powerful client Fear, might tell us we'll never find anything better; leaving the job or relationship will result in our ending up alone and destitute. Another lawyer, representing Desperation, might offer the rebuttal "But I can't stay with this another day, I'm dying." Still other voices, expressing a wide variety of other emotional reactions, might pipe up i…

Awakening Together

There is a disposition in the West to direct our spiritual efforts towards solitary practice—eg. a daily meditation on the cushion—placing less emphasis on the role that interactive, human connections play in spiritual growth. While mindfulness developed in isolation can result in great breakthroughs, it certainly makes for a withdrawn and difficult journey. For we are inherently social creatures—the size, structure and impressive functional capabilities of the human brain were developed specifically to allow for interaction, support and learning from others. To guide one’s spiritual endeavors away from awakening amidst human contact is to limit its possibilities growth and joy.

Over decades of spiritual practice it becomes clear that some of the most profound experiences occur within the arena of engaged interaction: It is in hearing fears and yearnings—too long considered shameful, swallowed and unspoken—being expressed that allows us to climb out of our sense of isolation and uniq…

the real deal

One of the core orientations of the mind is toward that of possessing, amassing, acquiring. This is a natural, very human tendency to gather up and stockpile all the stuff we believe will offer protection. Of course, on the hunt for things to safeguard our interests, we don’t stop with objects. We also try to attain other people—in the form of companions, friends and even employees; we prize our accredited knowledge, plaques and diplomas from institutions that stamp us as the real deal, and other personality assets, such our terrific sense of humor , our taste and refined opinions about this or that.

The drive to collect and procure has, of course, some downsides that most advertising and entertainment vehicles will not call to our attention. First, there’s the abiding problem that anything we have we can lose. What we’ve earned might dissipate or disappear, and that’s worrying; all things are vulnerable to change, for they become worn down or outmoded. In time we’ll grow tired of our…

Putting aside the path

The Buddha referred to his spiritual practice as a ‘maggo,’ which means both a way (as in method) and path (hence “ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo” is often translated as the Noble Eightfold Path). That people prefer to use the word path is understandable, as spiritual endeavor is often presented as that which takes us from one place or condition—a state of suffering born of the mind’s default wiring towards fear, greed, agitation, suspicion, etc—to a journey's end where greater peace is available; the tools provided by mindfulness, virtue and insight can be viewed as goal oriented, as they cultivate a state of mind where unnecessary suffering as ceased, while ingrained greed, hatred and delusion are disempowered to a point where they hold no sway over our intentional actions.

The Buddha even used a analogy of the dharma being like a raft that allows us to follow the spiritual path when it reaches treacherous shores and large expanses of water; the dharma is a vessel that provides us safe…