This Moment. No Worries…

” To be without a reference point is the ultimate loneliness. It is also called enlightenment. The mind with no reference point does not resolve itself, does not fixate or grasp. How could we possibly have no reference point? To have no reference point would be to change deep-seated habitual response to the world: wanting to make it work out one way or the other. If I can’t go left or right, I will die! When we can’t go left or right, we feel like we are in a detox center. We are alone, cold turkey with all the edginess that we’ve been trying to avoid by going left or right, That edginess can feel pretty heavy.”

The above is a quote from Pema Chodron in a portion of one of her books where she writes about the Six Kinds of Loneliness (or Aloneness, as I like to think of it).

She writes about the process of becoming unstuck and how difficult that is. Unstuck from our dependence on always trying to find relief, comfort, cessation of of dis-ease and generally trying to avoid “yucky”, and all of those consternations that can range from a Pimple on the Nose on Prom Night, to Nuclear Holocaust, to This is Not What I Ordered, to Diagnosed With About Two Months To Live, etc:

The question of how to come to terms with all our discomforts. When we desperately want a reference point. That reference point usually partaking of some relief or dissociation from the perceived “problem”. This last Saturday at a day long retreat at our Berkeley temple we spend time in meditation and discussion about cultivating the 6 Kinds of Aloneness ( formulation with word “aloneness” being one that I find more resonant than the “loneliness” referred to by Pema Chodron, but that’s a personal thing, we all have to work with certain concepts for a while and allow our own minds and hearts to address a teaching in our own way). Pema Chodron offers the Six Kinds as being states that we can cultivate within ourselves, they are;

Less desire; contentment; avoiding unnecessary activity; complete discipline;; not wandering  in the world of desire and, not seeking relief from ones own discursive (rationalizing), thinking.

I found all of these aspect very challenging. I won’t go into the heart of her writings here, they can be found through a simple Google search and in her books. She is a profound teacher and a perfect example of a committed trainee who continues to explore the Dharma despite daunting obstacle. A true profile in courage.

What I found most challenging, as usual is the simple fact of the matter, that once I get through reading, meditating with and discussing and ruminating over these concepts, they are nothing until I try and try, and try again, over and over, to apply these teachings, even in the smallest way, to my daily life. That is where the challenge lies for me. I am so conditioned to experience Big Ideas, Big Movement, Big Shifts, Big Drama, Big Finish, Bigger is Better in Everything, that I forget this most basic and useful little idea.

The longest journey begins with one step. Then continues with another. Then another, and so, forth…

I have to remember that change takes

Place at the imperceptible level.

The Big is always comprised of

Many Smalls bound Together in a

Concert that has Objectives that are

Not Apparent within the Thing Itself.  

The White Snow in the Bright Moon

Hides. Resemble’s each the other,

Yet these two are not the same. 

1st Floor. Going Up(stream)…

Starting to plan trip up North. A week on retreat at Shasta Abbey, a few days at Wallowa Buddhist Temple in Joseph, OR and a few days in Tekoa, to gather some needful things and visit with good monk friend in St. Marie’s ID, and assess what the next steps will be in regard to house up there. I’ve committed to two years in Bay area so I am ambivalent as to whether or not to keep that house. I really don’t like worrying about things 1,000 miles away. So, another something that doesn’t require immediate action but bears some real scrutiny.

The main focus for the next period of time will be my personal practice and how to winnow out the things in my life that I’m holding on to for purely nostalgic and sentimental reasons. Nothing wrong with nostalgia and sentiment as such, but they can become bogs that one gets mired in, for old times sake. I have worked relatively hard at reconciling my past and present yet they both still need work. The future needs no work. It will just appear as the direct result of of how I take care of the past and handle the present. With lots of surprises thrown in as the result of a past or present that I conveniently and mistakenly choose to ignore or just can’t see, because of blind spots and good old-fashioned delusive thinking.

I’ve had lots of interesting encounters recently with people in the 12 Step arena and the interface of that process and Buddhist practice. So far my experience is that a number of 12 steppers profess an interest in Buddhism, but are not too keen in actually practicing. I think what I am encountering is 12 steppers who have some years of sobriety and want to ramp up, or activate, a spiritual practice, yet are content to intermittently or randomly show up for anything that requires a degree of committed practice. Sadly the thing I encounter the most are people with substantial time in sobriety being mostly interested in going to the meetings and sort of thinking the meetings are the purpose of the 12 Steps. As far as I can tell, the 12 Steps are supposed to provide a springboard to a new way of life; not endless meeting attendance. It can be seen that the meetings are an integral and vital part of the process, but I’m pretty sure are not the process itself.

Oh, well. There I go kvetching about something that was just traipsing through the wilderness of my head. What’s new?

I walk up the Stream

Looking, seeking the

Source. There are more

Than One. Several it

Seems, that contain this

Very truth. No matter

Where I look;  It’s

From That! I sprang.

As I run to the Sea,

I want desperately to

Keep a good firm

 grip on ME!

5th of the Five Thoughts

This last of the Five Thoughts sort of roll together all of them and the key word is acceptance.

“We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.”

I think the basic premise in this thought is to remind ourselves as to our real purpose in life. What could be more important than to become aware of our True selves, our actual purpose for life; to really come to know a peace and depth that we did not know was possible.
We accept this food so that we may stay healthy and continue our training and practice to become as the Buddhas and Ancestors, for they were once as we are now, and we will become as they are now.
We accept this food so that we may become more than the small roles we have assigned (or resigned), ourselves to.
The Truth is never far away, it just seems that way because we can’t imagine it.
We accept this food because we intuitively know that the whole of life is contained in our attitude towards sustaining all of life and seeing the inevitable end to that condition. If we can accept this we can get at the root of our own suffering.
We accept this food because there is more and we want to see …

It is good to remember that these Thoughts are just helpful pointers to keep in mind during our daily activities. I have tried to substitute these Thoughts when engaging in a variety of human activities, and they have the same use as before a meal.
Stop and look!
Stop and see!

Accepting this food and linking it to “becoming” enlightened is the big hint towards the Truth that we already are Enlightened, we just may not be aware of it because we are hampered in our awareness by how we act.

These Five Thoughts can be the beginning on how we act, interact, look at, see, treat and allow the various conditions in our lives to be our teachers. They can be the beginning because we have a consistent opportunity to practice and look at them every time we eat.
Accepting is accomplished with hands and heart open, and trying to see that everything in our lives is a gift.
Accepting is not receiving, getting, or acquiring something.
It is acknowledging a gift with small smile and a slightly bowed head or sometimes, with a full prostration and an aching heart; and all the various possibilities between the slightly bowed head and the full prostration(with or without aching heart); depending on the situation or circumstance. 

Acceptance and Gratitude….Horse and Carriage.

4th of Five Thoughts…

Although this 4th Thought is aimed at the practice of depriving oneself of good health through extreme physical practices, it is also an invitation to take a good look at our relationship that we have with our physical self. Meditation is primarily a method of using our minds (Our six senses; taste, smell, hearing, seeing, feeling and consciousness (the latter being a Huffington Post-like aggregator of the other “news” that the body sends to the mind), to become aware of how we relate to ourselves, to others and to the world we exist in. What are getting from our food? How are we using food?

” We will eat lest we become lean and die”
The Buddha during his early years followed many aesthetic practices to his physical detriment. One of his realizations concerning the Middle Way was that it also applied to nourishment and being aware of the physical body. That to deprive or hurt the body did nothing to bring one closer to the truth; it is not necessary to be uncomfortable in order to make progress in the spiritual life. There’s plenty of discomfort (mental) coming up as one delves deeper anyway.
This thought reminds us that we must nourish ourselves properly and to take good care of ourselves, We must not be too greedy (#3) nor must we be too abstemious in our food intake. The middle path is the way.
In some Buddhist traditions, like the Theravaden schools, they do not eat after the noon hour. In our tradition we practice the “medicine meal” which is a light optional repast in the evening so that one doesn’t go to bed hungry.
The main idea is not to drift into either extreme. This hold true in all things. The Buddhist trainee tries to adhere to the middle in all things. For most of us it’s probably a good idea to…
Eat! (Not too much).
Enjoy! (Not too much).
Be Content! (as much as possible).

The activity of practicing of adequacy, sufficiency, and contentment are always good boundary guides in the development of Right View, which is the first step on the Eight-fold Path.
We need to have a sense of where, and why, we are going before we set out on a journey.
What is Adequacy? What is Sufficiency? What is Contentment?

 

3rd of Five Thoughts…

The excluding greed part may initially just consist of cutting back a little on our greeds and indulgences. We are trying to change in accordance with Right View and Right Understanding and Right Effort. This means being practical and not harsh or extreme in our efforts to change. I like to formulate it as refraining from doing something and then using restraint and then after some effort the activity or greed is naturally excluded.

“We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds”

This third thought, at its most basic level addresses our attitude towards that food and eating in general.
Wanting too much. Wanting only “good” food. Wanting food we like. Wasting food when we have put too much on our plate. To make eating a central part of our daily existence, etc;
Lots of mistakes come from being greedy about food and drink.
This thought also questions our other desires; i.e. wanting approval, sex, relationships, money, status and the myriad other natural inclinations that can tip into greed or overindulgence.
Many mistakes come from being greedy in those areas.
So, greed is a problem; but also our trying to exclude greed from our minds can be problematic.
Some examples are the alcoholic, the over eater, the sexual compulsive, and those other categories where we overly and overtly indulge, often to our detriment. Ask anyone with those issues how easy they are to control, even when they are aware of them.
In Buddhist practice the way we can approach these “greed” aspects of ourselves, is to be willing to look at and try to change the behavior, without being harsh and judgmental to ourselves, by attempting to actively refrain from indulging in them.
When we make these efforts over a period of time we often find some relief. Willingness seems to be the key.
There are other greed’s that can be very tricky because they seem to be good greed’s.
Spiritual greed. Do-gooder/helper greed. Greed for justice and fairness, etc;
We have lots of historical examples of those greed’s getting out of hand.
In the Five Thoughts, we are looking at greed’s that cause personal difficulties. Those greed’s that come between us and a healthier body, a healthier mind, better relations with other people and with our families.
The greed’s that come between us and The Eternal, or our higher sense of purpose.
Like the previous two “thoughts” there is a whole range of meaning and fruitful endeavor to be considered in the activities of our lives.
These “Thought” questions bring up feelings of insurmountability at times, but in the greater context of “Today I undertake to train myself to refrain from…..”, they are logical challenges to be faced and they become part of the woof and warp of daily life; just like getting gas for the car, tending to plumbing problems, brushing my teeth and generally “getting on with it”.
Within all of these daily efforts moments of pure joy can just arise.

Through these mundane small endeavors a sense of sufficiency, adequacy and contentment can appear, and those three results are a more stable base from which to approach daily life rather than seeking mere circumstantial happiness.

 

2nd of Five Thoughts…

The main aspect of “Merit” is that it is boundless and in that way an active component of Compassion (Love), which is the gathering and expanding (breathing) aspect of the whole Universe. I think of Merit as a “mass”, which is being acted upon by Compassion a “gravity”, a universal force which we can see and feel the effects of.  Yes, science can describe, measure, and in a small way, manipulate the forces of “gravity”, but can’t explain the what, why and how it actually works. The same can be said of Compassion. The only thing we can say for sure is it’s a good thing that seems to help keep everything together and moving in the right direction.

We must consider our merit when accepting it.”This speaks to our awareness of ourselves in relation to our food and to the type of life we are living; our way in the world. How are we in it? The concept of “merit” in Buddhism touches on a lot of things.

It can mean the good karma that can result when we are careful in how we treat others and ourselves.
It can mean the merit of having been born in a human body.
It can mean the merit of once having heard the teaching, to undertake to learn it and apply it.
It can mean the merit of having a comfortable life with people and other beings we love that are in it.
It can mean the merit of recognizing ourselves as humans who make mistakes, but want to do better.
Perhaps this “thought” can be a way of asking ourselves a question such as;
“All in all, as I see my life today; I’m extremely fortunate to be in this situation. My life is good and I want to be sure and live it adhering to principles that are based on kindness and compassion. Am I doing my best in this regard?”
In other words, am I worthy of consuming other living things so that I may continue to live?
Kind of harsh.
Still. A good question.
As we consider our merit we want to be alert and not judge ourselves, to look at ourselves calmly and dispassionately.
If we don’t like what we see, we may want to change some things, or at least be willing to.
Since we say these verses several times a day it is not possible
or even good, to dwell too much on the questions that arise.

For me, it’s better to have them nearer, rather than further from my awareness.

This “merit”, which is boundless and I’m the benefactor of, is something that I can also make alive by consciously offering it to others or myself; to situations, to states of mind, or just to help any confusion or misunderstanding. This offering of merit is akin to the proper use of prayer (as I understand it), in the Abrahamic traditions. We are asking for unspecified help that will be useful on a spiritual level. We often don’t sense when we are getting the help because it arrives at the heart level.