We got together today and talked a bit about the retreat that I just finished teaching. I was struck by how grateful the retreatants were for the quiet of the retreat setting, and their obvious relief to have this time for themselves. I don’t think people need to depend on a retreat to be quiet; you can take some quiet time that is just for yourself, and that can be a real act of self-compassion. The group talked about the problems our society has with anxiety; this has reached epidemic proportions. One way to relieve anxiety is to pay attention to the happy moments in life, since we have a “negativity bias” and tend to focus on the negative rather than positive. I read a great poem by Billy Collins called “Shoveling Snow with Buddha” which you can read here:
We talked about a bunch of things pretty much all over the map! Our main philosophical topic of discussion centered around how to approach some basic life problems, especially: 1) recognizing that we need to stop taking things personally, 2) we can be more flexible and open to changing our minds and our beliefs, and 3) we can take more chances in life without knowing what the results will be. Here’s a great article I highly recommend:
I also told the group about my upcoming online class. It’s called: “Imagining Freedom: Explorations of a Meditative Life.” I will offer it from April 15-May 20. The live classes will be on Monday evenings from 7pm-8:30 pm and of course the sessions will be recorded.
I joined the group from Alamogordo, NM, not a place I’d recommend, other than having beautiful places like White Sands National Monument close by. I’m out of the bad weather, but many of you are having a bad time with the storms, and I hope you all stay safe.
Today I brought up the idea of anger, which is one of the hindrances, as something to sit with gently, rather than immediately try to get rid of it. I offered two instances of anger that arose in me in the past day. One came about when I read this article in the New Yorker about people with diabetes struggling with the rising costs of insulin:
Living with Type 1 Diabetes When You Can’t Afford Insulin
When I observed the anger that arose from this story, I saw that anger was not an adequate term to describe what I was feeling. There was compassion and frustration and sadness. And I saw it wasn’t a problem to deal with these emotions and thoughts because they led me to recognize that I could go beyond those feelings to clearer thinking about the problem and real solutions.
The other anger episode was completely personal and ephemeral, but that didn’t make it less potent. We were in a hotel where there was construction and even though I specifically said I wanted to be away from the noise there was drilling next door all day long and then a large family moved into that room and there was all sorts of yelling and carrying on! The feeling that arose was anger, but looking at it I felt helpless, out of control, frustrated and tired. I allowed it to play out. I also understood that that anger didn’t define me, and I was able to work out a solution, which was to get my room changed!
In both cases we can see that, if left unexamined but just pushed away in meditation as being “bad” we’d never get to the heart of what we’re experiencing.
Finally, and totally off that subject, I would like to send love, praise and thanks to all the significant others (partners, beloved animals, children…anyone) who allow us (more or less) our meditation time on Sunday afternoon. Thanks always go to my spouse, Ken, who today waited patiently for the end of our sitting before we continued our road trip. The quintessential representative of this dog-loving group is long-standing attendee Joey Davis, Mary’s pet, who many of you’ve probably seen on screen.
Here’s a picture I did of him:
Today I visited the group live from Silver City, New Mexico and we had a big, online group! I want to welcome our new meditators and I’ll do a proper introduction for everyone once I’m back home with good WiFi. We talked about the idea of gently controlling our meditation practice as compared to letting things take their course. Both approaches can lead to calm and insights, but it’s good watch your choices.
Even though we didn’t discuss this article, I thought it might be useful to read. Don’t take your quiet time for granted!
Today’s talk was related to the topic on distracting thought from Dec. 28 (Distraction). My problem with this previous post and also the Tricycle article that I reference is that there is an every-so-slight negative judgement there. So, even though I said that “we shouldn’t be eager to condemn our inevitable slide into the distracted mind” just that tone indicates some sort of failure has occurred by allowing the distraction to happen. Do you see it?
So, I offer this article from the New Yorker: A New Theory of Distraction, which poses the idea that maybe distraction is just fine and dandy. Perhaps the relinquishment of control is what we should be encouraging! The group had all sorts of interesting takes on this idea…lot’s of fun, although maybe not the most strictly Theravada perspective.
Here’s the article for your enjoyment: note especially the quote from James Joyce “Ulysses”, which is yummy! We had a lot of fun with our own thoughts on reading classic literature!
I wanted to thank those who showed up today and listened so kindly to my rather lengthy descriptions of Wendy’s New and Improved Adventures in Mindfulness! We tried Jason Siff’s Recollective Awareness meditation and discussed some of the differences and similarities between this new approach and the traditional Insight meditation instructions. If you are interested, go to Jason’s site (link below) and explore what he has to offer. I am still in exploration mode myself!
As always, I’m happy to talk with any of you via phone or Zoom. Just email me.
I talked about the hindrances at last night’s Wednesday sitting group with Mary Ellen, and I’ll talk about similar issues at this Sunday’s sitting group, so I’ve put together some material for both groups. I’ll be going on a retreat from Monday, January 14-January 30, and so will meet with the Sunday group this Sunday (Jan. 13) and the next time will be February 3.
Mary Ellen thought it would be good to talk about the basics, and it doesn’t get more basic than the Hindrances. We notice them as soon as we sit down to meditate. This article in “Tricycle” magazine shows the classical view of treating the hindrances as something bad to be overcome. Basically, it’s setting us up for a violent struggle before it’s even begun!
However, I believe that the Hindrances are perfectly normal. It’s just being human, as Mary Ellen said last night. We don’t want to set ourselves up for failure, because the Hindrances will always come up. We can try watching them with more compassion, and ease up on struggling to accomplish what really isn’t possible: controlling our thoughts! We also want to make thoughtful decisions on what is right for ourselves, and not just blindly follow meditation instructions. The Buddha did advise us to evaluate and think about his teachings based on their effect on our lives.
A thoughtful discussion about our relationship to our practice in terms of beliefs, ceremonies, and letting go….of the raft. But what is the raft?
Monks, I will teach you the parable of the raft—for getting across, not for retaining. It is like a man who going on a journey sees a great stretch of water, the near bank with dangers and fears, the farther bank secure and without fears, but there is neither a boat for crossing over, nor a bridge across. It occurs to him that to cross over from the perils of this bank to the security of the farther bank, he should fashion a raft and cross over to safety.
When he has done this it occurs to him that the raft has been very useful, and he wonders if he ought to take it with him on his head and shoulders. What do you think, monks? That the man is doing what should be done with the raft?
They answered, “No, Lord.”
What should that man do, monks? When he has crossed over to the beyond, he must leave the raft and proceed on his journey. Monks, a man doing this would be doing what
should be done with the raft. In this way, I have taught you Dharma, like the parable of the raft, for getting across, not for retaining. You, monks, by understanding the parable of the raft, must not cling to right states of mind and, all the more, to wrong states of mind. (adapted from the Majjhima Nikaya, translated by Christmas Humphreys)
Since it’s almost 2019 and it’s the Thing To Do, I thought I’d share 5 really really useful (??) mental and physical health tips for the New Year:
Take a look: Tip Number 1 was a no-brainer, Number 2 was a totally ingratiating bow (wow) to 45% of our sitting group. We weren’t completely bowled over by Tip Number 3 either, once we deconstructed it! Anyway, self-awareness is always a good starting point. Have a Happy New Year!
I was thinking that the holiday season seems to be more fraught with the futile expectation of happiness than any other time of the year. On that jolly note, I thought it might be useful to share with the group some odd takes (to me, anyway) on the pursuit of happiness. The first article is Nobel prize winning psychologist talking about happiness as something that is ephemeral, while what he calls satisfaction is defined as more long-term, but it doesn’t seem to be much fun! The other story discusses how the more we define our lives by the need to be happy, the more unhappy we are! I’d like to think that the group got something out of it: but it might be best to just listen to Joseph Goldstein’s video on how to deal with the angst of our chaotic age again and again (giving you the link below, again!).
A Nobel Prize-winning psychologist says most people don’t really want to be happyhttps://qz.com/1503207/a-nobel-prize-winning-psychologist-defines-happiness-versus-satisfaction/
Wisdom for Troubled Times: