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)
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!).
I led a one day retreat in Cincinnati yesterday, and I was struck by the power of the distracted mind; watching others and watching myself. This led to a contemplation today on how easily we slide into distractions which pull us away from the present moment and dump us into the “ongoing drone of thought fragments and opinions.”
The group all remembered that we shouldn’t be eager to condemn our inevitable slide into the distracted mind, but rather, when we come back to our bodies and the present, we can rather congratulate ourselves for our lovely moment of awareness!
We talked about our search for forgiveness and our need to “fix” ourselves and assumption that there’s something about us that always needs fixing. I am taking some ideas from Mary Ellen’s Landolina’s wonderful talk at the Wednesday sitting group. I also quoted from a newsletter I received on a new book by Anne Lamott: Here’s the newsletter that I quoted from:
We had a smaller group today, but it was very cozy. I read a piece on suffering: this time some wise words from the writer Ursula La Guin, who speaks about the universal experience of suffering and it’s place in our lives:
The conversation then morphed into a talk about our views on retirement, being production, and being shaped by our expectations of ourselves and society. It was all quite interesting.
We talked a bit today about anxiety, our own personal sources of angst and our conditioned responses to them. I shifted from eastern writings to the wisdom of the ancient Greeks: here is a lovely article from “Brain Pickings” (I highly recommend the site for bibliophiles!)
We’re moving south this week from the shores of Lake Superior to Covington Kentucky, so I’ll give you a view of the Ohio River next Sunday!
This being Thanksgiving week, and the beginning of the holiday season, we may find it difficult to maintain a consistent formal meditation practice. I thought it might be a good time to talk about the small moments we can anchor ourselves in the present moment, take a look at what we’re doing, and look at our “intentionality.” These are moments when we are not only mindful, but we recognize our ability to make a choice. Those moments where we act out of wisdom are like planting “karmic” seeds which can grow and generate more wisdom and less suffering. Moments where we are acting out of habit or mindlessness have the potential to lead to more suffering.
Gil Fronsdal has a great article on this: Karma and Intention: Link
We talked about the possibility of doing nothing; of resting in a place of quiet, with no “should” and “shouldn’t.” Sometimes we forget that the essence of meditation is to (eventually) get to a place where we are at ease.
Everyone shared some very tender and sensitive places where we don’t often go, and I and I believe everyone appreciated that. We talked about what a strong inclination we all have to being distracted by our cell phones and other devices, and how driven we are to feel we need to “get things done”, unless illness or pain force us into stopping. I suggested this article.
Warning: this article is written (and titled) in such a way as to assure you if you do this you will still be “productive.” The authors are still deeply fixated on our powerful belief that only if you are “doing” something, is it viable.