Monthly Archives: August 2013

Common Sense

Whatever it is that’s happening, we are constantly trying to make sense of it. There is so much going on though, that we cannot make sense of it. We try anyway. We develop an understanding that passes for sense. We compare our sense of things with other people’s sense of things and together we come up with common sense. Some aspects of our common sense are sensible, others are absurd. When we try to live our lives dutifully following the absurd aspects of common sense, we start to suffer.

We are told that if we work hard and stay in school, we will get a nice job and make plenty of money and be happy. We may do all these things, then notice that we are no happier than a person who made a Youtube video and got a gazillion views. Then common sense would tell us that fame and acknowledgement should make us happy. Then we notice that the Youtube phenom is in rehab.

Sometimes following common sense leads us to happiness, sometimes it leads us to rehab. Sometimes rehab leads us to happiness. The only common sense that can reliably lead us to happiness is our sense of taste, touch, smell, sight, sound and thought. Any two people can smell a rose and, although it will be a different experience for each of them, they will certainly experience a common scent. They will feel connected to each other and to the rose, and there will be a sense of peace in the experience.

When trying to live by society’s sense of common sense leads you into a place of suffering, you can recognize that you have been lead astray into an abyss of absurdity and bring yourself back to reality by observing your immediate surroundings through your senses. It can be a delightful bit of rehab. It’s quite sensible.

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Life and Grief

The final stage of grief is acceptance. The first stage of grief is denial. Anger, bargaining and depression fall in the middle. Moving from denial to acceptance is the path of life. Nobody has to die to begin the grief process, we just have to be born. We are born with our original nature, which is inseparable from the universe. This original nature is not concerned with life and death or good and bad, it is only concerned with being. As we grow, we learn to see ourself as an independent body with its own name and separate existence. When we wholeheartedly believe that that is the way things are, we are immersed in stage one, denial. In Buddhism, this is called ignorance.

When you experience your original nature, you recognize that you are connected to everything, from the beginning of time to the far reaches of space. That bag of blood and bones that was born and will die and seems to stand alone in the world is not the most pertinent part of you. There are logical ways to recognize this, such as imagining your life without the sun and seeing that it sustains you as much as your heart does. To fully accept this, and move from a state of denial, requires that you experience your connectedness directly. In Buddhism, this is called enlightenment. Until you experience that, it’s nice to imagine that it is there for you, whether you realize it or not.

Between denial and acceptance there is anger, bargaining and depression. In Buddhism this is called suffering. There is also happiness, joy, love, comfort and pleasure. These are not mentioned in the stages of grief, because they are not states that persist for long when you are grieving. In life, they occur in the midst of the suffering. If it were otherwise, nobody would survive long enough to recognize their original nature.

Through life, as we struggle with depression, anger and doubt, we can be patient with ourselves. As we wander through darkness, we engage our attention in all the concerns that seem far more pressing than realizing our original nature. Suffering is tiresome though. It is helpful to take a deep breath every now and again, listen to the soothing sounds of nature, feel the wind on our face and check in with our original nature. It’s always right there for us, because it is us, more than we know.  

As we observe our experience and practice accepting each emotion as it comes, we will learn to move quickly from denial to acceptance, from ignorance to wisdom.  The intermittent stages of anger, depression, doubt, peace, joy and love will come and go quickly enough that they won’t cloud our original nature with their residue. When we are the sun, things burn up when we touch them and we live in a blaze of glory. 

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The Middle Path

When we walk the middle path, we pay attention to our tendencies to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Although the aim of Buddhism is to save all sentient beings from suffering, this is different from avoiding pain. In order to transcend suffering, we have to be as accepting of our pain as our pleasure.

Life happens in the present moment. Sometimes the present is painful and sometimes it is pleasurable. Pleasure taken too far will become pain, as excessive drinking can lead to a hangover. Painful experiences also contain subtle or overt pleasures, like the peace discovered in the midst of a good cry.

Walking the middle path is certainly not seeking pain and avoiding pleasure. It is appreciating where you are, when you are there. If you are excitedly looking forward to a birthday party, you are feeling the pleasure of anticipation and the pain of impatience. Reaching for the pleasure is causing some pain, but no great suffering.

When you accept pain and pleasure as they occur, you are allowed to be sad when you are sad and happy when you are happy. You always know that beneath these external circumstances, your original nature is shining brightly.

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Suffering Drama

It is very difficult to write about me, because I am dull as doughnuts. What is interesting about me is all the things that happen to me and all the people around me. As I transition from a comfortable, generally predictable life in Canada to a comfortable, less predictable life in New Jersey, my life feels full of drama. From my point of view, I am the central character in this drama. I am also the audience. I have an inside view of my drama. I get 3-D, sense around sound, taste, touch and unfiltered emotional response to my drama. Then, I get a front row seat for all of the other dramas of the people I interact with everyday. Not only do I get a front row seat, I get to be part of the action of everybody’s drama.

The most compelling drama I witness everyday is suffering. All the characters around me and I are busy suffering. We each suffer and we witness each other’s suffering. We interact with each other and increase or reduce each other’s suffering intentionally and by accident, consciously, subconsciously, and unconsciously.  Consciously, I mostly try to reduce my suffering and the suffering of those around me. Sometimes my suffering is my priority, sometimes other’s suffering is my priority. Sometimes I cause suffering in the present to try to reduce suffering in the future. Sometimes I cause suffering in the future by trying to reduce suffering in the present. It is fairly haphazard how this works, because of the intentional/unintentional/conscious/unconscious dynamics.

I could write about all the specifics of everybody’s dramas, my suffering and my impression of others’ suffering, but that is gossiping. It causes suffering.  If I really had a separate individual self, I would be able to talk about my drama without causing additional suffering for those around me. Nobody likes having their suffering discussed in public, especially in writing. I assure you, we are all suffering in our own ways. We are all doing what we think is best to reduce the suffering in and around us. It makes for a compelling drama, except when I leave out all the particular circumstances. Have a doughnut.

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Letting Go

We all know that in order to find peace and happiness we just have to let go. Like all simple advice, letting go is not easy. One of the reasons that it is so difficult to let go is that we have to let go of something. We have to let go of our egos or we have to let go of our neuroses. We have to let our habits go. We have to let our desires and our anger go. It can be difficult or impossible to let these things go. What we need to do is let go of how we think about letting go.

To find peace and happiness, we don’t have to actively release things, that is not letting go, that is allowing to leave. Letting go is even more passive. Let things go as they go. Things go as they go and we have to find peace in that.

If there is a freight train barreling along the tracks, let it pass. If you decide not to let it pass and stand on the tracks in front of it, it passes anyway. You get obliterated. 

Letting go is becoming a mirror. A mirror reflects everything without passing judgement or grabbing onto the images that appear on its surface. It lets things come and go.

Although we are mirrors reflecting things as they go, we are also a participants interacting with things. Letting things go does not mean that we don’t interact with the world. Our actions, reactions and interactions are part of all that we are letting go. Our anger, desire and ego tricks come and go and we are aware of it all. If we resist, it happens. If we let it happen, it happens as it happens. It’s happening. Let it go.

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Autopilot

We are creatures of habit. Our habits are our homes. Much our our life is spent on autopilot. We have our morning routines and our bedtime routines. We are morning people or night owls. For babies and children, creating regular routines gives life a sense of predictability and comfort. Their bodies learn that when they put on pyjamas, brush their teeth, hear a story and get a kiss, it’s time to fall asleep. They slide down a predictable ramp into their dreams.

As we get older we create habits for ourselves to help us make the millions of transitions we make everyday. We transition from asleep to awake, from upstairs to downstairs, from home to work, from hungry to full, from happy to sad, from alone to with others, from one thought to the next, from morning to night. Our habits carry us through all these transitions, reminding us how we deal with each situation so we don’t have to think about it each time. Our habits that brought us comfort as babies sometimes fail to bring us comfort as we age. Our autopilots need to be readjusted constantly.

When our habitual thoughts and feelings take a wrong turn and we fall into a pit of habitual depression, anxiety or anger, we need to turn off our autopilots for a while and steer our own ships. This is not always so easy, because our autopilots kick in constantly bringing up habitual feelings in response to constantly changing circumstances. The feelings come along with habitual thoughts to justify their existence.

If you habitually worry, you have to ride your autopilot like a bull. Each time you feel the worry respond to your circumstance, acknowledge and examine the worry. Try not to get thrown by it. Compare your immediate concern to the great suffering of humanity and throw it on the pile. Take a breath, and see where the autopilot tries to take you next.

If your 3 am habit is to wake up with a fear of the day ahead, your body is in the habit of producing fear at that time. Check your autopilot and observe the thoughts that rush in to explain the fear. Its just a little more suffering for the pile. Breathe and watch the thoughts and feelings. Then rebuild that comforting ramp back into your dreams.

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A Few Tips for Zen and/or Buddhist Practice

The most simple advice I could suggest for somebody beginning a Zen and/or Buddhist practice is to meditate everyday for 10-30 minutes. If meditation is easy for you, do it in the morning and evening for 20-30 minutes each time. If you can meditate regularly, you can do anything. 

After meditation, the next thing is to approach life as though the absolute most important thing is getting to understand your true nature. Your true nature is that bit of you that is the whole universe. You are able to experience that directly when you are not thinking. When you believe that the most important thing is understanding your true nature, then all the other important things that you think about, which may cause your distress, fall away.

Meditation is a focused time to build your mindfulness muscles. The rest of your time you use your enhanced mindfulness powers to pay attention to every thought and feeling that you have. When you see that your thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings, you will stop sorting them into good feelings and bad feelings. They are just thoughts, which are part of your true nature, which is the most important thing there is. It is also wonderful.

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Getting Angry

No matter how zen you may be, you will also get angry. Anger is a difficult emotion. It does not always feel as awful as sadness, but it can be just as destructive. Anger has a dangerous aspect of demanding immediate action. You can sit with other emotions and wait for them to pass. With anger, you feel compelled to do something about it. It is important to recognize when you are angry, so that your angry actions do not cause unnecessary suffering for yourself or those around you.

Anger necessarily causes suffering in you. It is generally a combination of hurt and sadness that brings about anger. That is two kinds of suffering rolled into one. Acting in anger is how we try to relieve our suffering. Often, in attempting to alleviate our suffering, we inflict it on others. When you are angry, you may feel that the others deserve to experience the suffering you choose to inflict. That is not true. Nobody should suffer. When you are angry, it may be difficult to remember that and especially difficult to imagine that it could be true. That is why it is important to reserve a special form of mindfulness for when you are angry. You can use that mindfulness to help reduce your own suffering and prevent passing it on to others.

Getting angry produces a lot of energy and sometimes that energy can feel good. When you are mindful, you are aware of the good and bad feelings of anger. It is important to notice both so that you don’t fall into the trap of getting angry as a means of accessing that good feeling. More suffering than good comes out of anger and the person that suffers most consistently is the angry person.

Like any suffering, anger is a good teacher. It comes and goes. It can carry you away and it can burn down your kingdom. If you pay close attention to your anger, you can prevent the fires from burning. With enough focused attention you can find peace from your anger. When you learn to master anger, then you can start working on desire. Desire can drive you mad.

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Mind Power

We think that we can’t control things with our minds. That is the only way we can control things. We have amazing abilities to make breakfast appear on the table, flowers in vases, monkeys in space, all with our minds. Our minds make us get out of bed in the morning and dictate where our fingers go on the keyboard when we type. While our minds do these regular things they are also amusing themselves by travelling through time into a remembered past or an imagined future. As our minds facilitate travel through time and space, they also manufacture emotions to add dimensions of texture to the experience.

There is incredible creative power in our mind, but if we don’t pay attention to what our mind is doing, it can create an uncomfortable, or uninhabitable, living space. Living space becomes uncomfortable when it is filled with opinions about what is wrong with the world accompanied by the sense that nothing can be done about it. The mind that creates the discomfort has the power to fix it.

To gain some control of our mind, we need to see just what our mind is creating and where it goes. If it spends too much time in a better past or a scary future, it needs to be brought back to the present. That is the most basic form of control we have over our mind. With a deep belly breath, we can always bring our mind back to the present, where its power is most effective.

The present is where we feel our emotions, so if there is a difficult emotion happening, we need the power of our mind there to help us deal with it. When we remain alert to where our mind’s power is going, we can direct that power for the benefit of all beings.

Our mind’s power is like a giant elephant. Our breath is the leash that can keep the elephant from trampling villages, making them uninhabitable. All we have to do is tug on that leash regularly and we will see our mind’s power create a brilliant world.

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Fall Crop

We arrived at the farm almost a month ago. We have mostly organized the home and have been enjoying the fresh garden vegetables that my uncle nurtured to maturity. Each day we do a little something which leaves its mark on the land. 

My uncle departed for his new life in California last week and the renters who are living in his home arrived. They are good people and have a love for vegetables and knowledge about organic farming. They also have outgoing children who have fallen in quickly with my daughter. They are a welcome addition to our little community.

Last week we also planted the fall crop. We put in nearly 400 plants of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, swiss chard, cabbage, collard greens and will add some Kale this week. Just as we finished putting the plants in the ground we got a nice soaking rain.

I find myself generally exhausted at the ends (and beginnings) of most days, as my body adjusts to the new regimen on physical labor.

This week, I hope to give my aging body a rest and we will head to the beach in Rhode Island today. Plants, people, energy, it’s all changing, changing, changing.

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