Body, Mind And Breath Are Friends

Posted on Plum Village YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3yvgHciZEk

Brother Freedom shares about the friendship of body, mind and breath in the present moment.

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Working with Chaos

Edited excerpt from Lions Roar postThree methods for Working with Chaos” by Pema Chodron. 

When we feel squeezed, there’s a tendency for mind to become small. We feel miserable, like a victim, like a pathetic, hopeless case. Yet believe it or not, at that moment of hassle or bewilderment or embarrassment, our minds could become bigger.

This place of the squeeze is the very point in our meditation and in our lives where we can really learn something. The next time there’s no ground to stand on, don’t consider it an obstacle. Consider it a remarkable stroke of luck. We are given changes all the time. We can either cling to security, or we can let ourselves feel exposed, as if we had just been born, as if we had just popped out into the brightness of life and were completely naked. Right there in the uncertainty of everyday chaos is our own wisdom mind.

Go to the Places that Scare You

When we sit down to meditate, whatever arises in our minds we look at directly, call it “thinking,” and go back to the simplicity and immediacy of the breath. Again and again, we return to pristine awareness free from concepts. Meditation practice is how we stop fighting with ourselves, how we stop struggling with circumstances, emotions or moods. This basic instruction is a tool that we can use to train in our practice and in our lives. Whatever arises, we can look at it with a nonjudgmental attitude.

This is the primary method for working with painful situations—global pain, domestic pain, any pain at all. We can stop struggling with what occurs and see its true face without calling it the enemy. It helps to remember that our practice is not about accomplishing anything—not about winning or losing—but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is. That is what we are doing when we sit down to meditate. That attitude spreads into the rest of our lives.

Use Poison as Medicine

We can use difficult situations—poison—as fuel for waking up. In general, this idea is introduced to us with the tonglen meditation practice of taking in pain and sending out positive energy. When anything difficult arises—any kind of conflict, any notion of unworthiness, anything that feels distasteful, embarrassing, or painful—instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe in and connect with it fully.

The three poisons are passion (this includes craving or addiction), aggression, and ignorance (which includes denial or the tendency to shut down and close out). When suffering arises, the tonglen instruction is to let the story line go and breathe it in—not just the anger, resentment or loneliness that we might be feeling, but the identical pain of others who in this very moment are also feeling rage, bitterness, or isolation. We breathe it in for everybody.

This poison is not just our personal misfortune, our fault, our blemish, our shame—it’s part of the human condition. It’s our kinship with all living things, the material we need in order to understand what it’s like to stand in another person’s shoes.

Regard What Arises as Awakened Energy

Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but is actually the path itself. We can use everything that happens to us as the means for waking up.

We’re trying to learn not to split ourselves between our “good side” and our “bad side,” between our “pure side” and our “impure side.” The elemental struggle is with our feeling of being wrong, with our guilt and shame at what we are. That’s what we have to befriend. The point is that we can dissolve the sense of dualism between us and them, between this and that, between here and there, by moving toward what we find difficult and wish to push away.

Regarding what arises as awakened energy reverses our fundamental habitual pattern of trying to avoid conflict, trying to make ourselves better than we are, trying to smooth things out and pretty them up, trying to prove that pain is a mistake and would not exist in our lives if only we did all the right things. This view turns that particular pattern completely around, encouraging us to become interested in looking at the uncertainty of everyday chaos as the working basis for attaining enlightenment.

  1. No more struggle: “Whatever arises, train again and again in seeing it for what it is. The innermost essence of mind is without bias. Things arise and things dissolve forever and ever. Whatever happens, we can look at it with a nonjudgmental attitude. This is the primary method for working with painful situations.”
  2. Using poison as medicine: “When suffering arises, we breathe it in for everybody. This poison is not just our personal misfortune. It’s our kinship with all living things, the seed of compassion and openness. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe in and connect with it fully. We do this with the wish that all of us could be free of suffering.”
  3. Regarding whatever arises as awakened energy: “This reverses our habitual pattern of trying to avoid conflict, trying to smooth things out, trying to prove that pain is a mistake that would not exist in our lives if only we did the right things. This view encourages us to look at the charnel ground of our lives as the working basis for attaining enlightenment.”
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Sweet Sixteen

The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing offers sixteen exercises:

1. “Breathing in, I am aware I am breathing in.” ”Breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out.”

2.“Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breathe. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out a long breath.“

3. “Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I smile to my body.”

4. “Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I calm the activities of my whole body and release any tension in my body.”

5. “Breathing in I am aware of the energy of joy. Breathing out, I smile to the energy of joy.”

6. “Breathing in, I am aware of the energy of happiness in me. Breathing out, I smile to the energy of happiness.”

7. “Breathing in, I am aware of a feeling present in me (pleasant, unpleasant & neutral). Breathing out, I smile to the feeling present in me.”

8. “Breathing in, I calm my feelings. Breathing out, I calm my feelings.”

9. “Breathing in, I am aware of my mind. Breathing out, I am aware of my mind.”

10. “Breathing in, I make my mind happy. Breathing out, I make my mind happy.”

11. “Breathing in, I skillfully concentrate my mind. Breathing out, I skillfully concentrate my mind.

12. “Breathing in, I skillfully liberate my mind. Breathing out, I skillfully liberate my mind.”

13. “Breathing in, I observe objects of my mind. Breathing out, I observe the objects of my mind“

14. “Breathing in, I observe my attachments and unwholesome desires. Breathing out, I observe the dangers of my attachments and unwholesome desires.”

15. “Breathing in, I observe the no-birth, no-death nature of objects of mind. Breathing out, I observe the no-birth, no-death nature of objects of mind.”

16. “Breathing in, I observe letting go. Breathing out, I observe letting go.”

The first four exercises are about practicing with the body. The second set of four are practicing with feelings. The third set of four are practicing with the mind. And the last four are about practicing with the objects of mind.

Form

  1. in /out
  2. long / short
  3. experiencing body
  4. calming body

Feelings

  1. experiencing joy
  2. experiencing bliss
  3. experiencing mental formations
  4. calming mental formations

Mental Formations

  1. experiencing mind
  2. gladdening mind
  3. concentrating mind
  4. liberating mind

Perceptions

  1. contemplating impermanence
  2. contemplating non-craving
  3. contemplating nirvana
  4. contemplating letting go

 

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I Can Say

A poem for Thay by Dr. Larry Ward

What can I say about my beloved teacher?

I can say the soft whisper of his voice in the dark night of confusion, fear and violence calls us home to our true self.

I can say that his teaching brings the dharma rain and invites us all to bathe in its healing touch.

I can say that his gentle footstep on the earth brings the winds of peace, the thunder of compassion, and the powerful moonlight of understanding.

I can say that I have been graced to enter the stream of awakening, finding the sun of love in my heart and the miracle of mindfulness in my very breath.

I can say that he tirelessly engages with his whole being in the noblest of callings, healing and transforming the breaking waves of our shadows.

I can say that I have my teacher because he has caused the noble teacher in me to wake up, to wake up, to wake up.

I can say that his practice, prose, poetry and pedagogy speaks with the clarity and honesty of the Buddha within.

I can say that on this very day we are blessed to be here with him and to be here together in this holy moment of no coming and no going.

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Seven Ways to Practice

Edited excerpt from “Breathe, You are Alive!” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Here are seven different ways to focus on putting the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing into practice:

• Following the Breath in Daily Life
• Awareness of the Body
• Realizing the Unity of Body and Mind
• Nourishing Ourselves with Joy and Happiness
• Observing Our Feelings
• Caring For and Liberating the Mind
• Looking Deeply in Order to Shed Light on the True Nature of All Dharmas

• Following the Breath in Daily Life

We can begin to enter the present moment by becoming aware of our breath. Breathing in and breathing out, we know we are breathing in and out, and we can smile to affirm that we are in control of ourselves. Through Awareness of Breathing, we can be awake in and to the present moment. Being attentive we already establish “stopping” and concentrating the mind. Full Awareness of our breath helps our mind stop wandering,  confused, never ending thoughts.

• Awareness of the Body

Our breathing is part of our body. Sabbakaya means the whole body. During our in-breath we become aware of our body as a whole. We embrace our body in its entirety. The object of our mindfulness is no longer our in-breath alone. It now includes our body. We embrace our body tenderly during our in-breath and out-breath with the intention to reconcile ourselves with it, to take care of it, and to show our concern and loving kindness. You may want to modify the language a little, but the content of the practice is the same” “Breathing in I am aware of my body, Breathing out I smile to my body.” This is a smile of awareness.

• Realizing the Unity of Body and Mind

Breathing and body are one. Breathing and mind are one. Mind and body are one. Mind is not an entity that exists independently, outside of our breathing and our body. The boundary between the subject and the object of observation does not actually exist. We observe “the body in the body”. The mind is one with the object it is observing. This principle has been developed extensible the Mahayana Buddhism: Subject and object are empty. Subject and object are not two.

• Nourishing Ourselves with Joy and Happiness

Life in this world is both painful and miraculous. If you can set aside the stresses and difficulties of your day and enter your meditation filed with joy, it is easy to arrive and the state of peace and happiness. Happiness is more that joy. If we are too excited about the future, how can we enjoy what is happening in the present moment?

In the river of our feelings are many unpleasant ones. We want more that anything else for them to change. Joy and happiness are  the medicine we need to strengthen us before we try to cure the deepest, most fundamental causes of our sickness. Whatever we are are doing – we can ask ourselves, “What are the conditions that we have for happiness?”

• Observing Our Feelings

Feelings originate in either the body or in our perceptions. Breathing exercises help us observe all our feelings: pleasant, and unpleasant, neutral and mixed. Whatever feeling is present, we identify it, recognize that it is there, and shine the sun of awareness on it. We do not set up barriers between good and bad in ourselves and transform ourselves into a battle field. We treat our irritation with compassion and nonviolence, facing it with our filled with love, as if were were face our own baby sister.

Mindfulness helps us to identify a feeling as a feeling and an emotion as an emotions. It helps us hold our emotions tenderly with us, embrace them, and look deeply at them. By observing the true nature of any feelings, we can transform its energy into the energy of peace and joy.

• Caring For and Liberating the Mind

When we recognize the mental formation that is manifesting in us, we recognize whether it is wholesome or unwholesome. In traditional Buddhist literature, mind is often compared to a monkey always swinging from branch to branch or to a horse galloping out of control.

When we say “liberate my mind”, “mind” refers to any mental formation that makes us anxious, makes us suffer, or pushes us in the wrong direction. Once our mind is able to identify what is happening, we will be able to see clearly our mental formation and make it calm.

Looking deeply into our body and consciousness, we recognize our internal knots. True happiness is not possible unless we know how to untie these knots and become free. We open our mind so the light of concentration will reveal what is there and liberate what is there. We have to be calm, and we need to take time. Concentration as energy has the power of transformation.

 • Looking Deeply in Order to Shed Light on the True Nature of All Dharmas

All phenomena, whether physiological, psychological, or physical, without exception, are impermanent. There is no phenomena whatsoever with a separate, lasting individuality. All things are in endless transformation, and all things are without an independent self.

If we do not look deeply at impermanence, we may think of it as negative aspect of life, because it takes away from us the things we love. But looking deeply we see that impermanence is neither negative nor positive. It is just impermanence. Without impermanence, life would not be possible.

If we can extend beyond every limit we have created for ourselves, we will see that our life exists in everything, and the the deterioration of phenomena cannot touch that life, just as the arising and disappearing of the waves cannot influence the existence of the water. By observing in this way we shed light on the deterioration of everything, we can smile in the face of birth and death and attain great peace and joy in this life.

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Four Foundations of Mindfulness

Excerpt from Lion’s Roar post “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness” by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

“Come, friends,” the Buddha answered.

“Dwell contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, unified, with concentrated one-pointed mind, in order to know the body as it really is.

Dwell contemplating feeling in feelings… in order to know feelings as they really are.

Dwell contemplating mind in mind… in order to know mind as it really is.

Dwell contemplating dhamma in dhammas… in order to know dhammas as they really are.”

Mindfulness of Body

By asking us to practice mindfulness of the body, the Buddha is reminding us to see “the body in the body.” By these words he means that we should recognize that the body is not a solid unified thing, but rather a collection of parts. The nails, teeth, skin, bones, heart, lungs, and all other parts—each is actually a small “body” that is located in the larger entity that we call “the body.” Traditionally, the human body is divided into thirty-two parts, and we train ourselves to be mindful of each. Trying to be mindful of the entire body is like trying to grab a heap of oranges. If we grab the whole heap at once, perhaps we will end up with nothing!

Moreover, remembering that the body is composed of many parts helps us to see “the body as body”—not as my body or as myself, but simply as a physical form like all other physical forms. Like all forms, the body comes into being, remains present for a time, and then passes away. Since it experiences injury, illness, and death, the body is unsatisfactory as a source of lasting happiness. Since it is not myself, the body can also be called “selfless.” When mindfulness helps us to recognize that the body is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and selfless, in the Buddha’s words, we “know the body as it really is.”

Mindfulness of Feelings

Similarly, by asking us to practice mindfulness of feelings, the Buddha is telling us to contemplate “the feeling in the feelings.” These words remind us that, like the body, feelings can be subdivided. Traditionally, there are only three types—pleasant feelings, unpleasant feelings, and neutral feelings. Each type is one “feeling” in the mental awareness that we call “feelings.” At any given moment we are able to notice only one type. When a pleasant feeling is present, neither a painful feeling nor a neutral feeling is present. The same is true of an unpleasant or neutral feeling.

The mind alone cannot exist, only particular states of mind that appear depending on external or internal conditions. Paying attention to the way each thought arises, remains present, and passes away, we learn to stop the runaway train.

We regard feelings in this way to help us develop a simple nonjudgmental awareness of what we are experiencing—seeing a particular feeling as one of many feelings, rather than as my feeling or as part of me. As we watch each emotion or sensation as it arises, remains present, and passes away, we observe that any feeling is impermanent. Since a pleasant feeling does not last and an unpleasant feeling is often painful, we understand that feelings are unsatisfactory. Seeing a feeling as an emotion or sensation rather than as my feeling, we come to know that feelings are selfless. Recognizing these truths, we “know feelings as they really are.”

Mindfulness of Mind

The same process applies to mindfulness of mind. Although we talk about “the mind” as if it were a single thing, actually, mind or consciousness is a succession of particular instances of “mind in mind.” As mindfulness practice teaches us, consciousness arises from moment to moment on the basis of information coming to us from the senses—what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch—and from internal mental states, such as memories, imaginings, and daydreams. When we look at the mind, we are not looking at mere consciousness. The mind alone cannot exist, only particular states of mind that appear depending on external or internal conditions. Paying attention to the way each thought arises, remains present, and passes away, we learn to stop the runaway train of one unsatisfactory thought leading to another and another and another. We gain a bit of detachment and understand that we are not our thoughts. In the end, we come to know “mind as it really is.”

Mindfulness of Dhammas

By telling us to practice mindfulness of dhammas, or phenomena, the Buddha is not simply saying that we should be mindful of his teachings, though that is one meaning of the word “dhamma.” He is also reminding us that the dhamma that we contemplate is within us. The history of the world is full of truth seekers. The Buddha was one of them. Almost all sought the truth outside themselves. Before he attained enlightenment, the Buddha also searched outside of himself. He was looking for his maker, the cause of his existence, who he called the “builder of this house.” But he never found what he was looking for. Instead, he discovered that he himself was subject to birth, growth, decay, death, sickness, sorrow, lamentation, and defilement. When he looked outside himself, he saw that everyone else was suffering from these same problems. This recognition helped him to see that no one outside himself could free him from his suffering. So he began to search within. This inner seeking is known as “come and see.” Only when he began to search inside did he find the answer. Then he said:

Many a birth I wandered in samsara,
Seeking but not finding the builder of this house.
Sorrowful is it to be born again and again.
Oh! House builder thou art seen.
Thou shall not build house again.
All thy rafters are broken.
Thy ridgepole is shattered.
The mind has attained the unconditioned.

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Remembering Aspect of Mindfulness

Excerpt from Mind Relations post “Remembering: The Forgotten Aspect of Mindfulness” by Hans Reihling, PhD

“You do want to succeed, but you need a balanced attitude toward failure and success so that you can learn from them. Nobody’s keeping score or taking grades. You’re here to understand for your own sake. So this process of developing your foundation of mindfulness or developing your frame of reference is not “just watching.” It’s more a participation in the process of arising and passing away — actually playing with the process — so that you can learn from experience how cause and effect work in the mind.” (Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

How do you remember what really matters to you in each new moment? When my mind runs on automatic pilot I often get carried away by things that don’t matter at all. A retreat at the Metta Forest Monastery near Escondido made me aware of how mindfulness can be seen as purposefully letting go of what keeps me stuck and keeping in mind what makes me genuinely happy.

The teachings of Thanissaro Bhikkhu, also called Ajaan Geoff, emphasize the role of thinking, recalling, and memory in meditation. From this perspective, mindfulness is about active memory or calling to mind and keeping in mind instructions and intentions that are helpful in attaining the goal of ending stress and suffering.

Alertness

Being aware of what is going on in the moment is important for the cultivation of mindfulness. It has a purpose. The Thai Forest Tradition of Buddhism as taught by Ajaan Geoff suggested that alertness helps the meditator to notice what works and what doesn’t during meditation. He continuously asked all students to be very alert and vigilant in order to see what kind of mental and bodily state makes them feel good and what kind of state produces stress. I was told to be alert not merely for the sake of alertness but in order to notice what makes me feel more wholesome.

Ardency

The practice of brining back the attention to the breath or the body as an object of focus is an expression of ardency. Ardency is about making a commitment for training the mind and developing mindfulness. I came to see this attitude as a passion for making a difference, a desire for personal change and growth. Ideally ardency enables me to pull myself out of unskillful states based on my remembrance of skillful ones that made me feel wholesome in the past.

Discernment

Mindfulness as practice of remembering is inextricably tied to discernment. It is important to be aware of whether or not a particular state of body and mind is skillful or not. Thanissaro Bhikkhu asks questions such as: Is a particular thought “worthy” of your attention? Is it helpful to identify with it? What is it composed of? Why is it coming and why is it going? Is it in line with your intentions? If not, how can you take it apart? This does not mean that meditation is merely about arguing with oneself. In his opinion, mindfulness seems to be a means to an end, namely, the transition into more calm and peaceful states without conceptual thought.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s approach is straightforward. When we know that a particular state has been harmful in the past, we should keep it from arising or take away it’s energy by focusing on the breath. When skillful thoughts and bodily states come up, he recommends to attend to them for a few times until one lets them go, too. During the retreat he also emphasized continuously that each meditator has to discern for him or herself what actions are skillful or unskillful during meditation.

From this perspective meditation is not just about being in the moment. Remembering can keep me connected to the Buddhist teachings but also to my own knowledge about what works for me and what doesn’t. It also keeps me in touch with a broader vision of what I want in life. It is about choices and how to continuously shape my future based on what happened in the past.

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