Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

The Post – The Breath, Compassion, and Pacifiers

March 24, 2008

Over the years I’ve read about or studied different kinds of meditation. Some wanted you to focus on a word or sound repeated over and over, others on a lit candle. More recently the focus was on trying to keep a totally blank mind and completely halt all the “noise” and the 10000 things running through your brain every minute. Of course I failed at all of them…as do most people. You’re so focused on a goal, on doing it perfectly, that when you can’t measure up, you give up out of frustration or despair.

On the flip side, I suspect that if you are lucky enough to achieve what these methods want…or at least you think you achieved it, the danger is that then you might walk around feeling so proud of yourself, so much better than others because “you achieved it.” You can try “not to go there,” but it’s hard, and even if you manage not to be proud, there is also the danger of feeling “overly holy and falsely humble” about your accomplishment.

One of the things I like about Buddhism is it’s emphasis on “Middle path.” No extremes of perfection or failure. This extends to its approach to meditation practice – “acceptance” of, in fact, it’s emphasis on the fact that you’ll never be perfect and it’s not about a goal. It’s always about “letting go and coming back to the breath.” Whether the teacher is Thich Nhat Hanh, from the Zen tradition, or Jack Kornfield from the Theravadan tradition, the point is not to “eradicate” what’s going on in you, but on simply to notice it and let it go on. You don’t waste a lot of energy either trying to get rid of all the thoughts, or giving them more importance than they’re worth. You just notice what is happening, acknowledge it, let it go, and come back to the breath.

Even that though, is easier said than done and human beings have a way of making anything a goal or contest. I think the one part of those instructions that I find most useful is: “Come back to the breath.” The reality is, we will be distracted for the rest of our lives. There’s bills, fights with people, retirement planning, kids, whatever. SOMETHING is always creeping in. That’s being human. And as nice as it is to say “notice it, don’t judge it, just let it go” even that is impossible. Something sticks in our throat and it replays in our heads over and over. Our anger, hurt, pride, despair, fear, will get hooked and we have a hard time letting that go. Accept it. We all do it. We always will. Instead of beating yourself up about any of this you simply, come back to the breath.

At first glance that might seem like a useless approach. Someone more “austere” might say “Well what kind of mental discipline is that?” The point is, it’s not about “discipline.” It’s not about self-flagellation, beating yourself up, getting rid of anything, or trying to be perfect. It’s about being human, and it’s about compassion. Being gentle with yourself. It’s about accepting and loving who you are. Even with all the noise in the brain, you can chuckle at your foibles and still say I’m a good person. I’m full of love, even when I’m distracted.

So why bother learning to treat yourself with compassion in your meditation practice? Because it is the way you train yourself to be compassionate with yourself in life. Instead of expecting yourself to be perfect at jobs, parenting, being a spouse, friend, being a human being, you simply note ‘I did my best. Yup, messed that one up, it happens.’ You pick up the pieces. You make amends. You come back to whatever it was you were trying to do and start over. You “come back to it” again and again and again, with no hope of perfection, simply the willingness to “show up and try again.” So if you can accept with compassion, an imperfect meditation practice and come back to the breath, you can learn to do the same for yourself in life.

Is there a benefit to treating yourself with compassion in life?

Yes. Aside from giving yourself some inner peace and acceptance, it is the only way you can exercise that “heart muscle” and learn to give that same gift to others. If you are so hung up on perfection in yourself, will you learn to cut somebody else any slack? Will you even notice anybody is there struggling, too, if you’re so wrapped up in your own struggle to be perfect? And if you can’t accept yourself as less than perfect, will you be able to accept anybody else’s mis-steps? Come back to the breath. Come back to life. Settle yourself, with compassion.

I often noticed how babies settle down when you give them a pacifier. It’s like they need that to stop whatever is winding up in them, settle down, and come back to calm. I’ve joked that maybe adults need them, too. Something that makes you shut your mouth, take a break from the world, focus on something small, and return to calm.

Given that they don’t have adult pacifiers, perhaps coming back to the breath is the next best thing?

PS People often say animals are intuitive and sometimes animals have more compassion than people. If you think the benefits of coming back to the breath and being peaceful, are limited to humans, check out the CNN article:

Zen (dog) Master: A New Take on Prayer Position

This article has two other lessons about life:

1) Sense of humor – Even in religion, a smile is the most important thing for compassion and inner peace.

2) Beginner’s Mind – Keep an open mind to new possibilities. You might write off the dog’s practice, but how do you know that on some level, he isn’t “feeling” the warmth of the compassion in the practice?

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The Post – There really IS a deeper process at work here

January 29, 2008

Some lighter fare on tap in the next few days…photos of Admiral Byrd waving his claw, Scarlett O’Hara and her molted ghost self, and . . . even the ever reclusive Melanie Hamilton! Finally caught her sitting on her “front porch” – ie the open hole in the Live Rock – at 6:30 this morning. Stay tuned.

For today: So does staring into a tank of fiddler crabs, never mind shooting photographs of them at 6:30 in the morning, REALLY have anything to do with writing?

The answer? It all depends. You mean you wanted a definite answer? Here’s a clue – Mindfulness and heart. Still confused?

Simply said, it’s what you bring to the situation. You can sit there and stare at them and your mind could be on the bills, what you’re going to buy at the grocery store, what you could be doing instead of sitting in front of a tank of crabs. You could sit there and nod, “Yup, they’re crabs. Eyestalks. Sideways walk. They all look alike. So what?”

Or you can sit there and notice that Melanie Hamilton has much tinier front claws than Scarlett O’Hara. That she is timid and almost never comes out of her crevice in the live rock…except early in the morning when the sunlight streams into the kitchen and hits that side of the tank. She loves to sit in the sunlight on her front porch. Or that Scarlett O’Hara, who normally never stops eating and never hides out, suddenly after molting has stopped eating and has refused to move from under the water filter. Or that Admiral Byrd, normally fearless, crawled into his tunnel cave after discovering Peter Lorre’s lifeless body and started twitching and wouldn’t eat.

The difference is how you watch. Are you fully present? And did you bring your heart? The heart makes all the difference.

I am taking an online spirituality course with some friends, studying the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh (pronouced Tick Naught Han). He is an 80-year-old Vietnamese monk who endured the horrors of the Vietnam War, came to America to try and stop it, and was deemed a threat by both the Communist and non-Communist regimes in Vietnam. While searching for peace, he found himself everybody’s enemy. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his efforts to stop the war, and in his later years one of his many healing works has been to heal the souls of former American servicemen haunted by that war. Having lost close personal friends to that war, he has every reason to hate Americans. Instead he’s spent half his life healing people around the world, including Americans.

He tells a story in one of his books about a young man who wanted to learn to draw lotus flowers. So he went to a master to apprentice with him. The master took him to the lotus pond and left him sitting there for 10 days. Can you imagine in today’s busy world, signing up for lessons to learn something quickly, only to be left sitting at a pond for 10 days?

The real essence was what the young man did with that time. He could have gotten impatient (something I know a lot about), and grumbled, sighed, walked away, went shopping, took a nap, try to do something USEFUL with that time instead of just sitting there. Instead for the whole time, he watched the flowers bloom when the sun was high. He watched them close into buds at night. He watched one flower wilt and drop its petals into the water, then studied the stalk, the stamen and the rest of the flower.

On the 11th day the master returned and brought him a brush to paint with. Although his picture showed his naivete of technique, a childish style, the lotus he painted was beautiful. Deep beauty shone from the painting. He had become the lotus and as such, even with poor technique, he could paint something that moved another’s heart.

Mindfulness and heart. He paid attention to the lotus. He worked from his heart. Writing, really good writing that moves people’s souls, comes from the heart, not the brain. You can write a technically beautiful book but without heart it’s a sterile desert emotionally.

I started out watching fiddler crabs not sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect them to have personalities and subtle differences in appearance and actions. And I most certainly didn’t expect to feel such upset as I watched Peter Lorre tumble off his rock, dead.

With any luck, at least a little part of me has become the crab. With just a little more luck, maybe that crab heart will come through in my book. I’d trade a whole bunch of technical expertise for just a handful of heart.

By the way, if of interest to read a good summary of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life, check out this link at Parallax Press.

http://www.parallax.org/about_tnh.html