Thursday, December 6, 2007

'Tis The Season

The countdown to Christmas was well underway as I slowly began to emerge from “retreat mode”. I had to go to the store, for non-holiday related things, and found myself in the midst of the chaos of the season. Most people call it hustle and bustle, but I’ve always seen it as chaos and misery. Happy, happy, joy, joy…Uhhhhhhh! The now recognizable first signs of old habits and patterns preparing to kick in began to arise. Amazingly they quickly faded and I found myself smiling. Wow!

The effects of recent concentrated practice seem to be lingering. So how do I not let it slip away? The obvious answer is to keep going. Why stop because of simply flipping a calendar page ? Since the retreat I speak of was not at all a conventional “retreat” retreat, and one of the primary, and most challenging, aspects was to carry it with me wherever I went, why not just continue? These thoughts kept me company as I stood in line. And stood…and stood. Fortunately the line was long and allowed me time to reflect on a newly discovered willingness to receive each moment as it comes. Or to try anyway.

And so I am stepping back from my imaginary perception of chaos and misery this holiday season. Instead I will see the Dhamma. And I will smile.

May we all find peace, tranquility and wisdom.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Going With The Flow

Lurking just beneath the calm surface of the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico, here along the "Emerald Coast", is an often deadly phenomenon know as a rip current. The view from the snow white beaches can be so enticing - and deceiving. Each year there are a handful of visitors and locals alike who fall victim. Whether they are unaware of the danger or just don't take it seriously makes no difference. Once in the current, fear, panic and exhaustion take their toll, with disastrous results. The impulse is to fight, of course. To escape. To control. That's only natural. But if we don't know or understand what it is we're trying to escape from, our actions only lead to the situation getting even worse. And so we struggle more.

The best and easiest way to escape from a rip current is, basically, to do nothing. Relax and go with the flow, but with mindfulness. Relax with awareness and wait for the current to stop. It will cease in it's own time, which is surprisingly fast. So the best course of action is as little action as possible. Easy to say, difficult to actually "do".

Meditation is like this. Dhamma practice is like this. Life is like this. We think we're on solid ground - in control. But there isn't anything really "solid" about any of it. And so we're uncomfortable, unsure, unsteady. If I stand in the water and actually pay attention, there is a continuous push and pull. Sometimes barely even noticeable, sometimes rough and very strong. Mind is the same. Sometimes just barely brushing by and sometimes knocking one flat! Mindfulness - or the lack of it - determines whether we get pulled under and drown or go with the flow until the turbulence begins to subside, calms and finally ceases. This, perhaps, is where control can be found. Not the control of wanting and struggling, but the control of gently releasing the desire for control. Being with the way it is without making it personal, so not trying to change it into anything other than what it is.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Buddha Rupa?

It seems that every department store from Walmart to Macy's has at least one "Buddha" for sale. It's become very trendy. Buddha bookends, doormats, candle holders, wind chimes. Buddha statues for the garden and the coffee table. Even Buddha pajamas! Buddha is everywhere.

I don't have a Buddha rupa. I don't have a shrine. I've never felt the need. Plus I just can't invision zipping over to the local Target and putting Buddha in the shopping cart along with my paper towels, dog biscuits and new bath mat. A friend of mine has a little Buddha paperweight on his desk. Actually it's Hotei, but it doesn't really matter. To him it's a cool little ornament. He thinks it's cute and unique. And he thinks it's "Buddha". No need to get into explanations and corrections here. It's just a paperweight.

Everything the Buddha taught is right here for me to learn. I may not always see it right away, or fully understand. But I know it's here all the same. I've mentioned before that I need reminders for dates and times. I've got calendars, notes on the fridge, and alarms set on my phone. I still forget things. Remembering the Buddha isn't difficult at all. No reminders needed.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hello Mara...

Barely into sort of an experimental personal retreat, Mara makes his presence known. To have expected anything less would have been's all good.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Embracing Without Clinging...

I've added a visual reminder of the Uposatha days here. I've always had a hard time with dates and times, so I need all the help I can get!

This is a particularly challenging aspect of practice for me. I do not live in a culture that is geared for such things. And the potential for problems that comes with being the only Buddhist in the family seems endless at times. I had never realized just how often others make plans that include me - and the opposite of renunciation - until I decided to observe the Uposatha. It requires a healthy mixture of mindfulness, compassion, equanimity... and a whole lot of creativity with a generous sprinkling of flexibility. While I am not always completely successful in my efforts to avoid rocking the boat while going against everyone else's flow, gradually whatever perceived disturbances there may be for all appear to be diminishing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Kamma Rising

I have a picture in my mind of a mixture of kammic ingredients that are sort of, well ... simmering. This concoction is what makes me "me". It remains unfinished and ever changing. I can choose what to add - or not add - to the mix, but what's already there is beyond my control and will remain until it dissipates on it's own. I have no idea what may be ready to rise to the surface, for better or worse.

I was drawn to Buddhism because I have been drawn to it at sometime in the past, maybe numerous times. I am keenly aware of how fortunate it is that I have the opportunity to continue. That it took around 45 years to recognize this path and to remember that it is where I belong is quite telling, I think. No, I'm not remembering past lives! But there is a deep sense of familiarity and safety. Much like the feeling one has when finally returning home after a long and difficult journey, or finding ones way after being lost. That I was born in a "non-Buddhist" family and country speaks volumes to me of the power of kamma, past and present. Something was obscuring my view during all those years. Hopefully things will continue to clear and there will be sufficient wholesome kamma to allow me to continue.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Play Ball!

There is a saying in baseball that you can't hit what you can't see. Fastballs that is. Catching them is a bit easier if you're really paying attention, but ask any good catcher and they'll admit that it can be difficult...and painful.

If you imagine a monkey hurling fastballs for all he's worth, you'll have a pretty clear picture of what meditation has been like for me lately. This was the image that popped up as I sat there yesterday morning growing more and more frustrated and distracted. Obviously there were some lingering fragments from watching a playoff game on TV recently that helped fill in the blanks. At any rate, this began to come into focus and things started to shift. Other than the fact that I sometimes have a bizarre imagination, what does this mean?

Well, I know this little guy! I've willingly, even eagerly played his game for a long, long time. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I taught him the game in the first place. And he likes it! He's good at it! He's in a groove, as they say! And apparently he's not at all happy that I don't want to play anymore. So the more I tried to reject him and ignore him, the harder and faster he threw. Ouch! I turned my back and got nailed! But, when I turned around and stopped trying to deny that he was there, the barrage ended. Ok, he didn't just pack up and leave, and he's got a lot of stuff left. But he seems content, for the time being anyway, to lob one my way once in a while instead of trying to take my head off with it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Testing Ground

This life, and the world in which it is being lived, is like a testing ground. I just keep crashing in to things - other people, myself, situations, feelings, impulses. But, unlike that guy over there, I have choices. Results are obtained from the tests he is involved in. The idea is to learn from those results and do the work needed to improve things a bit. So why do I have such a hard time figuring out that much of what I keep doing keeps me in this endless cycle of suffering?

When I look back at my life to this point, it's rather mind boggling to see how many times I've just charged full speed ahead into the same walls...over and over and over again, surprised each and every time that the result is always the same. Talk about a dummy! It's as if at birth some kind of auto pilot switch was activated and I can't seem to override it.

The Buddha offered us a way out of suffering, and he basically said, "Don't just take my word for it, test this out yourself and see if it works for you". So why is there any hesitation at all in getting on with the test? What could be more important than the end of suffering? If my house was on fire would I wait until my favorite TV show was over before getting out and calling for help? If I was having a heart attack or began hemorrhaging would I decide to finish reading an interesting article or even listening to a Dhamma talk before calling 911? No, of course not. Those threats would be obvious, no analysis necessary, mindfulness not even required. Then how is it that I keep getting drawn in by those familiar walls that I keep slamming in to? I'm afraid I continue to spend a lot of time just going through the motions - reacting to the world around me without proper analysis of where the reactions are coming from as they begin. Lately I have been learning to put it together, and just that much is an improvement. But there is still a delay in recognition. So often I find myself poking through the wreckage to identify the cause instead of seeing it coming and preventing it in the first place.

And so the testing continues.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Falling Down

I turned 52 a couple of weeks ago. The day brought with it the usual birthday stuff, eventually. More importantly it presented some valuable lessons in mindfulness, patient endurance, and how quickly suffering (dukkha) moves in to take their place when we let them slip away.

I don't think my advancing age was much of a factor ?? but things started off with a bang - literally. While walking out of the kitchen with a much needed mug of coffee, one of the dogs stepped on the back of my flip-flop. I don't think I flipped exactly, but I did flop! Not surprising I suppose when 100 lbs of enthusiastic canine decides to stand in the same shoe you're trying to walk in. By the way, I didn't spill a drop of my coffee, which defies gravity at the very least. But I didn't get to drink it either. Lesson #1 Pay attention to what you're doing and where you're going - and who's following close behind instead of trying to sip coffee in route.

So there I was on the floor, and there was pain. But for the first time in my life there were none of the stories and add ons that usually go along with pain. There was pain but no suffering. I was OK. A visit to the emergency room confirmed what I already knew - broken ankle. Chipped is more accurate. I'm not a "high drama" kind of person anyway, but this sense of calm and acceptance was new for me. I saw this as an opportunity for practice. It was temporary.

I managed pretty well scooting around with my new crutches. There wasn't much I couldn't do, and what I was unable to get to could wait. It's important to note that this all happened on a Sunday which meant that my husband was at home with me and was doing a lot for me that I wasn't really noticing. Things were about to change. The next morning when I woke up he had already left for work. I happily hobbled into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. While it brewed I let the dogs out for their morning business, and even tidied up a bit. A bit of pride was beginning to creep in. "Look at me, I'm still in control here". Of course I didn't see this happening at the time. Lesson # 2 Ego will push mindfulness out of the way if bored or threatened, or just because it can. It can also cause you to take the help given by others for granted.

This illusion of mindfulness and patient endurance came to a screeching halt when I poured my coffee and suddenly realized that it is impossible to carry a mug of hot coffee while using crutches! It was striking how quickly the whole morning became all about my pain and my ankle and these damn crutches and I want my coffee now!! The truly wonderful part of this mini meltdown, as strange as that may sound, was that I could actually see it happening. Powerless to stop it, I watched it, held it, and it naturally subsided on it's own. All in all a beneficial experience.
Lesson #3 Pain is a natural part of being human. Suffering is optional. It is when mind interjects ideas of self that suffering appears. Oh, and it seems that I have a much higher tolerance for physical pain than I do for not getting my way, which was surprising to learn after all these years. Fertile ground for practice.

And The Dukkha Just Keeps On Coming

I've spent an excessive amount of time and energy over the years whining about the fact that there are no fellow Buddhists where I live. There are actually a handful who follow what I suppose may be the "New and Improved American Tradition of Buddhism". No real need for all those curious and old fashioned cultural trappings, like precepts or monks or, heaven forbid, bowing! I'm definitely out of place in local 'buddhist' circles. I was once described as a real Buddhist - not quite sure what the implication was there.

And so it goes.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Five Subjects for Frequent Recollection

I am of the nature to age, I have not gone beyond aging.

I am of the nature to sicken, I have not gone beyond sickness.

I am of the nature to die, I have not gone beyond dying.

All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will become otherwise, will become separated from me.

I am the owner of my kamma, heir to my kamma, born of my kamma,

Related to my kamma, abide supported by my kamma.

Whatever kamma I shall do, for good or for ill -

Of that I will be the heir.

Thus we should frequently recollect.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

If Only

I tried to keep a running count of how many times "if only" crossed my mind in one day. It became quite comical after a short time and I gave up. I hadn't realized how often, and to what degree, I allow this to disrupt things.

If only I didn't have to do this or that or the other thing.
If only some person or another would - or wouldn't - do or say this or that.
If only I was younger, stronger, more patient, less judgemental, more creative, less gullible.

If only there were others to share this practice with.
If only I had a teacher.
If only I had found this path sooner - then there might be time.
If only there was more time.

Such is mind wanting other than what is.

Friday, June 22, 2007


I feel a deep sense of gratitude to the Buddha and the many disciples and practitioners who have kept the Dhamma alive all these many, many years. I'm fortunate to live in a time and place where it is possible to access these teachings, and that conditions are present that allow me to practice as best I can.

I owe a particularly huge debt of gratitude to Venerable Ajahn Chah for his ability to present the Dhamma in a language that I was able to understand. That is the language of the heart. His words, rich with clarity, compassion and truth, somehow transported me directly onto this path of practice. It took me by surprise because I wasn't really looking for a "path". I was merely exploring what I considered to be an "interesting" subject, "Buddhism". It was purely an intellectual activity. Luang Por Chah changed that forever.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Zip It!

This is something that I must admit is very difficult for me at times. More often than I had realized actually. Keeping my mouth shut - or keeping my fingers off the keyboard, as the case may be...Arghhhhhhh!

A friend has had a couple of posts on his blog lately that I've been chomping at the bit to respond to. Right there is a problem. This desire to reply. Where does that come from? It's obviously all about views and ego. Never a good combo. (My view) This is not about anything of any real importance. Not by any stretch of the imagination. The posts are really no big deal at all. My reply wouldn't be a big deal either. Just another view. Ah Ha! We are all quite fond of our views and opinions. We take them so personally. In many ways they "are" us. Powerful things these "views". They're like fuel.

What I find striking is how these views and opinions, some we're not even aware of, can suddenly rush to the surface in full battle gear ready to take on the opposition. The difficulty would seem to be in resisting the urge to respond, but that's not it at all. The true challenge is in understanding that urge. Seeing it for what it is and knowing where it comes from. Once it is seen clearly and honestly it drops away as quickly as it came. No big deal.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Kammic Echo ?

It's one of those things that is difficult, if not impossible, to describe. It was stronger and clearer in childhood, before being muffled by the countless events and influences that naturally come along with life. There used to be an awareness that was simply "there". It had no name and wasn't something I had been taught. It was part of the package that was me. I hadn't noticed it being absent until recently when I once again felt it. Turns out it had been there all along, patiently waiting for me to pay attention.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Loving-Kindness, American Style

Metta is very popular these days as a meditation practice, especially here in the U.S. and in other "Western" countries. We are in love with the very idea of love here. It seems to me that it may be unrealistic and not always helpful to tell people new to Buddhism to "radiate loving kindness". Of course that's my opinion and my experience. I had the opportunity to practice for a day under the guidance of an American monk. While the experience was helpful in some ways, this particular teacher stresses loving kindness as a specific meditation practice, and that stopped me dead in my tracks on the "path". It took me some time to begin again. I realized that I was lacking a strong foundation in the basics.

Metta, as a meditation practice remains a challenge for me. It seems that I am most likely suffering from what I'll call "Hallmark Syndrome". This is the result of a lifetime of overexposure to the manipulation, artificial packaging and creative marketing of a distorted perception of what love is. As a society we embrace this concoction and beg for more.

I understand that the "Metta" taught by the Buddha is very different from what we have been programmed and conditioned to think of as "loving kindness". Old habits and views are difficult to overcome. Even when we know they are not based in reality.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Thoughts on Thinking - What?

Lately I've been doing alot of thinking about thinking. Watching would probably be more accurate. Like you would watch a small child as it plays. Getting the right balance of freedom and restraint can be challenging. Too much restraint is no good. They won't grow and learn. Too much freedom will surely lead to a number of problems.

Our thoughts are like this. It's helpful to notice where they're headed. We have the ability to do this, to train the mind toward skillful thoughts and actions. But we're usually too busy following our thoughts and getting all tangled up in them to see where they're actually leading us. So we're surprised, angry, sad or confused when things don't turn out like we think they should. Then along comes another thought...and we're off!