Meditating While Exhausted ….

July 12, 2011 Comments Off on Meditating While Exhausted ….

There aren’t very many things in Secular or Skeptical Buddhism that I’ve found are really ‘required’ for anyone to do. In fact, from the time I began studying, the format has always been pretty free-form, which I truly appreciate. Being of the Type-A category of personality, I’m very driven by lists, going in the ‘correct order,’ and having things ‘in their place.’ Without these, I feel lost, confused and very out of

In Skeptical/Secular Buddhism, meditation is firmly grounded in the idea that it is for building up the ability to go through our daily lives in a more minful way. Nothing mystical about it!

sorts.

So, it took me some getting used to this less structured, more free-form approach to something. At first, it was disconcerting. I kept looking for rules, structure, scaffolding, a ladder, ANYTHING. Thanks to the guidance of those I practice with, however, I’ve been able to let go of my attachment to such structures, and allow the entrance of a more organic approach to walking that path. The result has been that, rather than being restricted by a structure, a strict order to do things in, I’ve been able to fit parts of the Buddhism into my life as time and circumstance has allowed. As a busy mom, this has been a real helping point!

That being said, there is ONE thing that all of my sangha-mates have insisted is something that one cannot forgo in Buddhism, and that is meditation. What has also been made clear to me over the months, is that getting meditation instruction is also instrumental in developing GOOD meditation habits. Things like retreats were also mentioned, where in-person instruction and guidance are given on techniques in meditation.

Being a parent to two not-that-little any more kids (5 and 7) and a teacher (read: my vacation dates are decided for me by the school district), I’m not so much at liberty to pick up and go on a three-month, let alone weekend, retreat to learn how to meditate. Living in a VERY isolated region of the country, I would also need to travel at least, AT LEAST, an hour one way just to find a group of people who DO meditate (without crystals and chanting — big no-no for me).  Because I’m the primary parent for transporting kids to their sporting events, dentist and doctor’s appointments etc., I just CAN’T devote that kind of time to chasing down instruction. So, my options were few.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t pursued meditation! At first, I tried it on my own, and was really wary. I’d looked into meditation in my college days. The book I’d found back then had clearly been written by some hippie somewhere who was all about psychotropic drugs — the book talked about closing my eyes and letting go, observing the ‘colors of my mind,’ letting things like my ‘aura’ and ‘spirit find their way to the light.’ Those aren’t direct quotes, but it was that type of thing. I don’t recall the title or the author, but it was a lot of hoo-hah which I didn’t really trust back then, and that I openly scoff at now as an adult. After chasing these false goals, I gave up and had a hard time ever since taking the idea of meditation very seriously.

After I met my current sangha-mates, it was made clear to me that there is a much more practical, down-to-earth approach to meditation. So, I tried again. The first time, I was really disturbed by how many thoughts there were zinging around in my head! I couldn’t stop them. I knew that part of what I was attempting was a ‘quieting of the mind,’ but I had no idea how. I grew angry and frustrated, and after 5 short minutes I stopped. I could NOT understand how this was supposed to help. GOOGLE TO THE RESCUE! I found a couple of guided meditations online, some of which came from Insight Meditation Center, based in California. I really liked those last ones. The instructors all had very calm voices, there was nothing about ‘waves’ and ‘aura’ and ‘spirit’ in there. Just ‘breath’ and ‘thoughts’ and ‘concentrating.’

So, I stuck to the stuff from Insight, and gradually, got the idea. I started with just two or three sessions a week — honestly, it is always hard for me to get in very many sessions in a week. Mornings simply aren’t available — it’s when I wake up, work out, jump in the shower and then start fetching breakfasts and start the house work. Then the day gets going. By the time my day winds down, my kids are in bed, and I’m not too far behind. I’m exhausted. Every moment, every minute of my day is PACKED with obligations, appointments, things that need to be taken care of. No different than anyone else out there, right?

Right. Well, thanks to a dharma friend, I was alerted to an online course on Mindfulness Meditation that the Insight Meditation Center was offering. It was just what I was looking for — all instructions online, anything audio posted on their web site, questions and answers for ‘homework’ could be done through e-mail. This was something I could easily fit into my daily routine.

Without going through all the nitty gritty details of how things went, suffice it to say that it is clear that taking a course IS necessary. While I recognize that in-person instruction also has its advantages, this course was a great alternative for me. I’ve been able to refine my practice of meditation, and it’s been an invaluable experience. Who knew there were so many layers to the mind, to one’s thinking? You know that scene in ‘Shrek,’ when Donkey asks if ogres are like onions, or parfaits, with lots of layers? That’s the mind, lots of layers — which I suppose some of us are aware of (we speak of them in terms of ‘conscious’ and ‘subconscious,’), but I don’t think we ever believe we have control over some of those layers. We do. More than we think! I can’t tell you how that has shaped my every day life, you just have to experience it.

Also, the importance of making the time to sit “even for two minutes at the end of the day, to form the habit,” as my instructor e-mailed me, was made clear. Somehow, making the conscious effort to sit, even for two minutes before I go to bed, has allowed me to up my number of sessions from two or three, to probably about five or six. Sometimes it’s closer to four or five, but it’s an improvement! I don’t sit for hours, I don’t even sit for more than about 25 minutes at a time, really — it’s just not happening (any longer than that and I’m just passing out, really). That habit, that observation of the mind, has done more than I could say. And I’ve only just scratched the surface. I know I still know just the fundamentals, and there’s much more to what I need to practice to really be an experienced meditator.

In any event, I suppose the main purpose of this post is to show that we can all have a meditation practice — even we Jane Schmoes with kids who play T-ball and Bush League, full time jobs, meals to plan and a house to run. That’s not to say that we don’t nod off a bit while we try to meditate at the end of the day. It’s not to say that some days, we  don’t occasionally throw in the dish towel and crawl into bed with a few choice words to launch at the idea of meditating; but it’s possible to do. You CAN fit a regular practice in there, and doing it right, matters.

Take a course, and see!

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NOTE: The Skeptical Readers of SL, in conjunction with the Skeptical Buddhists, are going to be meeting beginning on July 23rd at 8:30 a.m. PST to follow Insight Meditation Center’s six-week course, “Mindfulness Meditation.” While it is not a ‘live’ course officially administered by the instructors at IMC, all the materials they offer are posted on their web site, and as a group, we will be following the materials together. Our weekly meetings will be used to check in with each other, and share notes on the ‘homework’ that is assigned through the course, and address any questions/issues/problems we may be experiencing.

The course is meant for individuals who are just beginning their meditation practice, or for those who wish to renew the basics of Insight meditation.

If you are so inclined, please do join us. We will be meeting at the Skeptical Buddhist’s Sangha.

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Finding Yourself (Or Not) In Buddhism

February 25, 2011 § 7 Comments

The concept of "No Self" in Buddhism is central in understanding parts of the Four Noble Truths, but is a difficult concept to grasp.

So, you’ve undertaken this journey. This study, this way of thinking, a philosophy, which finally SPEAKS to you. You find thoughts in it you knew you’ve been thinking all along, and you find they’re not just YOUR thoughts, they were also the thoughts of one important person who lived thousands of years ago — his name was Siddharta Gautama. Happily, you read along and learn about the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and slowly but surely, this thing creeps into your consciousness … You realize, there’s no “you” in Buddhism.

You read along and you wonder, WHAT? How could I not be me? How could there be no “me”? “I”‘ve been here all along! Look, “I”‘m still here! See? See that? “Me”! Lookit, there “I” am again! Oops “I” did it again! Here “I” am see? “Me”!

But no, says Buddha, there is no you. The “you” that you think of as “you”, nope. Not there. Not, there, at, all.

And that’s about where I’m finding myself right now in my studies, and BOY is this a tough concept to wrap my head around. It’s an especially tough concept, I think, for most Western-thinkers because of how we structure our idea of ‘self.’Truly, we have a pretty set idea of who ‘we’ are — democrat, republican, Christian, atheist, liberal, conservative, Mom, Dad, Wife, Husband, Brother, Sister, and any combination of those things. We’re any of those things, and that’s it. We don’t really change it. Everything we think and do must fit into the parameters of those things that we’ve identified as part of who that “I” or “self” is.

What I see, though, from what we’ve been reading with the Skeptical Readers of SL book club that I run, is that part of letting go — part of the cessation of ‘dukkha’ or suffering, is understanding this very concept of what is often referred to as ‘no-self.’

Part of understanding the idea of the “I” that we refer to is in taking a look at the Five Aggregates, which I’ve got links to articles and explanations for on my Terminology page. Even with these articles, the idea of there not being a ‘self,’ is really tough to grasp. At one moment I feel like I get it, and the next moment, I clearly do not.

Taking into consideration previous discussions with my virtual Sangha-mates and group discussions, my readings, research, and desperate attempts to wrap my head around this, I’ve come up with this analogy (I need to work in analogies because concepts like this? Yeah, I need to put them into terms I can understand. Remember, I’m SO not academic, ugh.)

“No-Self” is like the color white because …

  • just like white is composed of all the colors of light in the spectrum combined, the picture composed of ‘myself’ comes from the Five Aggregates — how “I” react to various stimuli — sensory, mental, etc., makes up the ‘me’ that I know.
  • just like the color white, that ‘me’ is not unchanging. It is reflected differently at different times — just like the color white can be on cloth, stone, a flower or clouds, and it’s still ‘white,’ “I” take different forms as well.

So, it’s not really that there’s ‘no me,’ just like there’s no ‘no color’ in ‘white,’ it’s just that “I” am made up of the Five Aggregates, and how that ‘me’ is reflected out depends on, well, the ‘material’ on which they are being reflected by–just like all the colors of the spectrum that make the color (soon to be known by me as ‘no-color’) white. White doesn’t change, just what the white is on.

Uhhhhmmm, so am I even close? This is how far I’ve developed my understanding of this question. I’m hoping that I’ve gotten it, or am getting close to getting it, because understanding this idea of ‘self’ is central to fully understanding the concepts of ‘suffering’ (second part of the Four Noble Truths) and the ‘cessation of suffering (Third Noble Truth).

Understanding the self, and how it clings, and how the idea of self and how it should actually be formed are important parts of the idea of reaching nirvana, nibanna, or however else you say ‘enlightenment.’

Not that I ever really expect to actually REACH enlightenment, realistically speaking, but I would still like a shot at trying to gain a glimpse of it, anyway 😉

So, yeah, if any of you who do read this have something to add, a point to clarify, or a way of making me (and consequently others) see this more clearly, I very much welcome you to share! Thanks 😀

Eightfold Path: Right Action

January 29, 2011 Comments Off on Eightfold Path: Right Action

Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood can help one lead a happier existence.

Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood can help one lead a happier existence.

So, on to right action. This, as well as right speech and right livelihood are grouped together into the category of ‘Ethical Conduct.’ They actually all very much go hand in hand, and when you take a look at it (I recommend The Big View), you can easily see how they all tie in to one another.

right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. (From The Big View.com)

When looked at really quickly, my first, gut reaction was “Wow, this sounds like a bunch of rules.” Particularly, on the surface-level, I found a lot of similarities between the above and the Ten Commandments. Being a Skeptical Buddhist — generally we aren’t fans of rules with consequences being spelled out for us — that immediately made me itch. I think most of us are very used to having laws, rules or commandments (i.e. external sources) dictate our actions for us. These same rules, laws and commandments were created as a way for society to provide external pressure for individuals in a society to abide by cultural and societal norms. That sounded really brainy, so let me just say that the way I would normally say it — these laws and commandments were made to make people feel like they HAD to act a certain way in order to fit in and be accepted by others in their community.

The big difference between Right Action (or anything else found in Buddhism that might be interpreted as ‘rules’) and any laws or commandments is that in Buddhism, largely, the consequence of not following parts of the paths and all the little bits that goes with them, are found within yourself. There’s no jail, no hell, no heaven (for rewards), none of that stuff. If you live according to the path, you get to look at yourself in the mirror and feel good about yourself. You get to go about your day weighed down with less stress, angst, or ‘dukkha (suffering)’. Really, the price you pay in deciding to kill, take part in sexual misconduct, or steal,  is in the here and now — not after you die, not in some abstract future, but NOW. Right away. Who’s to blame? YOU. Who’s responsible? YOU. Period. How scary is THAT??? But it’s true, and it sure makes one sit up a little straighter, doesn’t it?

Another important difference is — if you’ll notice — the lack of a list of consequences for not following them. There is also a lack of real detailed breakdown of the ‘whens’ and ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of following Right Action. You can find more detailed explanations of Right Action. If you want or feel that you need it (I did), you can take a look at Access to Insight’s essay on Right Action. At least, what I see is that there’s a lack of this breaking out in detail in early suttas … (my more scholarly friends — please correct me here if I’m wrong!). I bet later monks and followers decided to add to the original teachings with their own two-cents’ worth of details and consequences — as often happens.

My personal preference is to stick to the early stuff — mainly because Siddharta Gautama (Buddha) seemed to feel that we all have within us a moral compass that when listened to, ultimately tells us what is right and what is wrong. It is the decision to follow the right while not having our jugment clouded by the things that cause ‘dukkha (suffering)’ — like ambition, greed, attachment etc. — that allows us to be happy.

I personally don’t think there’s a whole lot I can add about Right Action — it’s pretty straightforward, and the details of this is better explained by the links I provided here.

I’m off to watch Toy Story 3 again … because in all honesty, there’s a lot of Buddhist lessons in that movie. Think I’m kidding? Stay tuned 😉

Eightfold Path: Right Speech

January 2, 2011 § 2 Comments

Soap In Mouth

The practice of Right Speech in the Eightfold Path is a good reminder to all of us of the power of words, spoken or written.

Had to check where I was with this endeavor, and it looks as though I’m only on the third part of the Eightfold Path, which is Right Speech! Bahaha. Too many distractions, ah well.

Here is a tidbit on what Right Speech deals with according to one of my favorite go-tos, The Big View:

“Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct.”

How many times have we opened our mouths one moment too soon, to let escape some words we wished we could snatch back and stuff back into our brains. Possibly beat those words? Then puree them? Then drink them as a smoothie? Yeah, I’ve been there too.

To me, there’s no bigger reminder of the power of words than those moments when one of my students say “Madame (“Mrs.,” in French, which is what I teach), remember that time you said …?” and they’ll rattle off some horrible-sounding thing I said. Then, when I do recall the moment, I’ll remember that I never intended those words to sear themselves into anyone’s mind, nor did I think that the words sounded as horrible as they did when the student repeated them back to me. In fact, I may have assumed that what I was saying would be brushed off … but clearly, it wasn’t. Unintentionally, those words will have settled into the mind of that student, possibly to shape their thinking of themselves, how they do in my class — or worse — how they perceive themselves as students in general. Hopefully, some of what I say moves them in a positive direction — but I suspect there are more of those off-hand comments I make that get taken much more seriously — and negatively — than I expect. Same with my own biological children — it’s those words you don’t think they pay attention to that seem to stick the most. How many of those comments do we all make in a day? Who knows? Who’s paying attention? If I’m not, I’ve got a room full of students who pay more attention than I suspect. That’s the way it is for all of us.

Thinking of this in the context of work, here’s one to chew on: Does your job allow you to practice right speech? Do you have a profession that challenges this part of the path? Specifically, I’m thinking of a profession like, say, journalism, copy writing, advertising, promotion, writing in general. What about a profession like mine, where you have to use words in order to impart knowledge, shape the minds of future and barely-of-age adults? Does what you write or say impact the world positively? Do you perpetuate lies, half-truths, rumors — whether directly or indirectly? Anyone in professions like journalism and advertising have a particular challenge on hand — how to walk that path of practicing right speech, but still do your job. Be able to write copy, but still be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say “I done good today.” How do you correct a student’s misbehavior without making said student feel bad, but still learn how to act appropriately?

I don’t pretend to have the answers here, but I think the fact that one pauses to think about these questions seriously is a step in the right direction. I re-listened to a podcast from The Secular Buddhist, in which the host — Ted Meissner — interviewed journalist Doug McGill on the very issue of Right Speech in the context of his profession and in the context of life in general. Do click on the link below to the episode page, and have a listen. Click on the link called “Listen To This Episode” and come right back 😛 Listen while you read, okay????

It’s a great interview with some really great bits of information and insight:

The Secular Buddhist Podcast :: Episode 34:: Doug McGill :: Right Speech

I really loved that Doug questioned the intent behind the words he used as a journalist. Having worked in a newsroom myself for a few years, I’m familiar with the challenges. It’s not an easy task for someone who makes a living in a cut-throat, deadline-oriented environment like a newsroom to always be mindful of how their story affects all the players — the ones they see, and the ones they don’t see. One of my favorite lines in this interview occurs around 11 minutes into it:

… I started to wonder if wasn’t kind of unconciously serving masters that I didn’t want to be serving.

This was in the context of the part of the interview in which Doug talks about writing for Bloomberg News, the financial news information machine. From here, Doug talks about some of the changes in his approaches and thinking in the context of his writing. Whether you’re talking about journalism, teaching, or otherwise, it’s a good thing to ask yourself: What master am I serving with these words? Greed? Ambition? Anger? Or am I aiming for nurturing? Learning? Growth? Will I be making myself feel (temporarily) better? Will I be injuring someone?

“And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.” — SN 45.8

Sounds simple, right? There is so much to it, though, when we start to look at it in the context of our every day lives, and we examine all the LITTLE things we say that we give no thought to — or the messages we send out (think e-mail, text messages etc.) in annoyance. How much of our day would be spent in silence — and perhaps better served for it — if we were to abstain from those?

My particular favorite is the idea of abstaining from “idle chatter.” Just saying something to have something to say. Gossiping about someone. “Going off” on something that you’re not sure is right, yet still triggers an emotional response from us. Think about the “water cooler chats.” How much of that is truly constructive talk? Almost none of it, in my own personal experience.

The challenge with cutting out idle chatter, in my opinion, is the level of discomfort people in North American culture (I can’t speak for other cultures, really) feel when met with silence between people. I happen to come from a ‘quiet family.’ Growing up, we were taught not to just natter on about nothing, just to fill dead air. I’m not sure if that’s a function of the influence of my mother’s Japanese upbringing, but either way, I know my friends sometimes would feel uncomfortable because we didn’t chatter on all the time.

I carried that with me outside, and it always interested me how uncomfortable people would feel around me because I simply wouldn’t have a lot to say. Add to that the fact that I was painfully shy, and well, it didn’t make for a pleasant mix in middle an high school. In our culture, talking to one another is a form of acceptance. We talk to people we like. We show we want them to be around us, and vice versa, by talking to them. So, we fill the air with chatter — gossip, idle talk about the weather, perhaps false compliments, what Mary had for lunch today and why would you eat that when you’re saying you want to lose weight, seriously? Admit it, you’ve talked that way. If we’re not talking to them, it’s a social cue to tell them “I have nothing to say to you. Please go away,” even if that’s not what we really mean at all.

We have a lot of challenges when it comes to this part of the Eightfold Path. We’re met with cultural issues, workplace/professional issues, and issues of human nature (snapping back a remark when someone says something to irritate us, pressing that “send” button after firing off some angry retort to an annoying manager, etc.).

I’ve tried to handle this problem a couple of ways: One is by practicing some mindfulness. Meditation. When I can. I’ll admit that I haven’t gone much beyond observing the breath, and if I catch 15 minutes, 3 days a week, I’m doing awfully well. But I do it. And it has helped a bit, I think. I have less of those mindless retorts I snap back to my children and my students. I stop myself. I don’t know if it’s thanks to the practice of reining in my thoughts while ‘on the cushion’ or not, but I do attribute it to that. If nothing else, being aware of “right speech” as being part of the path has made me think twice about the words I put out there — a lot.

The other is, simply, never sending out a text message, posting a reply on Facebook, or sending out an e-mail, while annoyed or irritated. I also try not to have an immediate verbal response when someone says something that triggers a quick emotional response. I bite my tongue, get my hands away from the keyboard, and walk away. It’s harder than it sounds.

That being said, here’s one last link that I think might be a good tool. It’s from Access to Insight, and it’s their entry on Right Speech. If you read through all of it, you’ll see that the Buddha really very clearly sets out guidelines on WHEN to respond, HOW to respond, and under which circumstances. Much of what he says can easily be applied to our everyday, modern lives.

Access to Insight Entry on Right Speech

Are most of us ever really going to do this perfectly? Of course not. But as my friend Ted likes to say, “It’s practice, not perfect.”

Eightfold Path — Right Intention

December 3, 2010 § 2 Comments

Well it’s been a bit tough for me to find time to do anything like read or write lately, LOL. Starting this post while at home with a sick child and home from work. Definitely having a hard time sitting still and being idle. I’ve cleaned about as much as I can, so, going to see if I can catch a few moments here and there to read a bit on Right Intention and write about what I’m finding. The way things usually go with this though, is that I’ll start it today, and not be able to finish it up until Thursday or so hahaha. Ah well, at least I’m finding the time, right?

My main sources in reading about Right Intention are from the Access to Insight web page and from The Big View (click on their names for direct links to the articles I read from), although I have read some from “What The Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula on the topic as well.

When it comes to Right Intention, my main observation is that we’re talking about a domino effect type of situation. When we take care of how we view the world, how we interpret people and events (Right View, first part of the Eightfold Path), Right Intention naturally arises — or so the theory seems to go according to Access to Insight. It’s a little of the “chicken or the egg” question, I think, but I think I see the point being made. If you think right, you act right, if you act right, your next thought/idea etc. is more apt to be right.

I sometimes wonder how much of this “Eastern thought” actually does influence our everyday thinking, and I do see it popping up in surprising ways here and there. For example, reading up on Right Intention, it made me think of a poster that hangs outside of the Guidance Office at the high school in which I work. To paraphrase it, it goes something like this:

Watch your thoughts,
as they become your words.
Watch your words
as they become your actions.
Watch your actions,
as they become your character.

That’s not 100% it, but it’s the idea, and it is a similar idea shared in what is written on Access to Insight about Right Intention. I’m also not sure if this is attributed to anyone in particular … I’ll have to check that out and credit them if it is 🙂

Basically, it’s the idea that our words and our actions are more than just our words and our actions, it’s practice for future words we choose to use, and future actions in which we choose to engage.

Since starting my active practice/study of Buddhism not so long ago (about a year, off and on perhaps?) I have seen evidence of this phenomenon. What’s frustrating for my Type A, “I want everything neatly pigeon-holed and to happen in an orderly fashion” mind is the ‘messiness’ of the practice, of the path. There’s no real linear progression — you kind of pick up what you can as you go along. Grrrr! You jump in where you are, start SOMETHING — picking up a book on Buddhism, joining a group, talking to people, reading this blog (haha), then naturally, other parts of the practice fall into place, which cause other bits of it to happen, and you try to catch it all as you walk along.

While that has indeed been a point of some frustration for me, what has been deeply satisfying is seeing this “If you do A, then C might happen, X is not far behind.” It’s a progression that follows its own order, but it is progress nonetheless. I really started to actively practice when I began meditation, or practicing more mindfulness, which lies at the bottom of the pile of the Eightfold Path. Regardless, somehow Right View started to show up, which, as is said, brought Right Intention along. So when it is said to jump in where you are, to start with anything — that’s why. It doesn’t really matter, because one action begets another, then another, and another.

That’s not to say most of us do not have Right View or Right Intention all along in our daily lives, without practicing Buddhism. The question is, however, how many of us are actually MINDFUL about it? Do you actively choose the right view? Or do you act without reflection, and smile when it happens to be the right thing, or alternatively, fall into dismay because it wasn’t?

Do you stop, pause, and ask yourself the questions “What will this do to me? To those around me? Is this RIGHT?” Do you examine your thoughts, your view, your approach, your intent? That’s where the difference has lain for myself. I find myself pausing more often now, before letting my mouth open to let the words out. I stop myself before pressing that “post” or “send” button and ask myself, “What is the purpose of these words? What am I trying to accomplish with this action? With these words?” I so often find myself deleting things now, or changing what I have to say.

It has also shown up in my work — as a teacher, I pause to observe my students more often. Instead of reacting instantly, I find myself taking an extra second to pause and think about my reaction. In that split second, I’ve changed my course of action to opt either for silence, or, to ask a question rather than make a statement. What a difference that has made! Instead of the “Well that homework was due yesterday, so it’s too late,” which used to be my stock answer to students handing in late assignments, I’ve taken to asking not a more confrontational “Why is this late?” but rather, “What happened?” The question changed in that split second pause I made myself take, because I wondered in that split second, what is the purpose of my question? To berate? Or should it be to truly investigate the cause of this student’s situation?

The benefits have been immeasurable. In changing my question to “What happened?” I found the capacity for more compassion for my students, which offers them the opportunity to try their assignment again, or in a different way perhaps, and therefore, sets them up for more success in my class. More importantly, I’ve taken a step toward being what a teacher ought to be — a guide, a mentor, a firm but guiding hand .

Big difference! Please don’t think that this action has me taking long meditative pauses in the middle of a lesson, or in my day. How odd would that be? Rather, the act of meditating seems to have trained my mind to have the ability to quickly press a ‘pause’ button before I react, think quickly about what my reaction should be, then again quickly press the ‘play’ button on my  mouth. It’s a literal split second moment, but it MATTERS.

So, next time, before you react, ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” It takes far less time than you think, and the effect is tremendous.

Eightfold Path: Take One — Right view or understanding

November 14, 2010 § 6 Comments

OK, so I’m several days late and a dollar short on this one but, well, that’s the way I roll. The Skeptical Readers of SL reading group just wrapped up a few weeks’ worth of discussion on the Eightfold Path, which was really great!

I think I’m pretty good on, at this point, basically understanding the premise of what the Path is for (I’m lazy, I’ll just call it “the Path” from now on), and what each part basically is for or asks us to do. My big problem always is remembering ALL THE PARTS OF THE PATH! Ugh.

My nightmare in school has always been anything that requires rote memorization, while really, for some things in life, it’s really the only way. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is what is required for me here, ultimately. Much to my dismay.

To help myself along though, I’m going to try to get myself to write a few thoughts per week on one part of the Path. So, the first part of the Path is Right View or Understanding.

So, in a simple world, this would just mean “seeing things as they are,” which on the surface would be a “duh” moment, right? Basically, instead of telling yourself that the chocolate chip cookie you just scarfed down on the sly ‘didn’t count’ because nobody saw you eat it, you have to own up to the fact that it DOES count, and that you’ve added 360 more calories to your intake for the day (or however many calories a cookie is, who keeps track?) It could also be that really “simple” idea of seeing others for what they are, who they are, accepting them as they are, etc. So, removing labels from them, taking away the stories WE ourselves invent around them (the lady dragging her kids behind her grumpily and yelling at them may NOT be a bad mom, just someone having a bad day, or something else).

Simple right? Sure, if we’re going to be simplistic about it. Realistically though, Right View is really difficult. Here’s a snippet from the Path from http://www.thebigview.com:

Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truth. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.

This is not simply a question of what we tell ourselves, how we label others, or events. Right view is about “understanding things as they really are.” Not just people, THINGS, as in all of them. Death, birth, life, rocks, mountain, trees, people, politics, religion, dolphins, the ocean, countries, nationalities, languages, all of it.

“It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas …” So letting go of expectations — expecting events to turn out a certain way, building up anticipation for plans — whether it be for our plans for the day, or those darned “10-year plans” some of our professions ask us to have. Part of the Four Noble Truths referenced in the quote deals with the idea of suffering, and that suffering has a cause. Part of that cause is — especially as Westerners — having such a difficult time with the idea of not being in full control of our own destiny.

We grow up with this sense that if we work hard enough, long enough, if we do things ‘just so,’ that our lives will turn out the way we want it to. We have 100% responsibility over the OUTCOME, the MATERIAL outcome of our lives. Here’s the big question: Do we really?

No. I think we can all think of several occasions when our best laid plans were dashed thanks to unforseen events. How did we react to that? Be honest. I often pitch a complete, total, tantrum. Cursing may be involved. As well as stomping. Pouting. Definitely pouting, too.

Why? Why all this anguish? Because instead of seeing, or having understanding that in the end, this turnaround is NOT the end of the world (most of the time), we grow frustrated because our house of cards got knocked over by a breeze we weren’t expecting to pass by. What if we had no real expectations for this stack of cards? What if, WHAT IF, you just started stacking those cards up. Didn’t have a plan. Didn’t get all excited about building it up 6 feet high with some fancy geometric configuration in mind. What if, you just built it. And that’s it. Would you mind then, if it got knocked down? What would your VIEW be, of that event? Of the knocking down of the cards? Of the breeze that passed by?

Then, it would just be a breeze (rather than that $%#(* breeze that messed up my )#$%@! cards), and because you hadn’t formed any attachment, any idea or expectation for those cards, you’d walk away from them with less frustration, or, simply, just start again, curious to see what kind of house of cards you’ll build next.

There’s more to this idea than just what I’ve written here, but my point simply is — there’s more to the Path that one might initially see upon reading about it. Nothing is as simple as it seems — if you think it’s simple, you’re probably looking at it from the wrong angle, so change your perspective!

And that, is MY interpretation of Right View.

Wonder if it’s all wrong? LOL!

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