Saturday, February 26, 2011

don season teaching on obstacles

We are in the days leading up to the Tibetan new year, and traditionally this period is considered one where karma is coming to fruition, and so obstacles can arise. A couple of years ago, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche gave a very good, pithy teaching on-line on this period and how to work with mindfulness during this time. Here it is. Enjoy!

Monday, February 21, 2011

in breath, out breath

"As you start the practice, you have a sense of your body and a sense of where you are, and then you begin to notice the breathing. The whole feeling of the breath is very important. The breath should not be forced, obviously; you are breathing naturally. The breath is going in and out, in and out. With each breath you become relaxed." - Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

In meditation practice, we place our attention again and again on the breath as it goes in and out of our bodies. We go out with our breath, and then come back in, back to our bodies just sitting there on the good earth. Sometimes we may find ourselves going out, out, out with the breath and then staying way out there, feeling spacey and disconnected. Other times we may find ourselves in, in , in - closed, narrow, claustrophobic, forgetting to let go. We have to watch our own minds, and notice when we are too tight or too loose and then adjust accordingly.

I have been contemplating this lately in terms of our daily, weekly and monthly rhythms as a family, with the in breath and out breath as my guides for balance. When we spend to much time extending out - too many activities outside our home, too much stimulation, too many people - we get cranky, irritable, ungrounded and diffused. When we spend to much time focusing our energies inward on our home hearth, staying indoors, not engaging enough with others, being too stationary - we get stuck, myopic, stir-crazy. I have found that I need to hold our energies in my awareness each day, making sure we breathe together in and out.

In my family, we need time each day when we focus on staying grounded in our home - joining together for a song before breakfast, saying good morning to the Buddha and our teachers and sitting quietly for a bit, then doing necessary chores. We also need to exhale out - spending a good amount of time outdoors in the fresh air, getting together with other families when possible, or going to a library story time or other low key activity. I make sure we don't have something planned each day though with others - otherwise we get too overwhelmed and my little ones get too overstimulated. So certain days the focus is on just being with each other, both outside in nature and inside our home, and other days the focus is on a single excursion - a trip to the museum, a play date. Regardless of the day, we make sure to take the in-breath again come evening time - another shared song around the table, a lit candle while we prepare for bed, with my eldest blowing it out after evening chants.

Rather than working with something as scary as a "schedule", which my inherently rebellious nature resists, and which I sometimes suspect are used to make parents feel guilty about the inchoate nature of life with small children, I find that keeping this in-breath, out-breath rhythm feels natural, just as in meditation. After all, we aren't forcing the breath to go in and then out - it just does. The same with our daily and weekly rhythms - we aren't imposing something unnatural on our children, but instead are placing our mindfulness on the natural arising and ebbing of energy, and then going in and out with it.

I think we all feel when we have been indoors too long, or out in the world too much. We feel it physically and psychically, and our children are much more sensitive barometers of when we are out of synch with the breath of the day. We can get even subtler with this, in terms of what we do inside and outside the home - what is too diffuse, and what is too claustrophobic. Ideally our activities have their own internal in and out as well that is nourishing rather than draining. Each child and family is different in this, in terms of what they need to stay connected to the energy of basic goodness, or windhorse. What I have noticed about my own family is that when we are too inwards, we get depressed and stagnant and when we are too much outwards, we get cranky and often physically sick. When I am successful at balancing the in breath and the out breath of our days, things flow for us, we have fun, and we are both grounded and aware of others.

Here is a wonderful teaching by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche on meditation.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

maitri or true love

For Valentine's Day, I thought it might be nice to contemplate maitri, or loving kindness. Pema Chodron has a great teaching on the subject. Chogyam Trungpa often translated maitri as "unconditional friendliness", which I find wonderful and piercing.

Maitri is one of those brilliant innate qualities that we can use our practice to uncover and nurture. In our daily lives, it can seem difficult to be unconditionally friendly towards ourselves and others. We usually put all kinds of conditions on our friendliness. We often won't even say hello to someone unless they say it to us first, and sometimes even then, we are a bit reluctant to respond in kind. It can be hard to open our hearts, to let down our guard. It can be hard to be truly gentle to ourselves and not find fault in how we are feeling, or what we are doing. Maitri transforms all that, transforms the hardness into softness, the habitual tendency to close up into just opening and extending out.

If you have a bit of space in your day to sit still, ground yourself, and place your attention on your breath as it goes in and out of your body - in other words, to meditate for a bit, you can introduce this maitri practice. Once you feel your mind is a bit settled, wish yourself happiness. You can simply say "may I be happy." It can be that simple. Once you feel relaxed with that, you can bring to mind someone dear to you, like your children. "May they be happy." Once that is settled in, bring to mind a neutral person, someone you have no strong feelings for or against (maybe your postman, or the cashier at the store). "May they be happy."

Then bring to mind someone you have trouble with. It doesn't have to be big trouble. You can start with someone that is just a little bit troublesome :). "May they be happy." Once you have worked with that person for a bit, you can extend out to all beings "May all beings be happy." Then just let go and relax. Be in the space where you are. Let the environment wake you up. Come back to the breath. You have now done maitri practice.

If this is a bit too formal for your schedule, just try and pause during your day and wish yourself happiness. When you have another little moment, wish your child happiness. Another moment and wish the postman happiness. And so on. These little moments are watering, watering the seeds of unconditional friendliness in your heart.

I always feel like I fall in love a bit when I do this practice. I can feel my heart open, little by little, and often when I see the person I have been contemplating, wishing happiness to, I feel my heart jump and get a bit happier myself. It's very softening, like a lovely, warm spring rain.

Wising you all true happiness, great ease, and love this day and all days.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

World Sound Healing Day

If you are at a loss for something to do on Valentine's Day that is a bit more than gorging on chocolate, this is a lovely endeavor. I plan to try and participate.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

love everything and never doubt

Consume this hesitation of not knowing.
Never doubt,
Only walk forward.
Love everything,
For that is why you are here.
~Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Why do we find it so difficult to love? How can we raise our children to love themselves, other beings, and the world? I think this is my most important task as a parent. And in nurturing this love in my children, it will be nurtured in me as well.

Again, doubt is an obstacle to this love. We don't love ourselves fully. We don't trust the world, not really. Definitely not other beings. Maybe not even our children. They disappoint us. They show their unique humanness. They have needs. It makes us uncomfortable. It drains us. It challenges us, sometimes too much. They don't look the way we thought they would, don't act the way we think they should, have different tastes, different ideas than our own. How to accept them? How to accept the messiness of other beings? Especially of those beings who we have actively invited into our lives?

Or maybe we just doubt that we are able love in such a way. Maybe we don't trust our own capacity to open to others and the world. We don't think we are that good. Or that our hearts can be that big.

We need to start with ourselves. With accepting our own messiness, our own needs, our own wayward desires. It's ok. This being human business is chaotic. But it is also beautiful, magical and incredible. The muscle to work is appreciation. Appreciation of things as they are. How do we cultivate that? By pausing, opening and relaxing. We have to allow ourselves to pause in all of our busyness, all of our feeling hassledness, all of our irritability and just notice. Notice what is arising in your mind. Just notice it - don't do anything with it. Let it fade away naturally. Take in the space where you are. Notice what is around you. Maybe a sunbeam is shining in the window. Maybe the dust bunny on the floor resembles an elephant. Maybe you can hear the far off sound of a bus horn and it just brings you right here, right now, almost breaking your heart in its vividness. And that opening to the now, is also allowing your heart to open. It can't stay closed. If you still feel shut down, closed off, just notice that too. Don't judge it. That will pass as well. We can just notice our breath, going in and out, in and out. How wonderful that is. That we are here, breathing. It is a small miracle really, this human form.

I was noticing lately that I have been comparing my youngest son to my eldest. Saying aloud sometimes, "Gee, R never did that at your age." or "Wow, I never had to watch R like I do you." And I realized that in that comparing, I wasn't really allowing my youngest to fully express himself. Part of me was rejecting him, however subtly, because he was different from my eldest. I was projecting certain expectations onto him from my prior experience, rather than just being with him, relating to him openly and cleanly.

So I am working on being mindful of my comparisons. I am working on loving him just as he is, who he is, in all his unique basic goodness. We sometimes think if we follow the path of mindfulness we become almost zombie-like - clean slates without personality. But really, being present and fully accepting ourselves and others means creating a space where all our unique quirkiness can really shine out - our own unique ways of expressing our sanity and brilliance.

This is what I am working on. Loving everything. Moving beyond doubt. Moving beyond means noticing when I do doubt. And breathing through it. I was going to write a post today on mindfulness practices to do with young children, but this arose instead. Love.