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Setbacks

20150802_095647I think it’s important to acknowledge periods of setback just as I’ve written about periods of growth and strength in my practice. July was definitely a month of setbacks. At the time, things just sort of seemed to happen; looking back, I can see how one event led to another.

My work hours increased – first a little, then a lot. Once I was working or on call on multiple successive evenings and weekends, I began to feel more tired. I suspect this was less about losing actual sleep time and more about higher stress levels and losing the pre-sleep decompression time that for me is a necessity to get good sleep. I became much more tired all the time. My 30 minutes of practice in the morning slipped to 10 minutes of meditation so that I could sleep a bit more. Then I dropped the 10 minutes of meditation. I also dropped my morning preparation of a green smoothie, of which I would usually drink half with breakfast and half around 10am. All of my meals became more hurried and less healthy. Some meals I ate at my desk or while checking my BlackBerry. My body craved sleep that I couldn’t give it, so I snacked instead. When I did have free time, I felt rushed to catch up on things I’d let slip and to spend time with my family, though I was distracted and irritable even when I wasn’t working. I was always hurrying from one thing to another, trying to fit everything in. I cut out almost all of the self-care parts of my day: my morning practice, my mid-day walk, my after-dinner walk, my pre-sleep decompression time. Continue reading

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Love letter to my fear

Jizo 25Hello my fear!
I see you standing there –
come into the light.
Do not be afraid.
I am sorry if I have hurt you
with the many unkind things I have thought and said about you.
You have guarded me so faithfully;
you have walked so many years by my side.
I know that you are weary;
you have been vigilant for so long.

Let me take your hand.
Let us find a place where you can rest.
Here, this tree is lovely.
You can sleep safely under her sheltering arms.

You do not need to need to worry about me any more.
I have a new guardian to walk by my side.
He knows how to listen to the suffering of beings.
He will teach me how to suffer well.
He will show me how to water the seeds of joy and understanding in myself and others.
With diligent and mindful practice, I will grow strong.

I bow in gratitude for your loyal service.
Close your eyes and do not worry any more.
Some day I will be strong enough to be my own guardian.
Then I will return here to sit by your side.
I will teach you all I have learned
and you will never need to be afraid again.

Support on the Path

CAM02217Every Christmas Eve, after our family dinner (traditionally cheese and chocolate fondue) and before the children go to bed, my father reads aloud the classic poem A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore. He’s done this nearly every year since I was born – which means he’s read this poem on nearly 40 successive Christmas Eves! Now that I’m grown, I marvel at the way that Dad approaches the poem. He reads the words thoughtfully, with a sound of wonder in his voice that suggests he’s encountering each line for the first time. Sometimes he even pauses after reading the following couplet, a delighted smile on his face:

As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

It is a particularly poetic line.

Listening as my father read the poem this Christmas Eve just past, it occurred to me that the sense of wonder and delight with which he approaches his annual recitation is exactly the way in which I should approach the bodhisattva of compassion sadhana that I recite each morning. I tried this out recently and what a difference! Suddenly, I’m saying the familiar words with curiosity and appreciation, rather than rote tedium. It’s an amazing psychological change. My mind naturally focuses as soon as I send myself the internal message that “this is interesting”. The words come alive. I look forward more each morning to the recitation. Continue reading

Reflecting on 100 days of practice

IMG_0747Today was the 100th day of my Buddhist practice self-challenge, which I began on my return from Seoul, South Korea. As I’ve previously written, I was inspired to choose a 100-day period after reading Anyen Rinpoche’s book Momentary Buddhahood: Mindfulness and the Vajrayana Path, in which he writes:

…there is not one person that does not have the ability to have a consistent practice of meditation on a daily basis. Every person is capable of doing that. Every person can do it without missing any days if they dare to make a serious commitment. Having this kind of commitment to daily practice is one of the main supports for Dharma as a whole. . .

One way we can work on developing a habit to practice is by considering for how long we could consistently commit to practice each day. It may only be five or ten minutes when we begin. We should take this as the minimum for our daily practice. Then, we should commit to completing at least this much practice every day for one hundred days. No matter what happens, we should resolve not to give up. At the end of the hundred days, we can reevaluate the length of practice time we have chosen. We may want to increase it, or simply keep it the same, before we make another time commitment for practice. If we work with short periods of commitment that are not too overwhelming, over time we will find that we have developed the habit of daily practice without falling into any self-defeating behavior.

Because I completed my 100th days this morning, I want to take a moment to reflect on how it went. Continue reading

Precious human rebirth

IMG_0609There is a traditional Buddhist story to explain how rare it is to obtain a precious human rebirth, one in which not only are you reborn as a human, but also in which you’re reborn at a time when the true Dharma is known and taught, that you make a connection with a genuine teacher who learned the true Dharma through an unbroken lineage, that you have the physical and mental ability to practice, and that you have the both the leisure and resources to practice. It is said that obtaining such a precious human rebirth is even more rare than it is for a blind turtle, who spends all its time swimming beneath the ocean, only surfacing once every hundred years, to surface with its head through a yoke (think of the collar used to harness oxen to a plow) that is floating on the storm-tossed waves.

In other words, it’s exceptionally rare. Far more likely would have been rebirth as an insect or animal without the intellectual ability to learn the Dharma, or as a human in some condition of poverty or war that would have deprived you of the opportunity to practice, even if you encountered the path, which is rare itself. To obtain a precious human rebirth requires huge accumulation of merit in past lives. The point of this story is, having obtained a precious human rebirth, do not squander it! Practice diligently. Faithfully carry out the instructions of your teacher, who is even more precious to you than the Buddha himself, because your teacher is the living embodiment of the Buddha, able to give you teachings here and now to guide your spiritual progress. As Patrul Rinpoche says in Words of My Perfect Teacher, which I am currently reading, we lacked the merit to be born in the presence of the Buddha. How grateful we must therefore be to the teacher we do encounter in this lifetime who shares the true Dharma with us. Continue reading

Halfway point

CAM01932Earlier this week I crossed the halfway point of my 100-day daily practice challenge. I’m happy to say that I’ve maintained my morning practice every day for 54 days now, even including the days that I was in Denver for the Phowa retreat.

That said, I have modified my daily practice somewhat from my original plan due to physical difficulties and new commitments. In regards to the former, I’ve been having a lot of back and neck pain for some time. I’ve had difficulty with sitting meditation for a while, though I had hoped that my body would adjust in the face of consistent daily practice. This has not occurred. The problems worsened at the Phowa retreat where I was sitting for hours at a time on a cushion, often in great discomfort. Our daily session began each morning with a half hour of yoga, which definitely helped, but the pain would return later and pain medication was no longer helping. I realized I needed a new approach. Continue reading

100 Days

Pensive BuddhaI’ve added a new page to my website called “Just Sit“. It provides some basic information and recommended resources for those just starting – or thinking about starting – a sitting meditation practice. Take a look and leave a comment if you have any other resources to recommend.

My August retreat at Upaya inspired me to strengthen my regular Buddhist practice, something I’ve been thinking about a lot since reading Anyen Rinpoche’s Dying with Confidence, which I discussed in a prior blog. He doesn’t mince words in that book: we must take advantage of the optimal conditions we have now to make our practice stable. Regular practice now gives us the only chance we have of being able to maintain any mental stability in the face of illness and death.

After rereading the book and conducting an honest assessment of my current spiritual practice, I realized that despite decades of being a Buddhist, my practice is far from stable. Over the last few years, thanks to a supportive Sangha, my sitting meditation practice at least has become more regular, but “more regular” is not the standard I aspire to. I decided that I needed to focus on a few short daily practices until they became second-nature. The question became which practices I should commit to. Continue reading