Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Investigate Your Mind

Lately I have been reading 30 minutes of Ajahn Chah teachings each day. It is just as good, if not better than, a 30 minute sitting meditation. It is no wonder that he had so many followers and opened so many monasteries. He was a true Buddha. He is the Buddha of the modern day.

For me, the reason why reading these teachings are so effective, is that I already have some experience of what he talks about. When I read, it is more of a reminder of what I have already learned from my own experience and from the investigation of my own mind. I am not saying I am anywhere near any sort of enlightenment, but I certainly have had a taste of freedom here and there. This taste has confirmed the teachings for me and increased my faith.

I call my practice “casual,” in that I don’t take a lot of formal sitting time. Time spent in a particular posture, using a particular technique, for a particular period of time. But I am constantly looking at my mind. Every day, throughout the day, I am always checking in: Look at this thought! Look at this emotion! What is that? Is it really me or mine? Where does it come from? Do I have control over it? Why does it make me suffer/feel pleasure? What is the most skillful action to take that will ease pain for myself and others?

I have been investigating my mind since I was old enough to understand what mind is. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I had my first Confession with the Catholic Church. That is about when I began to understand the concept of “conscience.” I was very devout at that age. I examined my conscience well so that I could be sure to be good. And so that I would be able to confess every sin and be absolved. I wanted to go to heaven after all!

The same idea can be used in a Buddhist perspective. We can look at our minds and listen to our conscience. We can listen to the wise voice inside that tells us what actions are helpful or not. Which actions will lead us to happiness or not. Which actions will lead us to a personal hell or not. The Buddha told his son, Rahula:

"Even so, Rahula, one should act with body, speech or mind only after first looking at oneself. Before acting with body, speech or mind, one should think: 'What I am about to do, will it harm me or others?' If you can answer: 'Yes, it will,' then you should not act. But if you can answer: 'No, it will not,' then you should act. You should reflect in the same way while acting and after having acted. Therefore, Rahula, you should train yourself thinking: 'We will act only after repeatedly looking at ourselves, only after reflecting on ourselves.'"


Sunday, July 15, 2012


I have to say that hanging out at the pool all afternoon, drinking sangria with fruit and ice, and then biking at night to have dinner at Pizza Luce about every other weekend this summer just doesn’t get old! Neither do shows at First Avenue. Or making love. This summer, not to mention the past 10 months, has been so pleasurable. It is so amazing what companionship and love can do in your life. Everyone needs a BFF (Best Friend Forever). How lucky am I to have found mine! Thank you, thank you, thank you to whatever forces in my life that have made this possible. It is truly a blessing. Good karma.

“The Buddha has said, ‘If a man can find a suitable and understanding wife and a woman can find a suitable and understanding husband, both are fortunate indeed.’”

A Happy Married Life, by Ven Sri K. Dhammananda 

The key words are “suitable” and “understanding.” This means compatibility, maturity, wisdom and compassion. It means clear seeing and understanding each other’s true selves in a very real and honest way. Having a common understanding – similar thought processes, values, lifestyle, activities, tastes, cultural background, life stage, future goals. A couple who is highly compatible, mature, honest and communicate well are fortunate indeed. The relationship can be a safe haven of security, pleasure and even a platform for spiritual growth. It is a healthy attachment, and a healthy outlet for our desires.

Hey, wait a minute… Didn’t the Buddha say that desire and attachment cause suffering? How can I practice toward the goal of freedom from sense desires when I am pulled so strongly toward a romantic love relationship? Isn’t a love relationship just a distraction from the goal?

But then I remember, this is how it is for me now. This is nature. I am not a fully enlightened being who is free from sense desires. We can’t just run over our desires or pretend like we don’t have them. We can continue to practice toward the goal of being free from desires by seeing clearly and acknowledging that we have desires. As we meet our desires, we find understanding and insight about meeting desires. As we experience pleasure, we find understanding and insight about experiencing pleasure. We experience a deep understanding that desires and pleasures arise and pass away continuously. Our job now is just to pay attention and learn about it. A love relationship is a wonderful place to learn about desire.
Here is more from Ven Sri K. Dhammananda:

“We can study the Buddha's teaching regarding the feelings that man and woman have for each other. The Buddha says that he had never seen any object in this world which attracts man's attention more than the figure of a woman. At the same time the main attraction for the woman is the figure of a man. It means that by nature, woman and man give each other worldly pleasure. They cannot gain happiness of this kind from any other object. When we observe very carefully, we notice that among all the things which provide pleasure, there is no other object that can please all the five senses at the same time beside the male and female figures.

“The ancient Greeks knew this when they said that originally man and woman were one. They were separated and the two parts that were divided are constantly seeking to be re-united as man and woman.

“Young people by nature like to indulge in worldly pleasures which can include both good and bad things. Good things, like the enjoyment of music, poetry, dance, good food, dress and similar pursuits do no harm to the body. They only distract us from seeing the fleeting nature and uncertainty of existence and thereby delay our being able to perceive the true nature of the self.

“The faculties and senses of young people are very fresh and alert; they are very keen to satisfy all the five senses. Almost everyday, they plan and think out ways and means to experience some form of pleasure. By the very nature of existence, one will never be completely satisfied with whatever pleasure one experiences and the resultant craving in turn only creates more anxieties and worries.

“When one ceases to crave for sensual pleasure and does not seek to find physical comfort in the company of others, the need for marriage does not arise. Suffering and worldly enjoyment are both the outcome of craving, attachment and emotion. If we try to control and suppress our emotions by adopting unrealistic tactics we create disturbances in our mind and in our physical body. Therefore we must know how to handle and control our human passion. Without abusing or misusing this passion, we can tame our desires through proper understanding.”

Passion has arisen. Suppressing it is pointless. A committed love relationship is an appropriate outlet for human passion. We can’t let go of something until we are really ready to let go of it. So enjoy the worldly pleasures that you have. Enjoy them with wisdom. Enjoy them knowing that pleasures are just pleasures. They come and go. We must go with the ebb and flow of pleasure instead of trying to hold on to it. Enjoying a pleasurable moment and having the ability to let it go when it ebbs, instead of it becoming an addiction, is a skill. This is what we are learning and practicing.

Friday, June 15, 2012

I Will Try to Fix You

Wanting to fix people comes from a wholesome wish for them to be happy. But that wholesome wish for their happiness can become distorted if we let it. There is a big difference between wishing happiness for someone and feeling responsible for their happiness. We can’t ever let ourselves feel responsible for others' happiness. We are not responsible for curing people's pain.  It is not our place to do that. It is only our place to be loving and compassionate. The person with the pain or the problem is the one that needs to do something about those things if they are going to. And if they don't, it is not really our concern. Except that we may get irritated from people complaining about their problems without taking any action to solve them. They don't have to take action to help themselves, but they can’t carry on and on about it either. They still don't have the right to dump their complaints on us constantly, and if we get sick of it, we should let them know.

The next time someone complains, perhaps just say, “Well, what do you plan to do about it?” That is a MUCH better response than a fixing response. It keeps ownership of the problem where it belongs. If they specifically asks what we think they should do, of course, be happy to tell them, without any expectation that they will actually do it.

I will probably have to do this periodically, since it just seems like I am prone to being a “fixer,” but I hereby let go of responsibility for any and all of other people's problems. And I will continue to be an empathetic listener as long as it seems appropriate, before telling them to put up or shut up.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Whenever I start feeling worried, restless, defensive or full of doubt, it all boils down to a lack of acceptance of myself and my situation.  I know this, but I forget it so easily.  I start getting caught up in those feelings and old ways of attempting to resolve them - like over-analyzing, planning, obsessing, arguing, blaming, or complaining.  But sometimes I just need to face the fact that I am not as perfect as I’d like to be.  And that not being perfect is absolutely OK. 

When I acknowledge and accept my imperfections, all of the doubt and defensiveness melts away.  What’s left after that is a sigh of relief and a smile.

Letting go is so much easier than trying to be right all the time.

Yeah, I know.  This post is in contrast to what I wrote about earlier, that having a sense of being right has significant value in my life.  It is all about balance.  The problem with being right a lot of the time is that it makes it more difficult to accept being wrong.  But the fact of the matter is, I'm not right all of the time so I need to be realistic.

It is difficult for a perfectionist to let her guard down, but this is what must be done.  I can just relax already.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

I always used to get a hard time from my classmates in school all while growing up because I was “bossy.”  I have this thing about feeling like I am right most of the time.  And when I feel like I am right about something, I don’t let up, even when people tell me not to be concerned about something.  Kids thought I was stuck-up and rejected me.

Now that I have grown, not letting up when I think I am right about something pays off often.  This quality is a big part of why I am so successful at my job!  I catch things that others don’t and I follow through to make sure things get fixed, even when people tell me certain things are already taken care of.  I can see for myself when something has not been taken care of or not being done the right way, and I will push to get it corrected.  The team I support and the company I work for benefit, and I receive recognition and financial benefits for my efforts.  In addition, my confidence and thoroughness instills trust in people and makes it easy to gain their confidence.  There are still a few people I work with who get annoyed with me, because I am always challenging them, but at the end of the day, the job is getting done right.  And I do my best to be kind and cordial when challenging others.  I don’t intend anything to be personal.

I wish I would have known when I was a kid that these are good qualities.  That being assertive and going against the grain can be very useful life skills in adulthood.  I endured a lot of social pain while growing up because of it, but now I see that it was all worth it.

I’ve been reading a book called “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth” by Alexandra Robbins that talks about this very phenomenon.  In school, conformity is king.  Cliques are formed and once part of a particular clique, god forbid you do anything other than what the rest of the group does. But while conformity has its place in society, non-conformity is what is going to make our society evolve.  Albert Einstein failed out of school because his ideas were so unusual, and then he came up with the theory of relativity which changed science forever.

From 7th grade to high school graduation, I intensely felt the pain of non-conformity.  I was called a nerd, a goodie-goodie and stuck-up.  I got good grades, had a moral compass, and had a confident and assertive personality.  I may have been bossy, but I was not skilled in meanness.  I was never the kind of person who could think of great comebacks when people cut me down.

The Robbins book talks about how in order for people to be popular, they have to be skilled in meanness.  I can say from experience that is true.  The “popular” people in school always had to protect their status by putting others down.  The term “popular” for those kids really is an oxymoron.  I wouldn’t say they were really well-liked.  They just had the power of meanness going for them.  They did their best to push everyone below them by tearing them apart emotionally and sometimes physically in order to appear better than them.

But ultimately, the front of “popular” or “loser/nerd” are a sham.  No matter how much the mean kids tried to bring me down, I still stood tall.  I still stayed true to myself.  I questioned my worth, for sure, but ultimately, I was not defined by others.  When school was over, it was clear to see that all the bad things they tried to make me believe about myself only had a small grain of truth.  And ultimately, I discovered that the things they said they hated me for, were positive traits that have helped me to have happiness and success in my life.

Their influence was very strong though.  So many times I doubted my self-worth and it was truly a struggle to stay on top of it, especially in junior high.  In high school I was able to use what I learned in junior high, at least after an initial period of trying really hard to conform.  Freshman year I had big hair, touched up my make-up throughout the day, and became a cheerleader.  But as time went on, it was clear that I was not the same as the other cheerleaders.  I wasn’t interested in tanning or manicures or gossip.  I tended to stay somewhat quiet and on the fringe.  I was rarely invited to parties or social events outside of school or cheerleading.

Then I joined a music group, a glee club of sorts, and I also signed up for the school musical.  I felt like I had found my place.  I stopped cheerleading and being so concerned about my appearance and focused on music and theater.  I made some good friends that way, though very few of them were in my graduating class, so I still felt pretty lonely in high school in general.  Especially since defecting from the cheerleader/party scene made me a target of torment for those continuing in that scene. 

I always resented the saying that the years of high school are the “best years of your life.”  They weren’t.  But I made the best of those years for sure.  I continued to get good grades and participate in activities that I enjoyed and just keep to myself during all the rest of it.  I am grateful for the challenge presented to me to stay true to myself despite the pressure to conform.  It made me stronger, wiser and more powerful.  I have no regrets, only joyful gratitude and a bit of laughter at the silliness of all of it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Joy Overflows

It has been awhile since I've written. When things are going well in my life, I guess I have less to write about!

My practice continues to be very informal but very beneficial. I don't sit on a cushion every day for a given number of minutes. But I do enjoy solitude on the week-nights after my kids go to bed. I've been doing a regular workout routine to take better care of my body, then I catch up on episodes of The Office, chat on the phone for a few minutes with my man while he's on his break at work, then have a few minutes of quiet in the dark in my comfy chair before going to bed. Somehow I have managed a nice balance of activity, distraction and reflection in the evenings. On the weekends when my kids are away, I enjoy pleasurable time spent with my sweetheart.

I got a very nice bonus and raise this year at work, and I continue to really enjoy my career. And be incredibly grateful for this prosperity. And not take it for granted for a second.

I dedicate my happiness to my two daughters.

They are the reason I have my life together so well, the reason why I do the job I do and make the money I make. They are the reason why I have worked very hard for my health and happiness. My happiness directly affects their happiness. I see it so clearly. I notice how joyful they are each day. Even though they have minor issues to be crabby about here and there, their baseline is true happiness. It is because I am happy, stable, and disciplined and provide them a happy, stable and disciplined environment. I take care of myself so I can always be there for them when they need me. I have enough energy to take care of them. I have enough joy to share with them. With them, I have the direct experience of the impacts of the overflow of my joy! I can see how it really works and really matters!

I will never underestimate the power of my own happiness and joy for the benefit of others.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes?

Lately some TV shows have me thinking about character and integrity. Yes, I have been enjoying some entertainment lately… But I always am very reflective about it. There are dhamma lessons to be learned sometimes in certain stories that are meant to entertain us.

In the show “Lost,” the Nigerian drug smuggler, Eko, has ruthlessly killed many people. However, in a Robin Hood style, he offers the Church money for vaccines if his priest brother will agree to help him dress as a priest in order to smuggle heroin out of Nigeria. His brother reluctantly agrees. But when the drugs are being loaded onto the plane, the military comes. His brother is shot and killed, and Eko doesn’t make it onto the plane in time. When the military find him there, dressed as a priest, they address him saying, “Father, are you alright?” He then takes his brother’s place, living and practicing as a priest from that day on.

In the TV/comic book series, "The Walking Dead," a virus has caused the dead to walk and bite the living in order to pass on the virus to create a world of zombies. The few living left are struggling to survive and avoid becoming one of the walking dead. I had a dream last night that the living character Rick was bitten by and became a zombie. But he was a unique zombie. He still had a moral compass. He could feel the urge to bite, but he was able to restrain himself. He was able to stay peacefully among the living. Of course, the living were cautious around him. What if he were to run out of restraint?

The character of Rick is a strong leader with a good heart and ethics. And because he is such a good person through and through, the zombie bite did not bring him completely down. He looked like a zombie and had urges like a zombie, but he was true to his inner goodness in spite of it. People were suspicious that he was not good, but he actually was. “I’m a zombie, but I’m not going to bite you,” is what he said.

Good souls are not affected by evil, because nothing can break that goodness that is deep down inside. Just ask Angulimala. Angulimala, Pali for “finger garland,” was a cold hearted killer who took a finger from each of his 999 victims and strung them into a necklace which he wore. His goal was 1000 fingers. As he waited in the forest for his one thousandth victim, his mother came through the forest. He would have killed his mother, but the Buddha knew Angulimala’s heart and he intervened. Angulimala was ready to kill the Buddha instead.

“Then the Blessed One performed such a feat of supernormal power that the bandit Angulimala, going as fast as he could, was unable to catch up with the Blessed One, who was walking at his normal pace. Then he thought: ‘It is marvelous! Formerly I caught up with even a galloping elephant and seized it; I caught up with even a galloping horse and seized it; I caught up with even a galloping chariot and seized it; I caught up with even a galloping deer and seized it. But yet, though I am going as fast as I can, I am unable to catch up with this monk who is walking at his normal pace.’ He stopped and called ‘Stop, monk! Stop, monk!’
‘I have stopped, Angulimala. Do you stop, too.’”

“Then he addressed the Blessed One in stanzas thus:

‘While you are walking monk, you tell me you have stopped;
But now, when I have stopped, you say I have not stopped.
I ask you now, O monk what is the meaning of it;
How is it you have stopped and I have not?’

(The Blessed One:)

‘Angulimala, I have stopped for ever,
Foreswearing violence to every living being;
But you have no restraint towards things that breathe;
So that is why I have stopped and you have not.’”

“Angulimala: A Murderer's Road to Sainthood” by Hellmuth Hecker

This was Finger Garland’s wake up call. Upon hearing these words, he was able to see the pure heart inside of himself that had been covered up by hardness and evil. He was so moved that he asked to become ordained as a monk and a follower of the Buddha. The Buddha, being an excellent judge of character, agreed.

Some say “A tiger cannot change its stripes,” but I beg to differ. There is a seed of goodness even in the most heartless murderer. Redemption is available to anyone and everyone. All one has to do is see their own goodness inside, make the choice to stop doing evil things and water the seed of goodness inside.

The path of the Buddha is simple:
Do good
Refrain from wrong
Purify the mind