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Curious About… You (the “missing” Wednesday post) July 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, July 14th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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Q: What’s the perfect gift to give a Tibetan Buddhist nun on her birthday?

A: Nothing.

I have more “punny” Buddhist jokes where that came from; however, since some people appreciate seriousness in their practice, I will move it along.

Wednesday was the 85th birthday of the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. About eight years ago, Ani Pema Chödrön, who was born in New York City on July 14, 1936, asked that people observe her birthday by practicing peace. Of course, even if we were to practice in a vacuum, peace requires some compassion and loving-kindness. The practice also requires going a little deeper into our sore spots, our tender spots, our tight and raw spots. You know the spots I mean: those spots people poke and push to get us “hooked.”

“Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens — that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place — that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you — they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child — and, shenpa: almost co-arising.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

We begin each practice with what some might call a prayer, a wish, or a plea for peace. We also begin with a personal intention. Sometimes we breathe peace in and breathe peace out. Every once in a while I remind you to remember your personal intention. Sometimes we even end with a reminder that peace begins within. However, it can be hard to find peace when someone is continuously doing something (to us or around us) that doesn’t feel very peaceful – or loving and kind. Perhaps we can cultivate some softness, some compassion even, when we recognize that the other person is doing their best. But, even then, there are times when we just feel ourselves getting hot under the collar and losing our awareness. That’s what happens when our buttons get pushed: we lose awareness of who we are and what we’re all about. To borrow a metaphor from Anushka Fernandopulle, we get on the “Peace” Train and suddenly find ourselves headed towards, “OMG, I’m So Pissed”ville.

In the process of that journey, we forget our original intention and we forget all about that “peace within us” (let alone that “peace all around us”).

For almost ten years now, I have spent the month of July sharing Pema Chödrön’s teachings around shenpa and the four R’s: Recognize, Refrain, Relax, and Resolve. I like to also add a fifth R: Remember. This is not the only time I share these teachings; however, it is nice to have a dedicated period of time to really focus-concentrate-mediate on the ways we can get “unhooked.” It also coincides nicely with the Dalai Lama’s birthday and, since it’s midway through the year, it’s also a nice time to remind people that what we do on the mat, can translate into practices off the mat.

A lot of times I use examples similar to the very obvious ones in the quote above. However, since we are usually hooked by our ego – and since I recently mentioned the power of familiarity – this week I pointed out that sometimes the really pretty, shiny lure that hides the sharp hook of suffering is actually our habit of doing things a certain way.

Yes, big surprise (and another Buddhist joke in the making) – we get hooked by our attachments.

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

 

– Ernő Rubik

Both Buddhism and the Yoga Philosophy have practices around attachment that involve our belief (sometimes our mistaken belief) that we know something. Maybe we know something is right; maybe we know something is wrong. It doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that we have the belief, we’re attached to the belief, and (therefore) the belief can cause suffering.

Both philosophies encourage us to not only question what we believe, but also to be curious about what we believe, why we believe it, and what’s on the other side of our beliefs. In Zen Buddhism, shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) is the practice of approaching a subject as if for the first time. In Yoga, the second niyamā (internal “observation”) is santoşa which is “contentment.” Both practices require the openness and eagerness to learn that we observe in small children. Both practices cultivate an open-heartedness that, when applied in our relationships, can allow us to be more generous with the attributes of our hearts and less generous with our judgement. Both practices require us to show-up and be present with what is – and both practices give us insight into ourselves.

Imagine, for a moment, that you go to a new yoga class with a new teacher. You’ve been practicing for a while, maybe you even teach or have been through a teacher training – either way, you “know your stuff.” The practice starts in a pose that you would normally practice after you’ve warmed up a bit and the teacher offers no other options. So, depending on the day you’re having, maybe you just go into a modification you know; maybe you struggle to get into the pose the way would if you were warmed up; maybe you ignore the suggestion and go into something else; or maybe you are already so fed up that you leave and that’s the end of that.

But, let’s say you stay. You breathe in. You breathe out. Your body is starting to warm up; your mind is starting to focus and – BOOM, they do it again! They cue something different from what you were expecting (and had already started doing) or something that you and the people around you clearly aren’t safely in a position to practice. And, again, they offer no other options. What do you do?

This could continue through a whole practice. And, to be clear, maybe it’s not the sequence that’s the problem. Maybe they just say things in a way that really grates on your nerves. Maybe they consistently call Downward Facing Dog a resting pose (but it’s a pose you recognize is really challenging). Maybe it’s the fact that they never offer alternative options even though most of the people in the practice are not doing what they are suggesting. Maybe there’s too much philosophy for you, maybe there’s not enough. Maybe their voice reminds you of the person with whom you just had an argument. Ultimately, the nature of the issue doesn’t matter.

What matters is what you do when you’re getting annoyed.

Do you RECOGNIZE that something was happening that didn’t meet your expectations? In other words, do you Recognize that you are getting hooked? If so, do you pause for a moment and – instead of doing the thing you would normally do – REFRAIN from doing anything? Do you just take a breath and RELAX? If so, do you RESOLVE to continue with that relaxation, with that mindfulness, and with that intentionality? Do you REMEMBER why you decided to attend the practice in the first place?

Or do you leave the space, completely annoyed, frustrated, angry, and not at all peaceful?

“The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth—it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

Years ago, I think it was on my 45th birthday, I had plans for a whole day of “wise women.” Even though it wasn’t part of my original plan, it turned out that I was going to be the first “wise woman” in my day, because I agreed to be a guest teacher at a university class on mindfulness. Then I had plans to attend a yoga practice led by one of my favorite teachers, a teacher whose practice inspires me to this day. Finally, I was going to have dinner with a group of some of the wisest women I knew at the time. The university class turned out to be an awesome way to start the day. Then I headed across town for some yoga and encountered a problem; my favorite yoga teacher was nowhere in sight. I figured she just wasn’t at the front desk; so I signed in and got settled, trying not to be too annoyed at the music that was clearly not what my favorite teacher would be playing. I was having one of my best birthdays ever… until the class started and it was being led by someone I wasn’t expecting.

Without going into a lot of detail, I’ll just say that I was “hooked” from the minute the sub said their hello. If you’ve heard me tell this story before you also know that instead of settling in during the integration, I was getting riled up. But then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that there had to be a reason this teacher was at the front of the room. They had to have something to offer. And, if I could let go of my expectations, maybe I would learn something.

Ultimately, the day goes down as one of my favorite days with some of my favorite memories and the birthday rates as one of my favorite celebrations. While I never took from that (substitute) teacher again – and part of me wants to rate it as one of my least favorite classes in almost twenty years of yoga – I definitely got something out of the practice… and it’s something that continues to serve me.

“Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

“Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.

Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

 

 

– quoted from Always Maintain A Joyful Mind: And Other Lojong Teachings on Awaking Compassion and Fearlessness by Pema Chödrön

Every culture and tradition around the world places a certain level of value on the virtues of the heart. In yoga, we find instructions to meditate on the various attributes of the heart. We can also view at least three of the “powers unique to being human” as heart practices. I even think of the physical practice of yoga as a way to prepare the mind-body for those heart practices. In Buddhism, four of the “heart” practices are referred to as the “Divine Abodes” (Brahmavihārās): loving-kindness (maitrī or “mettā), compassion (karuņā), sympathetic or empathetic joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekşā or upekkhā). Again, you find these virtues all over the world; however, what you find in contemplative traditions are the practices to cultivate these innately human powers.

Pema Chödrön’s teachings around the concept of shenpa are just one set of many practices found in Buddhism. In Zen Buddhism, for instance, kōans are statements or stories (sometimes considered riddles or puzzles in a Western mind) used as a form of contemplation (although not always of meditation). Similarly, in Tibetan Buddhism, people use lojong or “mind training” techniques which can be held in the heart and mind during contemplation. To “sit” or even live with a phrase does not require a great deal of “thinking,” but it does require a certain amount of patience and openness. One of the goals, in practicing with such statements, is to let the teaching unfold in the same way the heart opens… in the same way a fist unclenches or a flower unfurls. In the process of these practices, one also discovers more and more about themselves, as well as about the world.

“There’s a common misunderstanding among all human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable….

 

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is.”

 

– quoted from “1. Loving-Kindness” in The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness by Pema Chödrön

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07142020 Compassion & Peace for Pema”]
 

“Prince Guatama, who had become Buddha, saw one of his followers meditating under a tree at the edge of the Ganges River. Upon inquiring why he was meditating, his follower stated he was attempting to become so enlightened he could cross the river unaided. Buddha gave him a few pennies and said: “Why don’t you seek passage with that boatman. It is much easier.”

 

– quoted from Matt Caron and from Elephant Journal

Check out last year’s post on this date (and follow the dates for more on the practice)!

 

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