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Lessons of the Teachers July 6, 2020

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“What is the purpose of life?”

 

– A question people ask (or want to ask) their Gurus and gurus

Yesterday was all about teachers and all the ways they teach us to remove the darkness. And, speaking of teachers, one of the “Big G” Gurus I mentioned turns 85 today! Born today in Tibet in 1935, Lhamo Dhondup was given the religious name Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (which is shortened to Tenzin Gyatso) and he is known to the world as the 14th Dalai Lama. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet, although he is currently exiled in India. Lama is the Tibetan word for Guru. Dalai is a Mongolic word for “ocean” or “big.” “Dalai Lama” is the highest spiritual title assigned to individuals believed to be the incarnation of the last Avalokiteśvara (or Padmapani), the bodhisattva of compassion.

Avalokiteśvara is considered a “Big G” Guru in a variety of culture and is sometimes identified as male, sometimes as female. He is called Avloketesvar in Cambodia; Nātha in Sri Lanka; and Seto Machindranath, Janabaha Dyo, and Karunamaya in Nepal Mandal. He is called Lokanat or Lokabyuharnat in Myanmar and Lokesvara in Indochina and Thailand.

She is called Guanyin (a shortened version of Guanshiyin, which means “Contemplating the World’s Sounds”) or Guan Yin (various spellings include Kuan Yin) in Chinese Buddhism. She is Kannon or Kanzeon in Japan, where at least 29 notable temples are dedicated to her; Gwan-eum in Korea; and Quan Am in Vietnam. I could go on. The point is this is someone who is honored by many people, in a variety of cultures, because it is believed that they prolonged their ultimate enlightenment in order to ease the suffering of the world.

In Tibet, Avalokiteśvara is called Chenrezig or, sometimes, Şaḍākşarī (“Lord of the Six Syllables,” as he is associated with the lotus-focused mantra “OṂ MAŅI PADME HǕṂ”). Sacred text in Tibetan Buddhism explains the special relationship the original bodhisattva had with the people of Tibet; the story behind his prolonged enlightenment; and clues to finding each successor. Additionally, researchers will examine the writing, words, and the memories of close friends and relatives to find the next successor – as well as the Dalai Lama’s advisors. Gendun Drup was designated the “First Dalai Lama” 104 years after his death; in part because of the verification of his successor who announced himself at age 2 (not that anyone believed him at the time). The 2nd Dalai Lama, Gedun Gyatso, died in 1542 and the lineage has continued from then onward – as has the teachings.

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.”

 

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

The current Dalai Lama was selected at 2 years old and publicly presented at 4 years old. He assumed his spiritual leadership position at age 5 and his full political duties at age 15. He fled his homeland at the age of 18, during the 1959 Tibetan uprising, and became a refugee. He received the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize (at 54 years old) and the 2006 United States Congressional Gold Medal (at 71 years old). Like any other religious and political figure, the Dalai Lama has weighed in on a variety of world issues, including the rights of women, immigrants, and the LGBTQIA+ community; the practices of the United States CIA; the importance of caregivers; and the current global pandemic. Sometimes his words are comforting to people, other times they are confusing – and, like anyone else, he has made mistakes and had to decide how to respond to the suffering.

“From my own limited experience, I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion….

Usually our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and loved ones. Sometimes the compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong. Any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering, just as much as you. On this basis, since you can see that others are suffering, you develop a genuine sense of concern for them.”

 

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

Yesterday, in anticipation of his birthday, the Dalai Lama was asked to give “A Short Teaching on Mind Training” to a group in Taiwan. (He was in India.) He focused his dharma talk on the end of Geshé Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses for Training the Mind. In Tibetan Buddhism, lojong are “mind training” techniques to prepare a practitioner for a variety of loving-kindness and compassion practices. They are aphorisms designed to cultivate bodhicitta (the awakened of enlightened mind/intellect). The most common lojong practices in the West are approximately 59 statements found in a 12th century text by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje. Geshé Chekawa based his instruction on the teachings of Geshé Langri Tangpa (which is whole story unto itself). While the Dalai Lama spent part of yesterday focusing on the end of the text, he has previously taught and written about the entire text – and in particular, the eight verses.

“With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.”

 

– Verse 1 from Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshé Langri Tangpa

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 29th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice focused on “the 8 verses” with commentary from the Dalai Lama.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

Mo’ Mettā

 

### METTĀ • KARUNĀ • MUDITĀ • UPEKŞĀ ###

Mind Over Mind (on April 20th) April 20, 2020

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Yoga Sutra 1.17: vitarkavichārānandāsmitārūpānugamāt samprajñātah

 

– “[The process of concentrating] happens in four ways: gross/noting, subtle/examining, joy/bliss, and I-ness (self-identifying with object of concentration)”

 

“To observe attentively is to remember distinctly.”

 

– from The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Daupin Tales (published 4/20/1841) by Edgar Allan Poe

 

Every meditation or mindfulness-based practice starts the same. Regardless of style, tradition, or format, the beginning of the practice is always to bring your awareness to something. Noticing something is the first step. Then, you notice what you notice. In noticing what you notice, you bring your awareness to your awareness. That final step (bringing your awareness to your awareness) becomes the practice.

I hear somebody now, thinking very loudly, ‘No, no, that’s not how it works! When I….’

Right…. Finish the sentence above and you will see the veracity of my earlier statements. Or, you can just start practicing.

Wherever you are take a moment to bring your conscious awareness to something that’s been teasing your senses. Notice a taste, a smell, the feeling of anything (and everything) rubbing against your skin. Play “I Spy” or “I Hear.” Notice what is on your mind…and how that thought feels in your body. Notice your breath, and the parts of the breath. Notice your body, reacting to your breath. Bring your awareness to the concept of love, kindness, friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy, generosity, equanimity, grief, or peace. God, or G-d, or god. Notice how it feels to make a sound, sing a song, dance. Repeat, and repeat. Notice how it feels when you finish. Notice how you play. Notice how you feel in a pose. Notice how you feel as you move between poses. Breathe.

Take a deep breath in, a deeper breath out. And notice what you have decided to notice. Notice if it is something that holds your interest and holds your mind without a lot of effort. That is one way to practice. Notice if your mind is continuously jumping to something else. That is part of the practice. Notice if you go with the flow of the thoughts in your mind or if you are continuously pulling your awareness back to that which you first started to notice. Those too are ways to practice. Breathe.

Take a deep breath in, a deeper breath out. Repeat it all again.

Seriously, read those two paragraphs again and that’s 90 – 120 seconds, during which you focused and – in focusing – you started the process of concentrating, which leads to meditation. If you paused along the way and really focused, concentrated, (contemplated), and meditated – even for a moment – on any of those elements, you could have easily spent 5 – 10 minutes meditating. It’s that simple.

What is just as simple, but sometimes harder to explain is how you feel during all that. Did you notice your breath slowing down or speeding up as some sections of the sentences were easier to read than others? Did you notice that some parts felt really sweet to you, while others seemed boring or nonsensical? Did you ever feel uncomfortable? Did you notice your mind sometimes wandering off on a tangent or trying to jump ahead to figure out where I was going? That’s how the mind works. All of that…is how the mind works.

The mind/brain is responsible for keeping the body moving and operating, which means that the it is also responsible for keeping the body safe (and healthy). I’ve mentioned before that the mind/brain is constantly processing information, in the form of sensation, and then sending information (in the form of sensation) back to the different parts of the body. This is how it does its job. Successfully doing its job, however, sometimes means the brain has to solve puzzles that are missing pieces and mysteries with contradictory evidence. When our minds get in the habit of being Edgar Allan Poe’s Daupin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, we find ourselves making up a story even when we don’t need the story – and then we make decisions based on that story. That’s how the mind works.

“There are few persons who have not, at some period of their lives, amused themselves in retracing the steps by which particular conclusions of their own minds have been attained. The occupation is often full of interest and he who attempts it for the first time is astonished by the apparently illimitable distance and incoherence between the starting-point and the goal.”

– from The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Daupin Tales (published 4/20/1841) by Edgar Allan Poe

 

Some of the mind’s mental processing is conscious, but much of it is unconscious and/or subconscious. In fact, some of the ways in which we make decisions is due to this unconscious and subconscious processing / puzzle solving / mystery solving. When we take a moment to pause, and really notice what it is we are noticing, we bring some of that processing into the conscious mind. The more we get in the habit of paying attention to our mind-body-spirit, the more we get in the habit of understanding how we ended up where we are and where we could be going. The more we understand the cause-and-effect of our lives, the more we can alleviate some of our (physical) pain and much of our (mental) suffering.

It all starts by noticing what you notice, and bringing awareness to your awareness.

Please join me, if you are able and interested, today (Monday, April 20th) at 5:30 PM for another 75-minute practice where we notice things. This practice will be different from the Saturday and Sunday practices this weekend – except in the fact that we will be noticing things, virtually. Some of the new Zoom security protocols have definitely kicked in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. There is no music for this Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

Have you noticed I’m gearing up for Kiss My Asana to start on Saturday (April 25th)?

As I mentioned in Friday’s post, part of my offering to support Mind Body Solutions this year will be to tell seven special stories, your stories! Check out Friday’s post and then you can either email me or comment below.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days

Hey, I still need your Kiss My Asana story!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 20th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 20th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 20th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 20th Practice (see “A Poetry Practice” link above for an actual preview)

 

“Between ingenuity and the analytic ability there exists a difference far greater, indeed, than that between the fancy and the imagination, but of a character very strictly analogous. It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.”  

– from The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Daupin Tales (published 4/20/1841) by Edgar Allan Poe

 

### OM OM AUM ###

 

Meditation Monday March 30, 2020

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“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
‘Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.”

 

– the opening line of The Mourning Bride (Act I, scene i), by William Congreve

Right about now, one of the most misquoted (and misattributed) lines in the history of live theatre*, has several people thinking I am not getting enough sleep (because clearly I didn’t type that quote correctly). But, when Almeria (daughter of the King of Granada) spoke the opening line of The Mourning Bride back in February or March 1697, no one anticipated confusion about the first line – they were anticipating laughter. Playwright and poet William Congreve was known for brilliantly engaging, high-brow, sexual comedy of manners with satirical dialogue (and sometimes mistaken identities).  The idea that inanimate objects could be moved (or animated) by music while a woman in grief would be stuck with her emotions, could be played for laughs – and Congreve even follows the idea up with the suggestion that Almeria is being melodramatic – then, however, there is a turn in events and the audience is made aware that her emotions are very real, very valid, and very hard to endure (because she can’t change the events that led to the emotions).

We’ve all been there. In times like these, we find ourselves there again and again: stricken by very real, very valid, and very hard to endure emotions. We may have the desire to run from those emotions, maybe even to keep busy so that we don’t have to feel much or deal with the emotions. However, escapism only works for so long. And, it can be nearly impossible as people all over the world are social distancing and self quarantining. Rather than making it harder, consider settling in for a moment – just a moment – and breathe. You can do that 90-second thing. Notice how you’re feeling, how the emotion feels in your body. Notice what happens if instead of building a story around it – or running from it – you stay still, breathe, notice what changes and how it changes.

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

I think of Mondays as Meditation Monday, because for several years now, I have led a YIN Yoga practice (which is very meditative in quality) followed by a vinyasa practice at Common Ground Meditation Center. The vinyasa practice is followed by Buddhist Studies and so I am constantly aware that many people in the group are using their physical practice (hatha yoga) as it was classically intended: as preparation for deep seated meditation. The movement in the physical practice not only helps to strengthen and relax the body, it also helps to strengthen and relax the mind, thereby enabling the mind to do one of the things it is made to do: focus-concentrate-meditate.

Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras with the Chapter (or Foundation) on Concentration, in which he outlines several different concentration/mediation techniques. These include (but are not limited to):

  • focusing on the breath {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on the sensations being experienced by the body-mind (smell, taste, form, touch, and sound) {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on any sense of lightness or joy one may be experiencing {YS 1.36};
  • focusing on whatever “well-considered object” brings peace and ease {YS 1.39}

All of these techniques are intended to cultivate transparency in the mind, as well as clarity and ease in the body.

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras in some ways acknowledges that not everyone can just drop down into a seated meditation for hours on end. Many people – most people even – need a little preparation. So, Patanjali then focuses on preparation (this is the practice). Along the way, he explains that when there is no clarity, peace, joy, and kindness in the mind-body we create more suffering, for ourselves and others – in this lifetime, and the next.

Yoga Sutra 2.13:  sati mūle tadvipāko jātyāyurbhogāh

– “As long as the root cause exists [ignorance/lack of knowledge, false sense of self,-identity, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death]karma must bear fruit, such as birth in a particular species, life span, and life experience. ”

“Yes, thou shalt know, spite of thy past Distress,
And all those Ills which thou so long hast mourn’d;
Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”

 

– Zara (the Moor princess or queen) in The Mourning Bride (Act III, scene ii), by William Congreve

While The Mourning Bride was very popular back in 1697, and even featured some of the things for which William Congreve was famous, it was the playwright’s only dramatic tragedy and has pretty much faded into obscurity…except for those two misquoted (and often misattributed) lines.

The practice for today (Monday, March 30th), is inspired by an altogether different way of soothing the body and the mind – a way that can come with some significant side effects. Today in 1842, Dr. Crawford W Long used sulphuric ether as he removed a tumor from the neck of James M. Venable. This became the first successful surgical procedure using general ether anesthetic.

In honor of this anesthesia anniversary, March 30th became National Doctors Day back in 1933. Today, more than ever, is a great day to thank a doctor for their dedication, perseverance, and contributions to society. As we all are dealing with our emotions over the current pandemic, take a moment to also say thank you to the nurses, technicians, first responders, and personal caretakers, as well as to the administrators, cooks, servers, and  medical custodial staff that are enduring so much right now. Notice how that gratitude feels in your mind-body.

If you are directly encountering any of the people listed above as you go about your day, one very small act of kindness (that has a huge impact) is to take three deep breaths before you engage in conversation.

  1. Inhale love, exhale kindness.
  2. Inhale patience, exhale compassion.
  3. Inhale peace, exhale peace.

You can access tonight’s practice live (5:30 – 6:45 PM CST) via the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or your telephone. The ID for tonight is 111-660-355. (For additional details, check out the calendar.)

Ironically, there’s no playlist for today (because I rarely play music for the Common Ground practice). When, however, March 30th falls on a day other than Monday, I play “music to soothe the savage beast,” by some musicians who celebrate their birthdays on my anesthesia day. As you listen, wish them well too!

Eric Clapton (b.1945) & Tracy Chapman (b. 1964)

 

Celine Dion (b. 1968)

 

Norah Jones (b. 1979)

 

*NOTE: I’m making a definite distinction (above) between live theatre and cinematic theatre, because clearly this is one of the most misquoted lines in the history of film.

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###