A lovely hug

Even before Joely or JJ, my daughter, was born nearly two years ago, I struggled with  prioritising making two hours available for meditation every day. But most days, first thing before the day had begun, I would make sure I got onto my mat for an hour. In addition, blessed to be living in a neighborhood with an active Vipassana community, I was able to regularly sit with others; and for five important years, annually I sat or served on a ten day course. In short it was a big part of my life.

My experience of becoming a parent has been that everything that I once held sacred and essential to being me just fell away, and in its place became the need and desire to use every spare shred of energy and second of time on being there for my family.

Recently, I was able to meditate properly for the first time since JJ was born. Thanks to the Dhamma Shed which has begun to host monthly one day Vipassana courses, I was able to meditate from 9am-5:30pm, with a lovely lunch in-between. Although my time on the mat was challenging, the time flew by.

When I got home we had a Skype call with a dear friend who lives far away. As to be expected, speaking was difficult. All I wanted to do was to close my eyes and go to that place deep inside I re-discovered during my day of mediation. But something happened that has never happened before: JJ climbed onto me and held me tight, as if in an embrace for the duration of the Skype call that lasted an hour. As you can imagine all of my sensations exploded.

Since this experience, I have been trying to understand ‘it’ in the context of my difficulties in being able to prioritise my time and energy to get back to my mat and meditate regularly again.

On one level it gives validation – I could easily use this ‘story’ to justify why I should meditate rather than enjoy a beautiful sunny day with my wife and daughter.

On another level, with my understanding of equanimity, a way of being I only know of because of Vipassana, I understand that this thinking can lead to disappointment and ‘misery’ if it does not happen again. I loved JJ hugging me for a whole hour, I was able to be fully aware how wonderful it was, not only for me and my ego, but for us as a family growing together. I also understand that for me one of the big reasons I must find a way to keep up a daily practice is to help me keep a balanced mind. My goal as a parent is to love her as much when she decides to throw a pot of yogurt over me as I did when she hugged me for an hour.

Not easy, neither is Vipassana.

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Blowing the mind with dangerous fire

I was once addicted to marijuana.  It started as a recreational activity which I did with friends.  It inspired me with visions that I could use in my art and ideas that I thought were very unique and astounding while I was high.  Sometimes these ideas helped me when I sobered up to have a new understanding of an aspect of my life.  Most of the time, however, the ideas that I wanted to apply after I had had them, were impractical.  Also, at this time, I was hardly in the state of applying what I learned to life.

As it happens, I started to crave the visions I saw.  I wanted to have more ideas. Consequently, I smoked more and I ended up having many thoughts about thoughts.  The way I’ve described it to friends of mine is that when you are high, you think you are smart.  You think you are coming up with some great thing that is ‘blowing your mind’ and then it usually comes back around to being amazing just because you’re high.  Or the idea looks novel, but it is thinking about thought, and paralyzes the thinker into a roller coaster that is not anywhere near truth or a Dhamma-like change.  It is a battle that you consistently lose, because it is based on craving and aversion.  It may seem like genuine inspiration, but it lacks substance.

This, of course, is my personal experience.  It has nothing to do with anyone else and what they’ve gotten or get from the use of cannabis or any other thing like it.  I used it for recreational use and got addicted.  I was addicted to the craving and aversion, and the plant was my gateway to get there quicker.  It lead me straight onto the chain of ignorance and of chasing sensations.  This was before I had practiced Vipassana, and naturally Vipassana is what began my observing of it and understanding that it was not beneficial to me anymore.  It was also my strength to leave it behind and overcome the ‘need’ for it.

For about a year, it took over my life.  I smoked daily.  I got depressed and anti-social, and generally unintelligent and unresponsive.  I simply wanted to hide away and smoke. It was really difficult to come to terms with the fact that I tortured myself like this.  It was a dead life.  I had to forgive my actions and find peace with which was, in one sense, a wasted year.  In the other sense, it’s a year that propelled me onto the path of Dhamma with determination and a ‘smack to the face’ that it was absolutely the right path for me.

Presently, I don’t do any and I don’t think they are needed at all.  I still sometimes have the idea come up that I would like to go smoke, but the moment the idea comes, it’s gone.  I see how destructive and useless it would be to do, and simply move on.  It’s not a ‘thing’ that sticks anymore.  I see it and that’s all.  These ‘drugs’ have a use, but when taken with an unclear mind, their use is easily misunderstood.  I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone who hasn’t done Vipassana.  And to anyone who has, I also wouldn’t.

A metaphor: The elephant (our mind) isn’t trained to jump through the hoop.  We sit to train it.  Taking a substance is like setting the hoop on fire and pushing the elephant through.  The trained mind will see the fire and be able to avoid it with a concentrated jump and the wisdom to see the danger.  I pushed through the fire, with no wisdom.  In hindsight, I see what I did and why it hurts.  That had a purpose in my life, but it isn’t the way I would suggest.

What Has Helped Me

Ryan Shelton, creator of this blog, wrote in a most recent post, “I want people to feel encouraged and supported in practicing however they can within the limitations of the rest of their lives. I don’t know exactly how to help…”

That struck me. I too, as a writer for this blog, feel the same way.  I don’t know what to say that can inspire anyone to practice more and learn the Art of Living, other than truthfully telling the story of how I’m maintaining my own daily practice and how it affects my day to day life.  I realized too, that many of us would have different difficulties, and perhaps more difficulties than I now have at maintaining daily sits.  I have integrated these daily sits into my life for the most part.  It is more of a joy and ease to practice them now.  I will impart what wisdom I have in my blog posts here.

For starters, what are some things that have helped me to get to this point of practice where the two day sits are manageable and something I make time for no matter what?

  1. I did some long term service at the center nearest where I live.  This was when I sat my second and third course.  I served and sat courses intermittently and it was of great value to instilling the practice within me and understanding the volunteering side of it, which is just as beneficial.  I say to many that it is more beneficial to sit one course and serve one, than it is to sit two.  Serve if you haven’t.  It will help you manage daily sits in your own life.
  2. Adding one hour timed gong and chanting (S. N. Goenka) ‘music files’ to my I pod to use for daily sittings and group sittings.  It’s helped me to switch between using an alarm clock and using chanting or gongs.  Keeps it ‘fresh.’
  3. Hosting potlucks and group sittings every weekend.  It is very casual when we host, but we get a good meditation in none the less.  It is nice to have the official places for group sits, but it is also nice to have a place for random friends to join and do Annapanna. Many of those who started to come and sit with us have now gone to a 10 day course.  The potluck atmosphere is also helpful for talking about Vipassana and encouraging others in their practice.  I would also mention that the right friends are important.  It is dangerous to hang around fools; who will step on your practice with or without knowing.
  4. Having a meditation space.  I haven’t scheduled my sits at the same time every day, which is recommended in books like ‘A Meditator’s Handbook by Bill Crecelius,’ but I have made a space that I often do my daily sits in.  It is a good anchor.  Mine’s in my closet.  When I’m having a really bad sit, which still happens; I make sure I stay in the closet and just don’t leave until the hour is up.  I may not be really meditating all that much, but I’m keeping a strong determination, and the closet doors help so I don’t get distracted and leave.
  5. Dhamma books and Dhamma talks.  I have not read that many from the centers, but the ones I have read have been a great inspiration.  I also have found other key things that I feel are inspirations to walking the same path.  Some of these things would be: Avatar: The Last Airbender (TV show), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (movie and manga), Studio Ghibli films, Alan Watts, J. Krishnamurti, Mooji etc.
  6. Switching it up.  Doing 3 meditations for one week to solidify your practice a bit.  Go to the center for a short term service.  Meditate three times for just one day.  Do it first thing in the morning.  Wait half the day, then do both your sits.  Do a two hour sit.  All these changes have happened naturally as I’ve developed my practice.  It’s easy to be hard on ourselves, but it isn’t being equanimous.  Play with the practice.  Try different things.  The first step is the last step.  Walk in the direction and you will not fail.  I WILL mention that it is not generally easy to meditate last thing before bed, or ON your bed.  Sleep is a danger to meditation.  Doing it and succeeding against the temptation to sleep is good, but if it’s not working on a regular basis, sit somewhere else.Another ‘welcoming’ thought is that you will only NOT practice, until you realize you HAVE to practice.  The elastic can only stretch so far back before it springs forward.  Do what you can with the time you have.  Good luck strangers… into the unknown we go.

Safe

I find it unspeakable to speak the truth.

I find all shallow thoughts of men are my own.

I find wholeness lights every way I can see.

Now, moving in truth, I see no other way.

I find myself feeling for sensation,

when my heart is weary and tender.

I find the cries of old and young the same.

Each of us, responsible.  This world.

I find no thoughts to reach a living.

To be held onto what I know is treacherous.

It slips out and into the depths unknown.

Where there is no guide, only home.

Quiet silence of waves for the sensitive one.

They act in the kind and ruthless ways.

All living coming to pass.

All that suffered brought to shore.

Each of us, many guides.

And we are the only ones, of all.

May we be true to ourselves.

To light a home that will be unperturbed

through all storms, strong and small.

Like light and dark, see the change.

Hear the calling from your frames

and be with all that is.

You’re safe.

-Anthony Ross
(Flexanimous Art)
flexanimousart.blogspot.ca

 

 

Be Quiet and Listen

This is a discussion that I have listened to multiple times and continue to get more out of it.  I’ve posted it on this blog before, because it is a truly marvelous and very Dhamma-like conversation.

http://www.jkrishnamurti.org/krishnamurti-teachings/view-video/knowledge-and-the-transformation-of-man-part-1-of-18.php

The discussion is about as close to ‘what is’ as you can get, aside from meditating.  It’s the nearest words can get to speaking about the Dhamma, without being overly poetic.  It is also why, most people who haven’t done a 10 day Vipassana course, would not understand this conversation.  It’s eighteen hours long, by the way.  That’s because it’s very thorough.  They go slow and ‘go into’ each question and the whole movement of life.  This is the stuff of life.  It’s the stuff that many people miss, because they’re in their heads.  Or better said, paraphrasing some words from this dialogue, ‘they’re mulling over the images that they’ve made about life, and not seeing the thing itself.’

This brings me to what I’ve been ‘dealing’ with in my day to day life most recently.  I’m at this seminar thing on weekdays and it’s very much like a high school type of deal.  It’s something I’m require to be at.  We sit around the room and mainly listen to a man speak about terms and define words that can be endlessly defined and analysed.  The ‘teacher’ is a man who is stuck in knowledge and thinks he is wise.  He is someone who does not understand meditation or what it means to see what is, without interpreting it.  This brings up a problem that Krishnamurti and Dr. Allan Anderson go into in their talk.  “How can a human being (oneself or another) bring about a person who is undisturbed enough to listen?”

This is listening in the total sense, meaning, meditation.  Listen with your whole body and your whole mind.  This is something that terms don’t touch and words, in the superficial way they are often used, cease to give meaning.  It may sound like I’m complaining, but this is more a matter of sensitivity and having to be in a situation, on a day to day basis, with a person who does not care enough to listen, in that sense, and what to do about it.

The way the question is put, “…undisturbed enough to listen,” is because of the fire that you are thrown in when you meditate.  It’s a fire of attention, and breath.  There is no escaping in words or conclusion.  As each of us meditate, we go into this fire more and more.  We are on an edge, so to speak, and there is no stopping it now.  When you sit a 10 day course, Vipassana is now with you, whether you sit daily or not.  There it is, creeping up through your sensations, all the time.  That is why it is disturbing, or can be.

Then, in every day life, you find yourself with others who don’t feel this fire.  They don’t know how to meet it.  Sometimes you can’t get away from them, like my current situation. What I’ve found then, is to be selfish with my practice, when I’m there with someone who will not listen.  With some people, there’s no convincing them and no use trying.  When that’s the case, it’s time to meditate.  Go in and sit there with the fire.  It’s the salvation for oneself to do this, and the only way that awareness and attention can permeate towards them.  At some point, they may feel it.  In the meantime, be quiet and keep practicing.

~

Writing for this site helps me with my practice, but I’d also like it to help you (readers) as much as possible.  If there’s a topic you want me to write about or anything else you’d like to share, comment on this post or email me at: flexanimousart@gmail.com

Visit flexanimousart.blogspot.ca for other writings and things I explore.

 

Start Again

At one of the courses I sat, there was an assistant teacher who had one more thing to say before the course was over.  It was the last sit of the morning before everyone went for breakfast and left the center.  The last thing he said was, “Take a short break…”

People laughed and were a bit confused.  It was the end of the course.  It was time to leave, and that line, ‘take a short break,’ usually was used often during the course, and usually followed up by something like ‘then come back to meditate in the hall and in your own rooms.’

This time, he continued with, “…And come back to the center.  Make this your center.”

I thought it was a masterful way to end the course.  Vipassana is never over. The night you get home from the course, you’ve got to get that second sit of the day in.  And all the while, you can be aware of your breath and sensations on your body.  At times, you may forget.  The teacher is not there to say, take a short break, and start again.  You have to be your own mentor, your own master.

Done a sit recently?  Gone to a course?  Good.  Take a short break, and start again.

 

Writing for this site helps me with my practice, but I’d also like it to help you (readers) as much as possible.  If there’s a topic you want me to write about or anything else you’d like to share, comment on this post or email me at: flexanimousart@gmail.com

Visit flexanimousart.blogspot.ca for other writings and things I explore.

Ways to See Equanimity

There are many different ways to speak of equanimity and awareness.  Most of the spiritual speakers and writers of the world will point to these two principles in some way.  They may only point to things that point to these things, but still, they are on the same track to seeing it.  They may also not know what they are pointing at, but say it in a way that you can translate it back to something that works for you and aligns with your understanding and experience of what it means to be equanimous.

For example, Stephen Silver, a character designer does what he calls Art Talks on Youtube. In one of the talks he says something like this, “You’re never going to get everything you desire.  When you fulfill one desire, you’ll have another one that you want to get.  So at some point, you realize you just have to appreciate the moment and where you’re at now.”

Another artist, Jeff Watts, quoted in one of his videos, “Be a master at where you’re at.”

There are many ways of saying the same things.  Be aware.  Be equanimous.  Another example is Abraham Hicks, who says many things along the lines of, “You think that this or that thing makes this other person happy.  And you think, when I get those things, I’ll be happy like they seem to be, but it doesn’t work that way.  We say, be happy first, and those things will come, and if they don’t it won’t matter because you’ll be happy regardless.”

Another person who channels energy known as Bashar has said that the definition of abundance (or awareness and equanimity) is “having the ability to do what you need to do when you need to do it.”  When you’re in the zone, or with the moment, or better said, not chasing something special elsewhere, you’ll be abundant.  That awareness and realization that there’s nowhere else you need to be brings peace.  Any direction is an attachment and a form of escape or a dissipation of energy, but were all on different paths, and equanimity is a sliding scale.

Your completeness or incompleteness will change.  Don’t try to find one or the other.  That implies you lack equanimity.  Just be and come back to breath.  Activate anicca, as U Ba Khin says.  Be aware of the change, and equanimity will follow naturally.

 

Writing for this site helps me with my practice, but I’d also like it to help you (readers) as much as possible.  If there’s a topic you want me to write about or anything else you’d like to share, comment on this post or email me at: flexanimousart@gmail.com

Visit flexanimousart.blogspot.ca for other writings and things I explore.