First Session’s Teachings
These Eight weeks will give you the tools to tame the mind, making it ready for thought transformation. All we really need to heal, mend what is broken, obtain peace, feel our connection to all things and to live a balanced, creative life is accessible and within us all the time. I will be teaching various Buddhist meditation practices along with Buddhist psychological tools to transform our mind and lives.
There are three qualities that will heal from us from what ever causes us suffering, these are – compassion, presence and wisdom. According to Buddhist psychology these are the there inherent qualities we all have. The three jewels, as it were. Breath work (both meditation and transpersonal breathing), thought transformation through mind training, and energy work are the only tools we need to bring forth these qualities. Know that Buddhist psychology is an engaged and transpersonal psychology. Whereas the emphasis is on internal work and transformation, this effort uplifts and transforms the world. The bringing forth of these inherent qualities is truly bringing back these jewels to those in your life.
The most difficult part won’t be learning or understanding these or even applying them – our biggest challenge will be to commit to a continual practice and then recommit when we need to. The idea is to develop a consistency of practice. So ideally cease this opportunity and make your meditation practice central to your life for the next eight weeks.
My Last Night’s Dream. In Buddhist psychology we work with dreams through the practice of dream yoga. In my dream work I notice dreams that arise on the eve of a new commitment. So I paid attention to last night’s dream, the eve before I began this class. I am in my mother’s house (not in my own consciousness, my mind is in the past.), I am not prepared for this class and the house is a mess because my brother (who is an addict) had friends over. He gets everyone out and as I am getting ready for the class I discover the kitchen is a mess, totally trashed by my brother. (The place I cook and nourish myself). Then when I try to get my brother (the habitual quality of myself to clean up and get ready) he is asleep in bed and unwilling to help. I have a few friends there who are helping clean the kitchen but I don’t feel ready and I feel rushed. Nevertheless, I am determined to be ready.
For me this dream is a beautiful reminder of how the habitual, attached qualities of our ego can disturb and distract us from our true nature and its qualities. In fact, I really need to be in my own home (consciousness and life) in the first place. It reminds me that I still have my work cut out for me, and that as a teacher I must keep the practice strong in my own life. I must continually be honest with myself that there is still a habitual aspect of my self that is asleep in the other room. So, as I offer these lessons and practices, know that I am working to maintain my practice too. The dream also showed that I have friends who are available and ready to help (my inherent qualities).
Ideally, We want to be able to access our inner qualities “on the spot.” We want to tap into our wisdom when we are feeling confused or afraid, we want to tap into our love and compassion when we are angry, scared, or judgmental, we want to tap into presence, when we are lazy, habitual or disconnected. These are the three jewels of Buddhism and our humanity. They are the treasure we all have within.
My aspiration for this class is to offer means for you to access these three jewels, these three innate qualities. The beauty of course is that we don’t have to go searching for these qualities they are within us all the time. However there are obstructions to these qualities and the practices we will use in here will be all we need to move through the obstructions and get to the jewels. You will find that there are many programs and processes that offer similar means to access these qualities – core belief engineering, cognitive behavioral therapy, rational emotive therapies, Lojong, mind training, neurolinguistic programming, nonresistance training, etc.
The teachings will point to your true nature and to those inherent qualities that you have and the practices will give you direct experiences with these inherent qualities. But we must all practice and prepare the ground.
I am going to begin the lesson with a story then I will introduce some of each quality. Included in this lesson are what to look for in any mindfulness practice and some suggestions to get you started on your journey to the three jewels.
How The Blue Bear Held On, an adapted myth borrowed from various Native American and African creation stories.
When the world was born it began to fly out into space due to the whirling winds. There wasn’t anything to hold it in place. To prevent the earth from whirling out of control, the Creator put a Sacred Bear in each direction to help hold Her in place. The whirling wind continued but the earth stayed put, kept her seat so to speak while the bear in each direction held on to her. And this was good.
In the North He placed the Great Blue Bear and gave her the one sacred thread to hold on to.
The Blue Bear of the North has held her seat since the birth of the earth and has never let go of the sacred thread. But, as in all good stories, Blue Bear was tested for her strength, endurance and patience. Crow gathered many birds to cause a disturbing wind to encircle the Blue Bear. The birds and wind made such a disturbance that Blue Bear began to doubt she could hold on. She began to blame the crows for her difficulty and judged the Creator for giving her such a task. The crows cawed and cawed and the winds of disturbance howled. The earth below the bear disappeared from beneath her and all she had was her end of the sacred thread.
But Blue Bear kept her place. She did not stir. She held on.
The Crows were relentless and the bear began to feel the wind of fear, the strongest wind of all.
But She did not move. She kept hold of the Sacred Thread. She stayed put even though the winds stirred and whirled and there seemed to be no chance of end. The Great Mother and the Blue Bear, kept their place.
Finally, the crows got tired and left. And the bear could see the great blue earth right beneath her and the sacred thread connecting them. She took a deep breath and a sigh passed over and around the earth. And once again, it was good. Now the Great Blue Bear sits just above the earth in the North, bound by the Sacred Thread. She sits and holds on. She asks that each of us hold our place and never let go of the Thread, though the winds may whirl and the voices disturb. Hold your seat. Don’t let go of the thread. Hold on
In Buddhism we understand that if you want to awaken to your true nature, you must cultivate the causes and conditions of what you seek. We must cultivate the conditions that would bring forth compassion, presence and wisdom to experience all the benefits of these qualities. These inherent qualities are dependent on altruistic thoughts (the desire to benefit others and self), the awakening of bodhichitta (the love in our hearts) and the perfection of skillful means (actually applying the skillful means we learn). So to bring forth your true nature, which expresses compassion, presence and wisdom you need to practice different means of altruistic thoughts (mind training), awakening the love in your hearts (bodhichitta) and skillful means (meditation, Breathwork, skillful action, etc). All these inner qualities, just as everything in life, are dependent on certain conditions. And you are the one and the only one who gets to determine and create the conditions that will bring rise to these qualities (not the outside circumstances).
Compassion (self love, love)
There are two means of compassion: spontaneous expression of compassion and the cultivation of compassion. The more we cultivate compassion, the more we will set up the conditions to spontaneously express it. Both are real forms of the inherent quality. In terms of Buddhist psychology you might understand that the cultivation of compassion actually holds stronger positive karma and healing because you are practicing it in the face of some difficulty. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with you if you feel you mostly need to cultivate compassion. Compassion is ultimately an altruistic thought derived from the desire to benefit others. Chadrakiriti a Tibetan yogi expressed the importance of compassion in the beginning, middle and end of one’s practice and life. Even after enlightenment, full awakening, compassion is necessary to not simply enjoy this blissful state but to continue to practice engaged Buddhism.
This of course is the quality expressed in being able to know and experience the present moment. The past is done, over, doesn’t really exist and is therefore like a dream, and the future hasn’t occurred yet, is a totally unknown and unforeseen and is like a mirage. To cultivate and bring froth presence is then to be able to truly experience what each moment has to offer. What we discover is that all of our negative and hindering emotional, habitual states is either driven from the past or future. Again what we cultivate becomes. As we cultivate presence we will then have direct experience with presence.
In my dream, because I had strong intention to still hold the class and to practice, I was cultivating presence. There was indeed a lot for me to work with (messy house, and sleepy, addictive quality, feeling rushed). But I also had friends helping me (my inherent qualities.) Something else to remember as we take on this practice of mindfulness and thought transformation is that every moment offers an opportunity to cultivate one of the three qualities (jewels) or to cultivate various habitual states. The beauty is that we can use anything and everything to cultivate presence. We are either strengthening habitual states or we are cultivating and strengthening our inherent qualities. The more mindful we become the more we are conscious of what we are strengthening through our choices and our responses to life’s circumstance.
Wisdom (insight, relative and universal truth)
Through the process of meditation and mind transformation we move from relative truth to ultimate truth. The ultimate truth (according to Buddhist psychology and philosophy) is emptiness – shinyata. A simple way for me to describe this is when we experience no separation with all of existence. This is ultimately the “wisdom” teaching and all other teaching leads to this. It is when you feel your oneness with all and everyone. This is your direct experience with your innate quality of wisdom. “Emptiness” refers to the reality that nothing exists independent of anything else; all of life is conditional and connected. (Therefore, we have the ability to help create the conditions conducive to good health and peace of mind.)
There are specific meditation practices that assist with bringing forth, strengthening and maintaining these inherent qualities. We will be experiencing several of which the root practice is mindfulness, or “calm abiding.”
Mindfulness meditation – bringing awareness to the moment through the sensations of sitting, breathing, and being . . . Much wants to pull us away from the quality of awareness. Much wants to distract us from the inner jewels. But as we practice mindfulness, we are cultivating the ground for the three jewels. The Dalai Lama insists that meditation and mind training are all that is needed for happiness. “The essence of the Buddha’s teaching is to turn our undisciplined mind to a disciplined mind.” The 14thDalai Lama, Madison teachings, 2007
Often the metaphor of a muddy glass of water is given to illustrate the power of sitting meditation. Let a dirty glass of water sit still long enough and the mud will settle to the bottom, leaving clear, drinkable water on top. This is like our mind, let it rest long enough in mindfulness of the moment and it too will settle. Mindfulness meditation practices are often called practices in “calm abiding.” Because there are many practices of cultivating attention there are fundamental characteristics of any given meditation practices that are needed for the practice to generate attention and help transform the mind. Use these as a parameter as you find your own practice. The importance is to find within your spiritual practice the means to transform your mind by cultivating attention.
1. You must be actively cultivating attention through the practice, not just following a mantra or simply sitting on the cushion and breathing.
2. Sitting includes a practice of “letting go,” an observation of impermanence. For example, you meditate on the breath, letting each one go. You practice letting go of thoughts and return to the breath or the mantra. You may also meditate on the aspects of impermanence or death.
3. You sit through the rising and falling of different emotional, psychological and physical states as you return your attention to the object of your meditation.
4. There is no preferences or attachments to certain states, such as bliss, clarity or insights. You open again and again to the reality of presence (emptiness). Otherwise you get hooked (and distracted) in trying to reach certain idyllic states rather than practicing just “being present,” or calmly abiding. When I was introduced to meditation at the age of sixteen I would say it saved my life at the time. However the style of meditation (transcendental) within the groups became a place to “achieve” a state where your body would float above the cushion. At the group sessions I attended everyone seemed to be walking about in a state of bliss. However, at the age of sixteen, it was understandable that I was more often than not in a state of agitation. Whereas I kept my mantra practice up for six years, I did this mostly on my own. What I sought was inner and outer peace, not some means to prove my spiritual prowess. I believe most of us get what we seek. Later in life when I was deeper into Vipassana meditation, my teacher, Shinzen Young at the time, would remind us, “Don’t prefer.” No preference, just presence. And what a wonderful tool to take with me in the world – the ability to let go of preferences!
5. The sitting meditation practice is understood as a means to tame the mind, to still the mind to prepare it for mind transformation (mind training). You can’t train a wild animal until you have quieted it down enough. (It’s hard to catch a flying bird).
6. You understand that all the internal issues are likely to arise on your cushion and that this is also a place of transformation as you practice “holding your seat,” keeping a hold of the sacred thread of attention no matter what arises.
7. Finally, your meditation practice is preceded and followed by the studying of your chosen spiritual discipline. This means you are committed to a given spiritual practice and ensuing principles.
“Merely meditation on calm abiding will not enable you to eliminate obscurations to enlightenment and the disturbing emotions. Even if you achieve calm abiding meditation with reference to emptiness, that alone is not enough to remove the obscurations if it is not supported by the practice of special insight. Meditation alone will not be able to remove the afflictive emotions and destroy the misconceptions of self.” Dalai Lama, page 84. Stages of Meditation. The Dalai Lama, translated by Venerable Gesha Lobsang Jordhen, Losang Choephel Ganchenpa, and Jeremy Russell. Snow Lion Publications. 2001. New York
Practices for the week:
1. Add ten minutes to your mindfulness meditation practice. If you are starting over and haven’t been to it for a while, begin with 10 minutes (ideally first thing in the morning).
2.Thought transformation: Notice some of your storylines and habitual thoughts this week around worry, planning, pondering others, or anger, for example. Name at least one of your prominent storylines. Something you say to yourself about yourself or others or the world. Then after you have named it, — frustration, anger, jealousy, judgment of others, worrying about outcomes, etc . . . then when it arises, bring awareness to it (become conscious of this pattern), label it (name it), and then let it go. You let go of your attachment to continue worrying or pondering others and consciously choose to give your attention to something else. Keep practicing this with the same storyline.
3. Bring to mind an aspiration or vow to do this meditation practice and transformative work to benefit all beings, including you. Aspire to transform the world through your own practice. Create a verse or line or borrow from the bodhisattva vow to site every morning upon rising.
4. Pay attention to your dreams. Invite some insight to what needs attention through your dreams. Set an intention to remember your dreams. (Women sleep on your left side; men on your right in dream yoga). Record your dreams.
Please post any questions you may have around your meditation practice or experiences you would like to share. I will post the teachings every Tuesday for the next eight weeks.
Emaho! Julie, Jiivanii