Yo Yo

For some odd reason I can go through months of profound meditation where the practice is easy and comes naturally to integrate and other months where the practice is a struggle at best. How odd it is the mind flip flops  as it does. June has been a ‘war’. A battle to maintain the peace I felt at June. It only dawned on me today that instead of putting large amounts of effort into trying to maintain the practice, I should accept where I am and work gently to come back to renouncing a mind that craves and strives for what it does not want.

Fruit

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This was a tough week at work. It culminated in delving into unskilful habits last night i.e. watching movies really late into the night. I had moments where I caught myself thinking I should really be on a cushion instead in front of the TV. However, being tired and looking for a way to numb the mind trumped any rational thought.

I know why the unskilful habits are easy to succumb to. It’s a strong form of aversion for me. I’m looking for a way not to deal with how I feel, recurring thoughts, or the situation at hand.

Today however, was different. I had expected another day of wallowing in self pity or numbing the mind out. Instead, I had some measure of peace. I wondered why? I focussed even harder on mindfulness of thought and oddly enough, I realized I was framing all of the past week’s hurt, blame, exhaustion, and anger from the perspective of the Dhamma i.e. letting go, forgiveness, dismissing unskillful thoughts. I was blown away and surprised at my own ability to be doing.

I only have to figure out to keep this up for the days, weeks, and months ahead. Oooh boy, easier said than done! Regardless – what a lovely fruit from this practice.

What does it mean to be a lay practitioner?

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Let me start right off the bat with saying I don’t really have an answer to this question. At best I have my personal thoughts on the matter as well as interpretation – something I will likely keep revisiting.

A good friend of mine has been relating to me how he has lost interest in the things most of us indulge in for entertainment, or fun, or for passing time. He being a devout Buddhist practitioner himself has been giving me specific examples of things he has lost interest in. One such example was dancing. He used to be invited to the night club scene a lot when he was younger. As he delved more and more into the practice he found himself at a night club one night staring on in horror. He felt like he was looking at some “vision from hell”. A sign of how every one there was partaking in some form of escape to try and distance themselves from the underlying sense of unsatisfactoriness that is prevalent. After that he stopped dancing.

My friend is fond of saying Buddhism isn’t for everyone. He jokes with a serious tone that Buddhism “sucks the fun out of life”. I found myself vocally disagreeing with him but acknowledging in my own thoughts that I too have lost interest in  certain forms of entertainment since I started practicing.

Take for example, my hobby of Bollywood dancing. I joined a dance crew early last year because at the time it was something I have been passionate about for the years prior. However a few months in, after a retreat that essentially restarted my devotion and faith in this path, I found myself naturally losing interest in it. I still have fun and excitement while I’m actually dancing, however it doesn’t quite hit a level of satisfaction that it did before. I find myself questioning if the time spent dancing is a wise and skillful use of my time. Considering how much of a toll dancing takes on me personally (injuries and the depletion of energy to the point where I return home exhausted unable to meditate) I have decided that after my upcoming performance, I will be retiring from the world of dancing.

Why am I talking about this?  I was recently complimented on how I was a great example of a lay practitioner because of how involved I am in the many hobbies in my life like dance. The truth is that I always am striving to maintain some semblance balance of all the various aspects of my life in conjunction with the strong spiritual pull that I am working to embrace. Now that I’m taking dance out of the equation – what’s next? Well the very many hobbies and activities remain. There is always another layer within all of these things that I have used to build up my identity.

I still haven’t answered my original question. I’ve merely danced around it in this diatribe. The truth of the matter is that Buddhism – the original Buddha’s teaching as we know it has always been counter cultural. It’s a path that isn’t interested in perpetuation but rather cessation. As various cultures over the centuries have adopted Buddhism (much like any religion really) they have adapted what works and tried to focus on the altruism aspect within the context of perpetuating a society, a culture, a nation. The acts of renunciation, meditation, skillful control within one’s lives tend to fall by the wayside or are less focussed on. Fantastic examples of this are any Buddhist country. Generally meditation by the general populace is low. The whole path or the holistic approach is less focussed on.

On my last retreat at Birken, Ajahn Sona said that if there is a part of your life where the Dhamma does not exist, then you have to ask yourself why? My practice begins on the cushion and ends the moment I arrive at work or dance or exercise or at the next activity. Some days I carry my practice into the next activity but only after an intense retreat. Why do I run two blogs, one on minimalism and one on my spiritual practice? Is the spiritual practice I have committed to not all pervading? I hope so. Otherwise why am I dedicating time to this practice?

My thoughts on the original question is that a lay practitioner is someone who is living a holistic life. For me personally because of my religion that means someone who is living in line with the Dhamma – a Dhamma that suffuses their entire life. A practitioner who is constantly evaluating what in their life is skilful and not and willing to do what it takes to keep moving forward. I have committed to a practice that is all pervading and holistic but I must admit that I don’t let myself completely look at all the things in my life from the lens of my practice. I’ve categorized and segregated out of convenience and societal norms (who really talks about their spiritual practices – something that stays hidden in the closet so to speak).

Moving forward I’m going to combine both blogs into this one. I’m going to discuss all the things that interest and inspire me. I’m going to share my challenges and my victories. I’m going to discuss everything from my minimalist endeavors, renewable energy, to what types of food I like, and my dabblings in poetry and literature. Through this shift in blogging focus, I hope to inspire myself to live the life I want to live and to do that with my religious and spiritual anchor from which to explore.

The path and practice has become ever stranger and yet alluring. Maybe another layer has been peeled away.

Upasika

I have the lovely opportunity to be a part of the Upasika program with Birken Forest monastery this year. I attended our first meeting a few weeks ago at the monastery. I was fortunate enough to even have extended my retreat a few days prior to the actual start of the meeting to give myself a much needed retreat.

Being a part of the Upasika program inspires me. it has brought out the best qualities in me and also challenged me to face the qualities that are not so endearing. To be with like minded people, who are facing the same challenges and also are afflicted with how to best practice in a world that seems to rotate the opposite way.

Additionally, as apt to happen while on retreat, I learned a lot in those few days I was at the monastery. I was reminded about what it truly means to live the Dhamma. I was reminded about how beautiful life can be when you have no expectations on how the day may or may not proceed. I was also reminded about how important my practice is when I am practicing.

I was also faced with the realization of how stressed out or ‘wound up’ I had become in my life. Being in the space of silence, freedom, nature, and wise company allowed me to just decompress. I felt taller, lighter, and happier than I had in a while. It was an incredible feeling, while it lasted.

I left Birken vowing to maintain this wonderful sense of peace I had rediscovered. Of course it only lasted about two or three days before I was riding through the waves of day to day lay life. Normally I would conclude this post with how hard it is to return from a retreat and also complain about how I should really be at Birken still. However, something shifted on this last retreat. The expectation to hold on tightly to this light feeling is also met with an acceptance of it easily being dissipated. Such is life. This is just the way things are.

I have returned from my retreat feeling wonderful hope and while I may not be skillful at all times moving forward, there is a sense of acceptance and renunciation I had not predicted.

 

 

Late night reflection

Somedays I wonder where this path leads. Every little bit of the world that I renounce seems to produce unexpected results (mostly rewarding – always surprising). This process of accepting the mind as is – allowing it to be is strange. It is strange because one becomes more and more aware at how this mind is a self perpetuating instrument. It’s as if the mind has a mind of its own and yet when one really looks closely at the mind – it disappears. How very odd.

TV – Time suck


I have been experimenting with reducing the time spent watching TV shows and movies. I’m not always successful but when I am there is a certain ease and ownership of my day that manifests. I have been trying to figure out why I indulge so much in this form of entertainment. I have come up with the following list of whys

  1. Stress
    I work at a high stress job. A lot happens during the work day and work week. My go to escape is to get lost in the fictitious lives of others by watching TV shows.
  2. Boredom
    When I feel like I have nothing to do at home I look for a convenient quick fix. The TV hits that spot.
  3. Restlessness/Worries (Essentially a different kind of stress)
    If I feel like I have a lot on my mind I try to numb it out by binge watching as much as possible.
  4. There are things I want to watch
    There are certain shows and movies I do like to watch – which is totally fair. I suppose I’m mentioning this because once I watch my favorite shows or movies I start looking for another show or movie to watch and before I know it, three or four hours have passed.

How does one go about reducing the time spent in front of a screen? Well I think identifying the root causes (see list above) certainly helps. There are certain direct actions one can employ.

  1. Meditate – bring on the stress relief!
  2. Get out of the house – go for a walk or a hike; get lost in a park.
  3. Exercise – Who doesn’t love a boost of endorphins?
  4. Get a hobby or dive back into one – self explanatory
  5. Watch what I want – but only what I want!

I’ll let you know how this goes…

Korean Temple

I am honored to be joining the board of Sakyadhita Canada. Our first meeting as the new board was held in a Korean Buddhist Temple a neighborhood away from me. I had no idea it existed. The temple itself is within an unassuming house. There is nothing grand about it. If you were walking by you’d assume there was nothing extraordinary about the decaying exterior. However, once inside you are greeted by a large altar with the Buddha and two bodhisattvas one on each side. Even though it’s not my tradition (Mahayana vs Theravada) I found myself bowing to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. It is a delight to be sharing in this practice and religion with others.

It is amazing where one finds the Dhamma being practiced. I hope to keep discovering these reminders of the Dhamma.

Vines

 

I woke up with quite a bit of anger, sadness, and aversion this morning. All entities that manifested this past week at work. Things said, or unsaid have an effect. These hindrances have been wrapping their vines around my heart. They have been squeezing my practice to the point where I have been avoiding waking up early to meditate and to do things for myself. I have felt the strength of practice slip. Doing things that bring peace is at times so much harder than doing things that don’t. Numbing oneself in unskilful sense pleasures only bring temporary relief – hard to see at the time as one jumps from fix to fix.

This morning however, the vines loosened just enough that I stumbled out of bed and sat myself down in front of the Buddha. What at first was determination fell away into a lack of agenda. An hour later there was only breath and the craving to sense skilful pleasure. Five days of vine growth stalled – if not dried up by one hour of generosity to myself. How lovely this practice can be. How ugly these hindrances can be.

If by renouncing a lesser happiness
one may realize a greater happiness,
let the wise one renounce the lesser,
having regard for the greater.

Dhammapada 21.290

 

Bedtime

Another imminent death.

What have we done
to reflect?
to prepare?
to survive?
to be aware?

The minutes are
diminishing.
The eyes are
drooping.
The stars are
simmering.

The moments
have slipped.
Seconds
have vanished.

Attachment, craving, suffering.
All have
flared.
– how?
– when?

Another death,
– imminent
another birth,
– mere hours.

Has it been
wasted?
Oops.

A life is worth living.
But only those who live,
have said such things.
These words are lost,
within Samsara.

Who is imminent
upon dawn’s
light?