Friday, September 23, 2016
Monday, September 12, 2016
Sunday, May 22, 2016
In my lucid dreaming time this morning it came to me sharp and clear that enlightenment is not something we have to do alone. It is not a competition. It is not a goal to be achieved to add to one's imagined self worth. It's something we can do together. Sure there are solitary practitioners out there who might get there on their own through extreme focus and discipline. But for the rest of us it's a damned site easier if we connect, at least on a psychic or imagined level to all those out there seeking awakening from the limits of their self. This connection can be across space time to all those teachers, wise people and their students, is anywhere in the universe, anywhere now, past or future and with any sentient species. We're all encouraging and helping each other. We're waking up together. Because we are together, one and connected.
It was a full moon last night. A huge one. In May. I looked that up on Google this morning and noticed it is wesak. The Buddha's full moon. Other great teachers seem to have been allotted a full moon, eg Christ. Anyway, I suspect I was really feeling the moon's energies in the early hours this morning.
Friday, January 29, 2016
Every time we practice something for real OR by doing it in our mind our brain assigns more neural connections to help us with that activity. It's like walking a path. Every time you walk that path it gets a little more permanent and a little wider. Driving, swimming, playing an instrument, speaking a foreign language etc all become better and easier with consistent regular practice. The brain says "aha! this person is serious about this thing. It's not just some one time event. I'll do some rewiring behind the scenes to make it easier."
We once believed that the brain only assisted babies and children this way but these days we know about neuroplasticity. Even adults can nudge their brains into rewiring. This has been especially good news for stroke sufferers, giving hope where there was little before.
So aside from doing things like playing a musical instrument what else could we get the brain to help us with:
- quelling the constant chatter in our mind as it chews over past events and consider for the future. This is useful when it helps us learn from the past or plan for the future. It's not so good when it bogs us in a quagmire of regret and fears.
- enhancing our skills to understand others, to put ourselves in their shoes, to empathize with their struggles and their pain as well as their achievements and their joy. Building our emotional intelligence may increase compassion and reduce jealousy. Making the world a better place for not just us but also those who might otherwise suffer or incur our discontent.
- distancing ourselves from our inclinations to rage when that rage cannot improve our circumstances.
- mindfully participating in life with full awareness, being in the moment without judging our circumstances. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, give a richer experience of life, provide emotional perspective etc but more than anything it cures of that great plague that's afflicting post-modern humanity, multitasking. Burnt your lunch lately? I just did. Try to split yourself between two tasks such as writing and cooking and it is likely only one will be done well, the one you are focusing on.
- understanding the nature of our very mind, the illusion of the constructed self (our habits and the labels we have given ourselves), even enlightenment.
- Calm meditation, being with the breath. This is thought to calm the default mode network of the brain which is involved in mental chatter.
- Concentration meditation. Focusing one's attention on an object, real or imagined.
- Reflection on the flimsy nature of what we call self (our collection of beliefs, habits and self labels), our branding.
- Devotion, such as to a teacher or someone who inspires us
- Compassion (Tonglen)
- Mindfulness, being in the moment
- Resting in stillness, silence and spaciousness aka Dzogchen (variously pronounced dzochen or tsochen)
- Get yourself in a comfortable position. Seated usually helps with staying awake as do things like keeping your eyes very slightly open.
- Take a few deep breaths to oxygenate the body. If you know any pranayama or the Tibetan nine breaths do that.
- Take a moment to mentally catalog the sensations in your body. Any tension, tingling, agitation or relaxation. Don't do anything with it. Just observe it. Imagine you are your own scientist. You are going to observe and note any changes your meditation practice causes in you. You may wish to keep a journal. This first body scan is your benchmark. No you haven't got a control group but lets not get carried away.
- Think of someone, something or somewhere that you enjoy. Smile. Voice your like, saying something like "I like xxx", whatever xxx is. You've just lit up areas in the left front portion of your brain. (yes I am being simplistic here. In truth anything we do uses a number of areas of our brain but predominantly the activity is here.). Buddhists might complain that by focusing on a conditioned like we are only strengthening an arbitrary attachment. It is not the aim of this step to untangle you from your attachments and aversions, only to shift you into left front of brain thinking. Facial expressions, vocalizations (including chants and affirmations) or considering the meaning of something will all get you to the left, touching your logical and often more positive side. You need the right side too but many people get trapped there and we are laying down a neural pathway to help us to switch.
- Scan your body for any changes.
- Now imagine someone you know and like reasonably well but someone who is also doing it tough (you can try this step with strangers and people you don't like later but lets take baby steps first). Take a moment to consider this person; their habits of response to life, their struggles, their frustrations, their pain and suffering. Imagine yourself as this person, living their life. What does it feel like. How do you feel about them now? Imagine you are sending that person all the care and attention you are feeling right now? How do you feel in your mind, your chest, your belly?
- Do a quick body scan. Note any changes.
- If this last step has left you feeling sad repeat the smile step we started with.
- Now think of someone you greatly admire. Someone who has helped you in your life. Imagine them in as much detail as you can and imagine you are sending them gratitude for how they helped you. Even if they are no longer living. If you wish to take this further you can imagine being them, thinking like them, having their wisdom and skills. What does that feel like?
- Do a quick body scan. Note any changes.
- Become aware of your breath. If you are feeling dull and sleepy give slightly more focus to your in breath. If you are feeling agitated give slightly more focus to your out breath. Just be with your breathing. If the mind drifts into thinking about other things that's fine, just gently bring it back to the breath. Do this for a couple of minutes. Don't berate yourself if your mind has drifted often. It will but it will get easier. When you become proficient at this step you can watch the mind itself, watching the thoughts, like clouds, drifting through a blue sky.
- Bring your awareness back to your body and scan it.
- To finish off we will use a visualization that connects us with the four elements as a way of naturally moving into Dzogchen (still, silent and spacious state of mind). For this one close your eyes fully. Imagine yourself on a high mountain plateau. There's a stiff but refreshing breeze blowing. It's blowing away all the obstacles and impediments in your life. Feel the wind. Be the wind. Be free. Give thanks for that. Come back to your self and go to the lake that's in front of you. Take a plunge in its cleansing waters. Feel all your old habits and pains washing away. Feel how the water surrounds you and nourishes you. Each cell of your being is filled with water. Be glad of that. Feel the water. Be the water. Feel loved and nurtured. Return your awareness to yourself. You've built a small fire to dry off in front of. Feel its warmth penetrating your body, into your very bones. Watch its magical flames. Give thanks for its light. Feel the fire. Be the fire. Be warmed and inspired. Awaken to a spark of joy within your solar plexus. Return your awareness to the body. Become aware of the ground you are sitting on. A mountain that has its roots all the way into the earth. Immovable, solid, stable, supporting you, grounding you. Feel the earth. Be the earth. Feel its still bulwark of strength. Give thanks for that. Return your awareness to your body. Remembering the immovable still strength of the mountain visualize that same stillness within you. Or maybe you focus on your spine, straight and strong like some ancient oak tree. Feel that stillness. Be that stillness. Experience that. Keeping that awareness of stillness focus on your throat. The space in your throat. It's like a vast cavern, deep in the ground of your being. Still, quiet. There's a warm red glow. Experience the silence there. Be the silence. Staying connected with the preceding stillness and silence move your focus to an imaginary space in your heart. Not your physical heart but the sacred heart which you can visualize in the area of your sternum. That bone that divides your ribs. Maybe about four finger widths, more or less, from the top of the sternum will be about the right place. Imagine a cavity under that. For Tibetans that is where your mind resides. Imagine it as a vast clear blue desert sky. Open. Spacious. Empty. Observe that space as if you were looking at a clear blue sky. Connect with that. Be that. As you watch it ask yourself where the mind is that is looking at it. The more you look for that mind all you find is more spaciousness. More emptiness. Spaciousness observing spaciousness. Awareness of awareness. Primordial mind. Experienced dzogchen practitioners will go beyond this to touch the limitless light and love, joy and unconditional acceptance that resides within that space but for now that is enough. For more about this read Tenzin Wangyal's Awakening the luminous mind
- To finish off you may like to strengthen the neural pathways that are associated with compassion and love by making a wish. For example wishing for the happiness of all sentient beings (humans, dolphins, whales etc and yourself included).
- Return your awareness to your body and do a scan of your feelings and sensations. Has the mind gym changed anything for you. Make some notes. If you've found it beneficial you might wish to put together your own mind gym and run your mind through it once or twice a day. If you truly want to rewire your brain remember your gym practice needs to be consistent and often.