Thursday, April 19, 2012

My First Dharma Talk--Wise Concentration

Today’s topic is about “Wise Concentration”.   My concentration is completely off so I felt the need to type out what to say—this does not need to be perfect.  The rock is a souvenir from my retreat which serves as a reminder that I should be kind and compassionate to myself. 

Ironically, I did not sleep well last night since I felt a cold coming on.  I ended up waking up late this morning and rushing to get out the door to make an 8:30 a.m. meeting.  Of course, Murphy’s Law, I could not find my keys.  I searched everywhere in the house, dumped my purse, and it was becoming later and later by the minute.  I was angry at myself for losing them in the first place.  I ALWAYS put my key in the same pocket in my purse. Then, I started blaming the kids.  Okay, which of the kids took them from my purse?!?   Then, I looked over at my poor little dog Sophie hiding on her bed in the corner of the kitchen—her big eyes bugging out of her head and shaky little body reminded me that I was losing it—I was out of control.  I knew what to do.  Slow down…close your eyes…breath…just be.  I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw were my keys hanging in the front door lock.

When Janet asked me to facilitate this evening, she suggested that I talk about my experience at the one week silent retreat we attended a few weeks ago.  The truth is, I am still trying to figure out what it all means and I am not sure what to share.  I did not want to make up some cutesy story.  I want you to know it was not an easy thing to do.  Instead, I will tell you the entire experience of going on retreat is described in this chapter of “Awakening the Buddha Within”.

When I first arrived at the retreat center we were late—I don’t like to be late.  We missed dinner, missed Surya’s opening discussion, and it was pouring down rain.  Janet tucked me away safely in my cottage and the week-long Noble Silence officially began. It felt weird and uncomfortable.  The cottage smelled like Pine Sol and it was cold.  The process of the 5 T’s (Taming, Training, Testing, Transforming, and Transcendence) as Lama Surya Das describes in this chapter officially began.  I crawled into the twin bed like a scared little girl at summer camp, pulled my blanket from home that smelled of fabric softener up to my nose, and fell asleep. 

The next day, I felt naked, vulnerable, raw and scared.  I wanted to leave.  If this were a play, here enters the 5 Hindrances in their full glory.

I felt out of my skin without the distractions, the responsibilities, without the worries of what to do next, no TV, no radio, no cell phone to fiddle with, no work, and no kids, and I missed my dog.  I was craving all of the stuff from my day to day. 

I was very angry at myself for using up a week of vacation that could be better spent on a sunny beach relaxing with an umbrella drink in hand.  I was resentful and jealous of the woman in front of me in meditation who had perfect curly hair and mine was in a pony tail because I forgot my hair conditioner.  I was angry at Janet Taylor because she told me that there was wi-fi and it did not work—like it was Janet’s fault?  Why did I come to the retreat with only Pema Chodron and Lama Surya Das books on my e-reader?

I was restless since I did not know what to do with my body feeling awkward and sore sitting in long meditations.  Crazy thoughts were racing through my head—I could not concentrate. 

Every time I meditated I started to fall asleep and it was not even lunch time yet.  I had nothing to do and time seemed to stop.

I started to doubt why I was there.  Will they be able to tell I am struggling more than everyone else?  Rinpoche who?  Should I be here?  All of the people seem to know so much more than me.  What is with all the people in the maroon scarves?  Janet has one too.  Must mean they are important.  How can I possibly ask a question of Lama Surya Das?  I will sound stupid. 

Instead of getting the running for the hills, I forced myself to stick with it.  I meditated, meditated, and meditated more.  Eyes open, eyes closed, chanting, walking, sky gazing, and eating meditation.  I did Tibetan Yoga, regular yoga on my own, and I started feeling the energy pumping through my body.  I started creating my own meditations to pass time like sound meditation or sunset meditation.  I cried lots of tears along the way.

Over a few days time, I began to transform.  I began journaling everyday what I was grateful for.  I began feeling the heavy weighted backpack I carry everyday full of the craving, anger, resentment, restlessness, sleepiness, and boredom becoming lighter and lighter.  I felt in my body. I felt healthy.  For the first time in my adult life, I felt my spirit running my life.  I felt free.  

I gained some wonderful insight into who I am and my meditation practice.  I realize am still learning.  On the last day of my retreat, I made the following notes to myself in my journal to carry what I learned from the retreat back with me.

“March 31, 2012

It is the last day of my retreat and I am sitting in my favorite spot by the fountain next to the Lotus Meditation building.  The wind is blowing fiercely as if it is trying to blow me back into my day to day life—reality.  However, I now know that THIS moment, with my hair wildly whipping around IS reality.  Not tomorrow, not yesterday. 

1.      Slow down in life.  Live the moments.  Be mindful and cherish them.  Be grateful.
2.      See the joy in living—smile! 
3.      Go on retreat again soon. It is necessary.
4.      Be compassionate to yourself.  Give yourself a break every now and then. You don’t have to push yourself so hard.
5.      Be silent more.  Sometimes saying nothing is best.

Things I am grateful for--Retreat Day 7:
1.      The cool wind and the fact I have so much hair to mess up.
2.      Finally seeing the desert
3.      Knowing I have my kids and my dog to go home to
4.      Janet Taylor for her influence on my life and how it has carried into my children’s lives.”

Here I am.  I have moments like I had this morning that are far cry from wise concentration.  I lost 8 pounds on retreat and, as of today, I have gained it all back.  Enlightened?  Nope.  At moments?  Possibly.  I have my flashlight to keep me on the path.

Elizabeth Lesser said in the The Seeker’s Guide, “Meditation practice is like piano scales, basketball drills, ballroom dance class. Practice requires discipline; it can be tedious; it is necessary. After you have practiced enough, you become more skilled at the art form itself. You do not practice to become a great scale player or drill champion. You practice to become a musician or athlete. Likewise, one does not practice meditation to become a great meditator. We meditate to wake up and live, to become skilled at the art of living.”

Friday, April 6, 2012

Hide and Seek

I have been studying the Dharma for about 1 ½ years now.  Not a longtime in the land of Buddhism.  The further I head down the Eightfold Path, the more I realize how much I do not know which both intrigues and frustrates me.  How much further until I reach Enlightenment?  My brain struggles with the concept there is nothing to track and no goal to achieve.  Are we there yet?  We are supposed to have "it" already—we are already there, but we need to wake up to be there--well, here.  For the record, if I were to assign myself a so called level to track my progress on the Eightfold Path, I am officially a Buddhist with training wheels. 

I have come to realize the hard work in Buddhism comes in with the hidden, secret and unseen attachments.  I used to teach report writing to Human Resource (HR) employees.  This was back in the days of mainframe computers, when writing a report required Coding 101.  In my 22 years of supporting HR in some technical capacity, I have come to realize HR is full of bright, people-people, but they tend not to be the most technically savvy folks in the world.  I had to translate the technical jargon into layman terms.  Teaching them about data and reporting was a tough job since it required me to translate the "gray matter" of data over into something tangible.  I often used baking cookies as an analogy to bring writing a report into something they could touch, smell and understand.  However, for many it took some hands-on trial, error and time to truly understand the meaning of each step required to write a report. 

Understanding the Dharma has been much like learning report writing for me.  There are those tangible things, like my attachment to coffee which is easy, but our minds like to play hide and seek with the "gray".  It is really easy to see attachments in others and not see them in yourself.  However, if you begin observing your thoughts, the hidden attachments will begin to bubble up and present themselves.

It was a call yesterday with my mother that prompted me to write this blog post.  My mom lives alone and I let her use our daily morning call as her time to tell me anything that pops into her head.  On this call, she was gossiping about my sister who was in turn gossiping about me.  My sister made a remark about me.  I was bothered by the fact my mother was gossiping, but she always gossips.  I knew gossiping was not productive, but I allowed it anyway.  In a sneaky way egged her on so I could hear what my sister said about me.  After hearing all of this, big surprise, my feelings were hurt and I began to stew over whether or not to call my sister to tell her off.  Instead, I decided to go to the book store to explore the Buddhism section for the answer.  How do I handle my family and their unkind behaviors?  How do I handle judgment from others regarding my Buddhist practice?  It was the book The Places that Scare You that caught my attention.  Without opening the book, a Pema Chodron like voice echoed in my head the words “It does not matter what everyone thinks.  Their behavior and thoughts do not matter.  Only what you think matters since it is your thoughts making you upset.  You know the truth.  Observe what you are feeling and learn from this.”  I realize there is a part of me seeking my sister’s approval for what I do.  In fact, I seek approval, acceptance and love from others all of the time.  I revealed an attachment that was playing hide and seek within my ego.  The light bulb went off that the only person I need to gain approval, acceptance and love from is me.   Once I have my approval, nothing else matters.  I think a little personal metta practice is in order.