Monday, November 12, 2012

Dharma Talk: Bringing Meditation into Everyday Life

The following is a dharma talk I delivered on Sunday, November 11, 2012.

My kids and I enjoy going out weekly for Chinese food.  I always look forward to the end of the meal when the fortune cookie comes.  I am delighted when once in a while I actually receive a fortune cookie providing a little insight into life.  Several weeks ago my fortune said, “People in your surroundings will be more cooperative than usual.”  I immediately became aware of a familiar, unpleasant sensation of anxiety and stress in my body.   I could feel a tight feeling in my chest, my breathing became shallow and I could feel a knot in the pit of my stomach.  I thought if only this could come true.  If only people could really be cooperative.  I was going through a very tough and emotional time with several people in my life causing me suffering.  The stress of this situation combined with other expected life changes was leaving me feeling exhausted.  Healthy habits such as setting aside time to meditate seemed impossible to work into the busyness of my life.  Sometimes the act of sitting made me feel like I would jump out of my skin.  As a result, my Buddhist practice was feeling more and more out of reach. 
During trying times, it is sometimes good idea to take a step back and remember why we started practicing Buddhism and meditation in the first place.  Many of us seek Buddhism and start meditating as a way to relieve our suffering and possibly to reduce stress in our lives. Many of us came here to find solace during times of crisis and great sadness.  Some of us are looking for some type of life change.  We are all seekers in one way or another.  When I listened to one of Janet’s dharma talks for the first time the words resonated with me.  Buddhism felt good, right and a logical choice.  Finally, some practical advice I can put into action!  And, for an organized list maker like me, there are even steps!  Like many of us, I quickly learned all was not as easy as it seemed.  It is easy to become so caught up in the drama in life that we forget and struggle to connect with the inner Buddha that is in all of us.  We become consumed with thoughts of “if only.”  If only people would just cooperate. If only things were different.   
This week we are finishing the final chapter of the book Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hahn.  Thich Nhat Hahn, as known as Thay, has written a very practice guide for dealing with life’s natural ebb and flow.  His style is gentle and to approach all that we do in a meditative way.  Be present, smile and be compassionate to yourself and others.  In this chapter, he describes the Sanskrit term samadhi or concentration through the practice of stopping the invasion of feelings and thoughts which deplete our strength in meditation.  I was curious and did a little more research on the term samadhi.  Internet sources say that samadhi is a term used in yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism to describe the meditative process meaning to “become one.”   Samadhi in this context refers to the processes or steps to intensify and achieve the highest level of meditation.  The steps may different within the different Buddhist traditions.
As beginners to meditation, samadhi is best understood as a feeling of joy, peace and overall well-being.  For example, have you ever lost track of time while doing something you really enjoy and felt good doing?  This is a form of samadhi.  The highest level of samadhi is described as a state where there is no concept of time.  There is no concept of the ego or self.  It is an ultimate state where you are at one with the universe.   Some describe this state as being so incredible that you will not want to leave it.  For beginners, we start with the basics.  One of our basic practices in meditation is to focus on the sensation of breathing.  Should we become distracted with a thought or feeling, we let it naturally arise, without pushing it away or grasping a hold.  We stop and bring our attention back to our breath.  We do this over and over again.  This is the first practice taught to strengthen our meditation.  We may never reach the highest state of samadhi; however, through regular meditation practice, we can become more aware of what is really going on in our bodies, our minds and the world around us.  Much like working out at the gym, you practice daily, and you become much stronger building your mental strength and in turn, strengthening your concentration muscle.  
Thay describes many ways to bring a meditation practice into your life.  The most basic way is sitting meditation and creating a space to go to and sit in peace without distractions.  He uses an analogy of a child doing his homework.  He has to stop chewing gum or watching TV to be able to pay full attention to his homework.  However, my kids would tell you this is not true.  When I started meditating, I had visions of creating a very Zen like room, hardwood floors, meditation cushion and flowing curtains.   I think all of you have seen this picture in a magazine.  However, my house is small, so my meditation space consisted of sitting on the edge of my bed, lighting a candle on my bedside table and trying to ignore the sounds of Leo my parrot in the background.  This was like learning to ride a bike on a rocky path, but it was my best attempt at creating a peaceful atmosphere and space at my house.  Over time, I purchased a comfortable cushion and meditate on the floor.  I am comfortable sitting on the floor.  This may or may not work for you.  As part of my meditation, I slowly place my Buddha in front of me, light a candle, and wrap my mala beads around my wrist.  Feel more connected with the feel of the beads in my hand.  By the way, Leo the parrot has since found a new home.  The point is to find how to create a space you can go to regularly that suits your lifestyle and provides you a sense of peace.  In the book, Thay suggests going to this special place should you become agitated, step away and go sit.  This statement made me laugh because it is obvious he has never experienced having a small child, when even sitting on the toilet is not a private task.  Or, maybe sitting makes you want to jump out of your skin.  We are not monks in a monastery and do not always have the luxury of going to a special place and sit in peace. 
When we cannot sit, this is when other informal types of meditation can be useful alternatives to sitting.  Step away and try walking meditation.  On nice days, maybe go to a local park and eat your lunch in silence, followed by some walking meditation.  Be present, listening to the sounds of the birds chirping, feeling the wind, sun on your skin, and slowly lifting each foot feeling the earth beneath each step.  Try eating meditation or drinking tea in a meditative way.   Thich Nhat Hahn describes the process of spending 2 hours drinking a single cup of tea.  I don’t know about 2 hours---how about starting with 15 minutes?  Smell the tea, feel the warmth of the cup, really taste the tea and be completely present with only the experience of drinking the tea.  Maybe meditate while doing a routine task like standing in line at the grocery store, washing dishes, standing at a copier or brushing your teeth.  Try sky gazing—look at the clouds or the stars.  The point is to stop, concentrate and be fully present.  If you have children, have them participate with you.  Create the space and peace to put us in touch with our inner Buddha and get us in touch with our true self, our body, and what is really going on in the world around us. 
Not too long ago, a wise person named Janet said to me, “Meditation is like a pot simmering on the stove.  Let the pot sit and it will eventually boil.  Keep removing the pot and placing back on the stove, it will continue to simmer.”  I will add to this, take the pot off the stove long enough, it will go cold.  The foundation of our Buddhist practice is strengthened by creating a regular meditation practice.  Build strength, then, just maybe we can find that place of inner peace rather than becoming stressed, overwhelmed and hooked when life isn’t panning out like we want it too.  When we start to head down the path of “If only” we can stop, create space and allow our experiences to naturally arise and float by like a cloud in the sky.   We can remember and choose to respond mindfully and skillfully by letting the experience pass, without holding too tight to what we are feeling or pushing it down and away.  We can see through our story to connect with our inner Buddha realizing that things are not always as they appear.  We can drop the story all together to see the truth and the natural perfection in things as they really are. 
I will end this Dharma talk with a poem. 
Free and Easy - A Spontaneous Vajra Song
by Lama Gendun Rinpoche
Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower,
but is already present, in open relaxation and letting go.

Don't strain yourself,
there is nothing to do or undo.
Whatever momentarily arises
in the body-mind
Has no real importance at all,
has little reality whatsoever.
Why identify with,
And become attached to it,
Passing Judgment upon it and ourselves?

Far better to simply
let the entire game happen on its own,
springing up and falling back like waves
without changing or manipulating anything
and notice how everything
vanishes and reappears, magically,
Again and again, time without end.

Only our searching for happiness
prevents us from seeing it.
It's like a vivid rainbow which you pursue
without ever catching,
or a dog chasing its own tail.

Although peace and happiness
do not exist as an actual thing or place,
it is always available
and accompanies you every instant.

Don't believe in the reality
of good and bad experiences;
they are today's passing weather,
like rainbows in the sky.

Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
you exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you open and relax
this tight fist of grasping,
infinite space is there -
open, inviting and comfortable.

Make use of this spaciousness, this
freedom and natural ease.
Don't search any further
looking for the great awakened elephant,
who is already resting quietly at home
in front of your own hearth.

Nothing to do or undo,
nothing to force,
nothing to want,
And nothing missing.

Emaho! Marvelous!
Everything happens by itself.

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