Heartbreak (from WS05: Warrior's Solution (retreat) (revised) 00:18:36.00 - 00:26:19.00)

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For instance, when in a relationship you sense that things are out of balance, what do you experience right at that point? ... There's anger, confusion, fear, all of these arise. But underneath those what else is there? Pain. Perhaps despair, but there's pain. What's the pain? ... Another way of putting this is you experience a broken heart. Because at that point, the person isn't meeting your expectations. And so to relate to the person, to be in the relationship, is to accept that what you want isn't going to be met, who you want them to be isn't who they are. And you experience a broken heart. That is the result of sacrifice, the experience of a broken heart ... At the point of recognizing that the relationship is out of balance there is that "Oh." That's the broken heart right there. Because you sacrificed your expectations of what you wanted the relationship to be and how it's going to fit into your world and how they're going to be the perfect person in all those different ways. Doesn't that break your heart?...


Living Compassion

Recently saw the movie Groundhog Day again, and the following reminded me of how Phil started turning around, after he had hit rock bottom. Everything else had failed when focusing on himself, what he wanted to get or was missing in himself. After he had given up all hope for himself, he had "nothing better" to do than helping others, even thought it's kind of all in vain, as it is only for one day. He also had to learn to accept, that he couldn't save e.g. the old man.

Living Compassion (from TAN03: Then and Now (class) 00:55:50.70 - 01:00:56.40)

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Most people come to spiritual practice--while initially they may say they want to benefit others--because they’ve heard that rhetoric, that’s not actually true. And they just want to find some inner peace. And often they have to let go of that idea of helping others because it’s more of an identity initially. And they start, "Okay, yeah, I want--need to work on what’s going on in me." And as they do that, then the process that I described earlier takes place. As they develop their meditation practice, and through the meditation practice primarily, they begin to understand the process of suffering.

Then they come to the understanding that the process of suffering works in them in exactly the same way as it works in everybody else. And then there’s a natural movement into compassion and a different motivation for practice. That process may take anywhere from a year or two to five or six years to mature. It usually doesn’t take longer than five or six years, and it can be faster, of course.

But this doesn’t say anything about how they’re living. They live as computer programmers, they live as cinematographers, they live as attorneys, housewives, advertising accountants—whatever—massage therapists, psychologists. And the process of maturation doesn’t necessarily take expression as social activism. In fact it very often doesn’t take expression as social activism, because what people often see, or frequently see, is that to truly help other people is a very, very non-trivial task. And it’s something that starts to radiate naturally in their lives rather than just adopting something, a form of life, which is actively helping people.

And it varies tremendously from individual to individual. Some people find that they’re in professions or in situations in which they can make slight shifts in how they’re doing their work, and it suddenly will produce far more benefit for people. And that’s something that they may choose to do.

Other people feel that they cannot be true to themselves if they’re continuing—I see this particularly in terms of financial analysts and so forth. They frequently come to a point in their careers where they know that they’re going to die internally or they have to be of service to others, and they do either one or the other. And then other people find that the way that they’re going to live their spiritual potential is living relatively isolated lives, but not with the intention of finding inner peace but of just deepening themselves, and whoever they run into they will teach or guide or whatever, but they aren’t trying to do it as such.

And so, from this point of view, I think it’s very, very much a matter of what’s appropriate for the individual. I don’t think there’s any way it should be. But it’s how one’s spiritual potential actually matures and finds expression in you and in your life.

And I really don’t think there are any rules or guidelines for you to say it should be this way or it should be that.


Five-Step Practice (Seeing from the Inside)

In teaching people, I give them this meditation whenever they're encountering something that prevents them from resting. If one can rest, then one rests and lets the resting deepen on its own. When one encounters something difficult, then more specific effort and attention, as in this practice, can help.--Ken McLeod

Five-step mindfulness practice:
Breathing in I feel this emotion/pain/problem
Breathing out I feel this emotion
(detailed guidance
Breathing in I feel the reactions to this emotion
Breathing out I feel the reactions to this emotion
(detailed guidance
Breathing in I feel calm in this emotion
Breathing out I feel calm in this emotion
(detailed guidance
Breathing in I feel at ease in this emotion
Breathing out I feel at ease in this emotion
(detailed guidance
Breathing in I understand/know how this emotion arises
Breathing out I understand how this arises
(detailed guidance)

Related Material:
Working with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
Fom A Trackless Path II, a clip on how the five steps evolve.
Ken often calls the five-step practice Seeing from the Inside.


Apprentice buddhas

I've noticed that religious institutions have a tendency to deify spiritual teachers and to present the development of high levels of spiritual capacity as something incredibly difficult and practically beyond the reach of mere humans. And plenty of examples can be found in all traditions where that very human tendency to deify and glorify in turn has led to imbalance in the relationships between spiritual teachers and learners.

One of the things I appreciate about teachers like Ken McLeod and Stephen and Martine Batchelor is that they constantly point out that becoming more awake and present is something that we can actually do. Here's an example from Then and Now, session 7, in which Ken demystifies the distinction between buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Apprentice buddhas (from TAN07: Then and Now (class) 00:36:35.00 - 00:39:35.00)

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Raquel: What’s the difference between buddhas and bodhisattvas?

Ken: Ah okay, that's a good point. Very loosely speaking bodhisattvas are apprentice buddhas. To make it a little more refined, in all traditions of Buddhism there’s a map of spiritual progress known as the five paths. There’s the path of accumulation, path of accommodation, path of seeing, path of practice and path of no practice. And in the path of accumulation, you’re developing generating the goodness and well being which lays the foundation for spiritual understanding. And there’s a long exposition way at the end of this book on the five paths, a sufficiently detailed one. The path of accommodation is where you begin to get some intimation of what experience is actually like--the emptiness and so forth and so there’s a process of accommodation to that. The path of seeing is where you actually wake up. But when you wake up you have a certain experience of being awake and present, but it’s not fully integrated in your life. So the path of practice is where you’re working at integrating all aspects of experience into this seeing that’s been uncovered, and the path of no practice is when that process is complete.

You become, officially, a bodhisattva when you enter the path of seeing. That is you understand the nature of experience directly, and then you go through all the stages of a bodhisattva until you get to the path of no practice, which is equivalent of buddhahood. So from this map, what the Buddha represents is the way of experiencing things in which you can experience all aspects of experience awake and present, which means you can experience everything that arises. Remember we talked about this, developing the ability to experience everything. The understanding and seeing of a bodhisattva and a buddha are the same; the degree in which it has permeated all experience is different. Okay so that’s why I say bodhisattvas are buddhas in training.


Attention is the key to all points

I heard someone summarise Ken's podcast on The Eightfold Path in one sentence: attention is the key to all points. I'm taking this pithy summary as the title of this blog post and of the clip of the very first section of the podcast where Ken introduces an approach to practicing the Eightfold Path.

Attention is the Key (from 8FP01: Eightfold Path (class) 00:00:00.00 - 00:15:07.00)

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... And one of the other characteristics of this period is that there is a love of reason because reason seemed to offer a way of transcending the messy world of emotions. And we find that same idea that was present in the early Greeks is also present in this period of Buddhism where the spiritual path was felt to be a path through philosophy through logic etc., etc. This is what we get with medieval Buddhism in India. And Tibet inherited this so when I was exposed to the Eightfold Path it had the Four Noble Truths and then you had four different levels of understanding for each of the Four Noble Truths, which made sixteen in all. And all of these different qualifications of the Eightfold Path, right view, these were the things that constituted right view and right intention and these were the things that consituted right intention, and right speech and right action and just lists and lists went on and on. This is so highly developed and it's absolutely impossible to practice. It's so elaborate, there's so many do's and don'ts that you end up frozen--you can't do anything.

And as I looked at this again and again, I came to the conclusion--and I learned this from a number of different sources--that what is presented as the Eightfold Path, what constitutes right view, what consititutes right intention are descriptions of the results of when you really practice them. They're what you evolve to or what you end up at. And one of the problems in practice that I've encountered over and over again in teaching is that people try to use the results as the method of practice.

Just to give you a very simple example of that which several of you have heard me talk about before: If you say to somebody, "Relax," what's the first thing they do? They tense up. Because relaxation is the result of a certain effort. If on the other hand you say to somebody, "Take a deep breath, now let it out slowly." Do that again. You do it once more for good luck. How do you feel? More relaxed. And many, many of the instructions for meditation or what are presented as instructions for meditation and instructions for practice are actually descriptions of the result. And yet, we tend to interpret them as prescriptions for action. And that just gets us into a big mess. So what I want to do this evening is to talk about the first four parts of the Eightfold Path, and talk about them making this distinction between the result and what you actually do, and see if we can get clear on that, and I'm sure we'll have time for questions after this.

So the usual claim is that in order to practice a path you have to understand it. And then practice consists of doing the right things and avoiding the wrong things. There are several problems with this approach. The first is, this is how we train children. So what tends to happen is that adults who take this approach to practice end up being infantilized. And I had a very vivid experience of this when I was at a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. We were divided up into groups for discussion and we were given a talking stick. And the first woman who talked was an elderly psychotherapist--this was a retreat for mental health professionals. And she said, "I don't know what's going on here, but I feel like a child all the time. And the stress of having this structure and things like that and having stress headaches that I haven't had for twenty years. I don't understand this." This is exactly what I'm talking about. Oh there's a right way to act and a wrong way to act and somewhere or other you're going to get punished or you're not going to fit in if you act the wrong way, and so forth. It's very childish. It's very much based on the reward/punishment on which earlier and simpler religions are based on.

It's also ineffective because when we try to practice that way, we model our behavior on somebody else and there's always an element of artificiality about that. [problems with sound system] And our behaviour is never really natural because it hasn't evolved out of us. We're emulating something outside us. And it's also untrue because understanding something and then trying to do it is only one way of learning. There are other ways of learning and developing skills and it may not be your way. So the point here is for us to try to find our way--the way that is appropriate for us.

And I have a student who now teaches in Colorado Springs and [unclear] perspectives, she [unclear] couldn't possibly produce any results; she makes things up on the spot, she just responds to what's in front of her, she doesn't plan particularly ahead. She doesn't itemize things in nice categories or lists or anything like that. There's nothing to understand, and yet she produces absolutely great results with the people that work with her, so each of us needs to find a way of practice that is appropriate and I hope that some of the ideas that I present to you this evening may open some doors for you.

The other thing is that so much of Buddhism is presented--and this is very much in keeping with this emphasis on the rational--that if we just understood why it is beneficial then we'd make the rational decision to do it that way. This theory that we're basically rational beings and make rational choices underlies most economics, most sociology a good deal of political theory and you can see what a mess that's got us into in the last couple of years, because we aren't rational people; we don't make decisions rationally. Emotions rule all the way down the line. That's even being corroborated now by neurological studies, so trying to approach practice from a rational perspective, in my opinion is just hopeless. It doesn't work very well.

The key in Buddhism is this quality we call attention and one way of thinking about attention is that it's the ability to direct energy. There's energy in our system and it's going all over the place usually, and when we sit and rest in the experience of breathing, we're actually encouraging the energy to move in certain ways. And we experience that as attention. And attention is not a conceptual thing. It's an emotional energy and so forming a relationship with attention allows us to develop a very, very different relationship with our emotions. And that is key to this.

So how I regard the Noble Eightfold Path is a description of the areas of life in which we are enouraged to bring attention, and by bringing attention into those areas of life they start to change. And they change in ways, which when you read accounts of say, right view, then it will be like that.

Let's take a look at right view because it's the first one. View here is nothing fancy, it's just how we look at the world. And right view is usually described as having faith in the three jewels: buddha, dharma and sangha, accepting karma as a working principle, accepting the four truths and not seeing things in terms of matter or mind, at those extreme positions. But if we try to actually do that; how do we do that? It's very, very difficult. What I want to suggest is an alternative. How do you look at the world? Right now for instance. Could we have the mike up here Steve? [sound system comments]

We're sitting right now, how do you view the world? Anybody? Just right here, right now, what's happening? How do you view the world? How do you view yourselves? Do any of you view yourselves as something that exists in its own right? Hands up. Come on. Basically all of you are doing that. Don't give me this--that's how we ordinarily view ourselves. But if we bring attention into that we see that it doesn't really hold.

How many of you have experienced a situation today where you have mixed feelings about something? Oh good. More response there. Now, if you're a single entity how can you have mixed feelings? You either feel this way or that. And I run into this all the time with people. Some people say to me, "Well, I feel this way about that; I feel happy about this, but then I'm not so happy about it. You know, I'm sad, I'm angry." And they get all confused because they view themselves as a single entity and yet they have all of these different feelings. And one of the things we get from a technique that's been developed recently called [unclear] is to change the vocabulary slightly. Instead of saying "I" say "part of me." Say "part of me feels this and part of me feels that." Then there's no problem having all of those different feelings because if we shift from looking at ourselves not as a one thing but as composed of many parts, then things become very simple. We can have all of these different feelings and even more. And now you don't struggle with them in the same way.


To Get Out Of Debt

How to get out of debt? Bring attention to your spending!

I'm really enjoying the Eightfold Path (8FP) podcast and it relates very much to a lovely quote from the very end of TAN14:
So people sometimes think they have to exert great efforts to change. No. Most of the time you just have to change one little bit there, and an awful lot of other things will just follow from that. The difficulty may be in finding that one little bit to change, but we'll talk about as we go forward.
So continuing in this vein, in the first session of 8FP Ken talks about the confusion that results when people try to practice the 8FP as it is usually presented, with the large number of injunctions related to each of the eight branches. The very complex elaboration of this actually makes it impossible to practice. He suggests that a more fruitful approach to practicing the 8FP might be to bring attention to how we are viewing things, our intentions, how we speak, how we behave, earn our living and so on. And he points out that what people often do is take what is actually a description of the results of practice as the method of practice (see pg 58-60 of Wake Up To Your Life for more about this).

Ken then goes on to give a number of examples about bringing attention to how one views things and to one's intentions. One of these examples is about the experience of couple of people who came to him for advice about how to apply mindfulness as an approach to getting out of debt. Here's the clip and transcript of that example.

To Get Out Of Debt (from 8FP01: Eightfold Path (class) 00:25:50.00 - 00:28:46.00)

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Now when we start bringing our attention to our intention in each moment that we live, very interesting things are going to happen. Several years ago I had two people who came to me because they had built up sizeable debt and they wanted to get out of debt using mindfulness. Okay. Well, I'm not a debt counsellor but it's not rocket science either. The first thing you do is you start tracking expenses, tracking everything that you buy. That's the very first thing you do if you want to get out of debt. And one person just started to do that right away. The other person, it took them hmmm, four months of constant encouragement and reinforcement and me threatening to quit until they started tracking. They just started bringing attention to the action of shopping. And as soon as they did, their shopping patterns changed because they started to get in touch with the intention that was operating. And they would go, "Oh, I don't really need this right now." And just tracking what they were expending stuff on reduced the amount that they were spending to the point that they were pretty well breaking even. That wasn't getting them out of debt but it was stopping them getting further into debt, which is good. We'll get to those efforts later.

Now the next thing, the next effort was to push that intention even further, or that attention further, so they started to look at what were their priorities in their life as evidenced by what they were buying. And when they started to look at that again, their patterns changed. And they found whole areas that they didn't need to spend money on anymore and that moved them to the point of being able to generate a surplus and hence moving out of debt. And both of them successfully moved out of debt, completely out of debt, in about a year and a half, two years.

Then they had a real problem. They suddenly had much more money and they didn't know what to do with it. But that's another story.


A Difficult Situation

How do you feel about dying? Are you OK with that? Right now? OK, don't worry, it's just practice:)...

A Difficult Situation (from SUS07: Sutra Session (questions) 00:11:25.80 - 00:13:47.70)

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How many of you would like to be able to experience what arises in you more completely without getting completely freaked out in the process?

Okay. Well let’s do a meditation. I think I’ve done this here before. We’re just going to jump straight into the deep end. Okay. Now it doesn’t have to be really, really deep and you don’t have to have giant squid in the bottom of the pool or anything like that. But what I want you to do is take something from your life--maybe it’s something you’ve got coming tomorrow when you go back to work. Maybe it’s something that happened over the holidays. But something that was a bit of a problem for you--a real problem. Maybe it’s something you felt inside you, maybe it was an interaction with somebody else. But I want you to take something you ran away from. Figuratively or literally, sometimes people run away.

So everybody got something they can use? Anybody have a shortage?

You don’t have a problem? May I give you one?

How do you feel about dying?

You okay with that? So think about it now, you okay with that? You okay with dying right now? There you are. That’s the one you can use. I have a deep bag of these. Okay. Anybody else need one?

So just think of that situation or let’s use the term situation--it covers everything. And as you think of that situation say to yourself:
Breathing in, I experience the situation. Breathing out I experience the situation.
So let’s just do that for two or three moments together.
Thanks to Ann Brown for the transcription!