Gentleness, and Thinking

Dear Sangha,
imagesPema Chodron talks about being gentle with ourselves in this practice. As we talked about that, we became aware that this may be a bit tricky. We may end up with a dichotomy–“I’m doing this well, so great!” Or “I’m not doing this well, so I need to be gentle with myself.” Rather, if we just sit still and observe what arises, what moves—without judgment (or if we do, we don’t judge the judgment)—there is no particular need to add anything to that observation.

Secondarily, though, if difficult feelings arise, or crazy thoughts, we may want to be gentle with ourselves as we see our own reaction to those thoughts and feelings. See the subtle difference? Not sure I know how to say this clearly.

images-2As for “thinking,” the other part of our reading yesterday, we talked about the value or lack of value in labeling “thinking” when we see we’re doing it. You might try just observing, and then try labeling. If you seem to need the labeling, you might do that for a while until it falls away naturally. The point is, as always, observation. Just seeing when thoughts arise and seeing when they seem to fade away. We keep observing. That’s all. There is enormous power in learning to note when a thought arises. We see that the thought is not “us.” It is not who we “are,” but is “only” a thought. A lot of quotation marks here! They stand for the IDEA of “us,” of “are” or of “only.”  😎

Next week we read the section called “Letting Go.” See you then.

P.S. If anyone in the Grawn area could give Loraine a ride to meditation, please contact her at Thanks!

Nuts and Bolts of Sitting Meditation

Dear Sangha,
imagesPart of the chapter we read last night had to do directly with meditation technique, and we spent a fair amount of time on that. Pema suggests being mindful of the out-breath. The idea is that the in-breath is accompanied by more tension. The out-breath is where we release, and is more likely not to encourage our desire to control. Coming back to the breath over and over is a way to train the mind. Shikantaza, or “just this,” is a way of meditating that is simply open to “whatever moves,” as my teacher Sokuzan says. One sits with a straight back, a relaxed body, and just watches–the breath, the body, the sounds, the wall in front of us, and the thinking.

Shikantaza is harder and is more likely to cause a beginner confusion (am I doing it “right”?), but on the other hand, is less likely to encourage the ego to become attached to doing it “right.”

UnknownWhat does it mean, to “watch” thinking? The internal talk comes up even before we realize it and leaves as soon as we “see” it. Usually. Awareness is everything.The intention is simply to become aware of the rise and fall of thoughts. We’re not becoming interested in the content of the thoughts, just their arising and passing. And to become aware of the gaps between thoughts.

Pema has more to say about being gentle with ourselves as we practice. We’ll talk more about that next week.




Precision, Gentleness, and Letting Go

imgresThat’s the title of Chapter 4 of Pema’s book. She’s emphasizing that the Buddha said we aren’t bad people, but that we have “innocent misunderstanding” that can be turned around, seen through, as if we were in a dark room and turned on the light. It isn’t a sin to be in a dark room!

Same with our “so called” limitations. If we see them with precision, gentleness, goodheartedness, and kindness, if we see them fully, we begin to see that our world is more vast than we thought, more “refreshing” is the word Pema uses.

Meditation, she says, “is about seeing clearly the body we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation we have, the job we have, and the people who are in our lives. Seeing how we react to all those things. Not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly, with precision and gentleness.

imgres-1If we push on ourselves, we may get “better,” but the pushing is likely to backfire on us. If we just observe, the energy of our unskillful actions will begin to die down.

“Our neurosis and our wisdom are made of the same material,” Pema says. Throw out one and you throw out the other. Read the rest of Chapter 4 to hear more about that.

See you next week,

A Rumi Poem

Outside, the freezing desert night.
This other night inside grows warm, kindling.
Let the landscape be covered with thorny crust.
We have a soft garden in here.
The continents blasted,
cities and little towns, everything
become a scorched, blackened ball.

The news we hear is full of grief for that future,
but the real news inside here
is that there’s no news at all.

imgresRumi (1207 – 1273), was a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet. He was also a jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic.

See you next week when we begin Chapter 4 of The Wisdom of No Escape, by Pema Chodron.


That Darn Horse Story

Dear Sangha,
imagesPema Chodron brings up the discourse about the four kinds of horses: the excellent horse, the good horse, the poor horse, and the really bad horse. The good horse starts moving before the whip ever touches his back; the very bad horse doesn’t budge until the pain of the whip penetrates to the marrow of his bones. The others are between those extremes.

And what is the point? We want to be the excellent horse in our practice, but actually, when we sit, it doesn’t matter which horse we are. The terrible horse may be the best practitioner.

So we spent a lot of time last night talking about what it means to be a “good” practitioner. Trungpa says–according to Pema–that he’s suspicious of the ones who say everything’s going well. Then we will relax. We won’t make a real effort. So it seems that we need friction of some sort, we need, maybe, to feel like a bad horse. We need to have some degree of discomfort, to do this work.

Pema says that Trungpa encouraged her by saying “as long as you have these kinds of doubts, your practice will be good.”

images-1And what is good, we asked? The best we could come up with is “steady,” “faithful sitting no matter what.”

Sit well. See you next week.

A Process of Lightening Up

Dear Sangha,
images     That’s what Pema says, that “Meditation is a process of lightening up, of trusting the basic goodness of what we have and who we are, and of realizing that any wisdom that exists, exists in what we already have. Our wisdom is all mixed up with our neurosis. Our brilliance, our juiciness, our spiciness, is all mixed up with our craziness and our confusion, and therefore it doesn’t do any good to try to get rid of our so-called negative aspects, because in that process we also get rid of our basic wonderfulness.”

I love that paragraph. We talked a lot about taking action–either action to “improve” ourselves or the world. Of course right now, this is a potent subject, one that brings up a lot of opinions. We talked about the nature of opinions and how the situation is more spacious than our opinions.

images-1Pema says, “This path is a sense of wonder. . . wanting to know all the unknowable things, beginning to question everything. We know we’re never really going to find the answers, because these kinds of questions come from having a hunger and a passion for life–they have nothing to do with resolving anything or tying it all up into a nice, neat little package. This kind of questioning is the journey itself.”

See you next week when we begin Chapter 3, “Finding Our Own True Nature.”


Abandon Hope

Dear Sangha,
A few words from Pema Chodron:
imgres “Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there’s one, there’s always the other. This. . . is the root of our pain. In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keep looking for alternatives.
“In a nontheistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put “Abandon Hope” on your refrigerator door instead of the more conventional aspirations like “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.”
“Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something, they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.”

images-3Next week we’ll continue our book study, going back to read the Introduction to Pema’s The Wisdom of No Escape. You’re always welcome to join us.



Dear Sangha,
imgresWe began the first chapter of Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape, although I’d like to go back and read the Introduction together. I think it helps set the tone for our reading, and should have thought of that yesterday.

We talked about our tendency to want to “improve” ourselves, what that is and how that usually brings us to the practice in the first place. “If I could meditate and calm down, I’d be a better person.” But, as Pema says, loving-kindness toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. We can still be crazy, or angry, or timid, or jealous, etc. The point is not to become a different person; the point is to see who we really are. That’s what we study. Ourselves.

Tabby kitten in box

We remain curious. Pema says, “Inquisitiveness or curiosity involved being gentle, precise, and open–actually being able to let go and open.” We had quite a discussion about the concept of “letting go”!

Next week is the four-hour block sitting from 2:30-6:30. Come for as much of that time as you can, get better acquainted with yourself. :)


The END!

Dear Sangha,
001b8f76798cd792fa004f562818d8a4After over a year–who knows HOW long?–we wave goodbye to Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind together. It’s really great to read this way, very slowly, paragraph-by-paragraph, stopping to talk and think about the material. As my teacher Sokuzan says, it’s more about building sangha than about learning concepts from the reading. What we “learn” is more a quality of absorbing the sense of the material rather than piling up information. In any case, we’ve had a frustrating and enjoyable time with this book.

Now we’ll be beginning Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape.  If you aren’t familiar wth her work, you’ll find her easy to read, very accessible, but concerned, of course, with the same dharma. If you’ve studied Buddhist texts in the past, you may find this book “simple,” but after all, as Suzuki would say, we approach all of this with a beginner’s mind, seeing what’s there as if we’ve never read any of this before.

imgresA good way to end our study of Suzuki’s book is to quote a little: “You must put confidence in the big mind which is always with you. You should be able to appreciate things as an expression of big mind. This is more than faith. This is ultimate truth which you cannot reject.”

We talked about “big mind.” It is only when we’re able to see through our small mind, our everyday mind, that we begin to be aware of big mind, which has always been there.