Sunday, April 28, 2013

Meditation: Don't take it personally

I swept the deck this morning. By afternoon it was covered over again with pollen. I didn’t take it personally. Our mind works in a similar clear-then-covered-over-again way. We need not take this personally either.

Practicing mindfulness can help us respond to each other and to life situations in a way that feels clear, even when our mind seems anything but. This is because mindfulness is not about finding a fixed state of clear mind; it’s about responding clearly to ever-changing states of mind. (Think Stepford Wives to get a glimpse of what living in a fixed state of mind might look like...scary).

By mindful response I don’t mean deciding not to complain, faking anything, or sucking it up when we’re in pain. Those responses are fueled by suppression (and are also annoying as all get out). I’m talking about a way of responding that is fueled by the clarity that is present even in tough times.
Palmyra Inn, Wakefield, VA: Built 1745. Still needs sweeping today.
I don’t want to make this way of responding sound easy. It’s often not easy. But it can be made easier by an intentional, regular meditation practice. Each time that we get still and quiet, we practice being with ourselves in a very ordinary way. This ordinariness is a key component of the clarity that is always there, with or without us.

Through regular practice we become keenly aware that the practice of mindfulness is personal—that it involves working with our unique situations—but that we need not take the practice personally. The practice is just the practice. Sweeping the deck is just sweeping the deck. And even though we know that the pollen will appear again and again, we continue to get out the broom and sweep.

The Hippo, by Steven Hickman

The hippo floats in swamp serene,
some emerged, but most unseen.

Seeing all and only blinking,
Who knows what this beast is thinking.

Gliding, and of judgment clear,
Letting go and being here.

Seeing all, both guilt and glory,
Only noting. But that’s MY story.

I sit here hippo-like and breathe,
While inside I storm and seethe.

Would that I were half equanimous
As that placid hippopotamus. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

4 gates of speech

There is a meditation practice that involves contemplating slogans to train the mind and wake up the heart. One of the slogans is “Don’t Malign Others.” This means what it sounds like it means: not to speak degradingly about others.

I can’t imagine someone proposing the opposite—that we speak to degrade othersyet sometimes we do speak in a way that degrades. Gossiping certainly does this. So does nitpicking about, or making fun of, the way someone eats, walks, speaks, thinks, lives their life, and so on. This sort of talk usually comes from a desire to highlight ourselveshow clever we are, how right we are, how virtuous we are. 

Even if what we say sounds like helpful advice, words spoken to show off something about ourselves can short-circuit another person's opportunity to come to an even fuller understanding than our words might point them toward. If we're talking in a way that would bring pain to the heart of even one person, we can benefit from examining our speech. 

One practice that might help is called the Four Gates of Speech. It works like this: Before speaking to others, or even to ourselves, we pass through the following 4 “gates” in the order that they are listed below.  

Are the words that I’m about to speak...

1) True?
2) Necessary? 
3) Spoken at the right time? 
4) Spoken in kindness?

If we come upon a NO answer at any of the gates, may we stop there and find peace in silence. If we come upon an I’M NOT CERTAIN answer, may we return to the first gate later on and start over. If the answer is YES at each gate, may we speak with the confidence and clarity of one who is brave enough to love.
Simon guards the gate at Rancho De La Osa, Sasabe, AZ

Ode 314, Rumi

Those who don't feel this Love
pulling them like a river,
those who don't drink dawn
like a cup of spring water
or take in sunset like supper,
those who don't want to change,

let them sleep.

This Love is beyond the study of theology,
that old trickery and hypocrisy.
If you want to improve your mind that way

sleep on.

I've given up on my brain.
I've torn the cloth to shreds
and thrown it away.

If you're not completely naked,
wrap your beautiful robe of words
around you,

and sleep.