Gratitude in Difficulty

Here’s another passage from Morning Pages–a practice that I fell out of with a recent work schedule shift, but I’m making every effort to get writing regularly again. I just finished one of my Morning Pages journals, and in the first pages of the new one, I dedicated the efforts to gratitude, as it was the day after Thanksgiving. While I do not want to limit my Morning Pages and their creative openness, I’m taking a meditation on gratitude as a general inspiration for this journal, and this is the second entry with that spirit.


 

Look! Two days in a row! I’ll get back into this. Well, as I look at these pages, I think on gratitude. Perhaps, a general intention for morning pages is wrong, but I won’t let it guide my writing beyond a general mindset.

It’s hard to feel gratitude sometimes. Your mind can be compressed to a few square inches of mental space where it walks the same grounds of complaints and anxiety again and again. The trick is not to get trapped here and think that those thoughts are the mind. Getting beyond the focus on these gets the mind loose into its true nature–openness.

For instance, this morning, I can’t find my keys–which is a serious annoyance for me. I also have a headache and body pains. I’m hungry. I’m tired. As I focus on these other grievances come out and multiply. A legion.

However, if I take a moment, breathe, and relax into just being here–writing in this particular now–the thoughts slip past.

Here is one of the greatest gifts of mindfulness–setting the mind see and not confusing it with the thoughts that come and go.

Such openness allows the spacious embrace of gratitude to come in every moment, even when you have a headache. 🙂

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Right after I finished writing this entry, I read this passage:

It doesn’t matter what comes up. You don’t have to analyze anything when you are meditating. You can simply maintain your dignified posture and pay attention to your breath. The technique is that you look at the thoughts as they arise and say to yourself, “thinking.” Whatever goes through your mind is purely thinking, not mystical experience. Label it thinking and come back to your breath.

So you are there. You are thinking.You don’t try to get away from your thoughts, but you don’t stick with them or encourage them either. Thought patterns are just ripples on the surface of the pond. They come and they go. They merge into each other, and you take the attitude that they are not a big deal.

Bodily aches and pains and physical irritations also come and go. They may seem more problematic than your thoughts. But in meditation practice you regard physical sensations as also thought patterns. Label them thinking. Aches, pains, pins and needles–all thinking. This keeps everything simple and straightforward, so that you can appreciate everything as port of one natural process.

–Chögyam Trungpa, Mindfulness in Action, pp. 22-23.

May this inspire you to find gratitude even in difficult days. May you see that your thoughts are not your mind.

Gassho!

 

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Thoughts and Letting Go–The Mind’s Kite

This is my first deep writing in a while. Yet again, it appears unexpectedly in the open space of Morning Pages. Enjoy!


Here we are… Another day. It’s great to be writing in this moment. As I slow down and attend to the process, I feel utterly awash with sensation. There is so much detail–sound, smell, light, touch, vibration–in every moment. Usually, though, we’ve shut much of it out as we narrow our vision/smell/hearing/etc. to some small set of attention. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, its’ somewhat necessary. There’s so much to experience that we can’t hold it all at once. It’s the same with our thoughts. A quiet moment of mindfulness reveals that they are a legion; however, in most moments, we’re running along with one in particular as though it were a huge kite yanking along a child on a windy day. The funny thing in each instance is our lack of awareness of the process and possibility in each. With sensation, we forget that there is so much that we are closing out in this moment, or maybe, we don’t forget as much as not even realize that’s happening. With the thoughts, the same: we don’t realize that we are holding onto that kite string and running along with them (the thoughts). Meditation can show us both that there is so much to be aware of in every moment, bodily, and so many thoughts flitting by, mentally. It can open us to our full unfolding, right here, right now. It also shows that those thoughts are not “me”. I don’t have to run along with them. I can just as readily let them go–that kite can just fly away. It is only in grasping to it that I give it the power to pull me here and there. I can just as readily watch it fly on the wind without feeling its pull. Whether that kite is in the shape of the most beautiful butterfly or the most terrifying dragon does not make it any more enduring, any more absolute. It’s just another passing moment, another gust of wind. In grabbing onto the string, I keep it flitting about in the broad, open expanse of my mind; otherwise, it will pass out of sight soon enough, and I have the opportunity to watch it soar by without mistaking that string and kite as an extension of myself–as an immutable truth that defines me.

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In this moment and in every “now”, “I” am a flux of all these sensations and thoughts, a huge amount of possibilities manifesting in reality. It’s one small fold of the universe universing itself; it’s an unfolding emergence; it’s a human becoming.

May All be happy.
May All be healthy.
May All be at peace.
May All live with ease.


May this help you let go of that kite, seeing the unfolding potential that is in every moment. May you find the liberation of not grasping onto thoughts and definitions, thereby taking the first steps out of the orbit of samsara.

Gassho!

Mantra for Presence

One of the experiences that returns again and again in meditation is the flow of various thoughts.  At times, it can be difficult not to get swept away in the current of them all; rather than watching them wash by, rippling up and disappearing again, you can get pulled along and no longer see them as separate and impermanent. Getting carried away by them like this keeps them going and makes them seem solid, permanent things which are part of “me“.

Keeping a mindful presence is the challenge and boon of meditation. Returning the mind to breathing and sitting can save you from the ongoing rush of thoughts by opening some gaps–gaps of simple attentiveness and peaceful presence. One key to this in shamatha or shikantaza is labeling thoughts as “thinking” or more descriptively, “anger”, “lust”, “escapism”, etc. I’ve found that using the label “elsewhere” as a simple reminder that I’m not staying fully present here with my breath and body is effective. However, sometimes, a little more push can help. The other day, I came up with this mantra, repeating it in my mind when struggling with thoughts. It was quite helpful, and I thought it worth sharing:

Be a Buddha

As you think this line, let all of your conceptual resonance for “Buddha” (e.g. mindfulness, equanimity, presence, compassion, images of the easy smile, etc.) pull you back to practice. Try to embody these concepts as inspiration for you to return back to your breath and be present to it. Let yourself adopt that gentle smile. It’s very likely that you’ll find you can’t stop…

If you need further focus, say this as well:

Smile at Mara

Mara is the demon that tried to tempt the Buddha and smite him down in the story of his attainment of Enlightenment. Those difficulties we encounter in life can be greeted with a smile: acceptance and equanimity. This transforms the swords and arrows of Mara into flowers, as in the Buddha’s tale. The swords and arrows of our own mind as well as our own tempting thoughts can be metamorphosed into calm and peace–the basic goodness of mind can be recognized as a lotus opening within the rippling thoughts. In saying this line, realize that you don’t have to master the thoughts. Rather, open yourself to them. Surrender to them. Act through inaction. Smile at them. In letting them be and surrendering to their flow, you’ll find that they aren’t solid at all, and they really aren’t about “me”. Rather, your mind is that calm lotus, and the thoughts flow past, impermanent, fluid, ephemeral.

Be a Buddha
Smile at Mara

May these words bring your mind peace.

Gassho


On the night on which he was to attain enlightenment, the Buddha sat under a tree. While he was sitting there, he was attacked by the forces of Mara. The story goes that they shot swords and arrows at him, and that their weapons turned into flowers.

What does this story mean? My understanding of it is that what we habitually regard as obstacles are not really our enemies, but rather our friends. What we call obstacles are really the way the world and our entire experience teach us where we’re stuck. What may appear to be an arrow or a sword we can actually experience as a flower. Whether we experience what happens to us an obstacle and enemy or as teacher and friend depends entirely on our perception of reality. It depends on our relationship with ourselves.–Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, p. 65