Over the last few years, I have been asked a similar question with growing frequency: "How do we fix the world's problems?" Usually the question is narrowed down to a specific type of problem in the world, like "How can we put an end to war?" but sometimes it is as general as seeking to solve the problems in the world entirely.
My answer is always the same, initially unsatisfying, response that we can't fix the world's problems, we can only get right with ourselves. If we don't understand our own mind, if we don't see clearly our own path, then we are just adding to the mess in the world. Most of us don't want to hear this. We want everything else out in the world to change according to the way we believe it should be, expecting that somehow, in conforming to our wishes, we will find life suddenly satisfying. But it doesn't work this way. If the world around us does change, we find that we are still not satisfied, so we look for more things to "fix". This will go on endlessly and the world's mess just gets messier.
In my twenties I was guilty of getting caught up in the futile game of fixing the sorrows of the world, in order to find peace and contentment in my own life (though I didn't know that was what I was doing. I really believed I was trying to fix the world's problems.) I even withheld my own joy and happiness, believing I was not entitled to feeling good until all the world was healed. That approach lead me into a clinical depression, and, even for a time, in a hospital psych ward for my own safety. Denying my own joy, made me a misanthrope. In trying to fix the world I came to hate people, hate myself, hate life itself. It wasn't until I crawled out from my depth of depression and offer compassion to myself, that was I able to understand I would not experience any peace or joy, if I didn't first find the peace and joy that already existed within my own being. It was the peace and joy I discovered within my own being that became the fuel necessary to transform fear, anger, grief, sadness. With their transformation came the insight into the purpose and meaning of life...of this life...not "my" life, but the life that I was blessed to carry for a tiny, almost, insignificant span of time, in this human body. I continue to this day, to align the living of this life, with that purpose and meaning.
Today, I see so much suffering, compounded by the additional suffering of individuals trying to fix the world rather than understand their own lives. Too many are withholding their own joy, believing that punishing themselves, while trying to uplift others, is necessary and not understanding doing so undermines every good thing they try to realize in the world. There are also a fair number who are so fixated on everything else getting right first, that they don't realize what they think is happiness is really self-delusion, a kind of virtual reality created in their own minds. I am always trying to find a way to impart wisdom, to deliver a message that might wake people from their self induced trance. I have yet to offer any guiding words, other than those I use to describe my own journey. Until the day I find the right words, I turn to Joseph Campbell, the scholar of comparative mythology and religion. He distilled beautifully all he learned about the human condition and the spiritual journey into perhaps the clearest guidance I have read to this day. Pair this with the Buddha's foundational teaching of The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold path, and I don't think I could write anything better than the following:
The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.
What you have to do, you do with play.
Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.
The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be.
Being alive is the meaning.
The warrior's approach is to say "yes" to life: "yea" to it all.
Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.
We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.
When we talk about settling the world's problems, we're barking up the wrong tree.
The world is perfect. It's a mess. It has always been a mess.
We are not going to change it.
Our job is to straighten out our own lives.
We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.
If we fix the old, we get stuck. When we hang onto any form, we are in danger of putrefaction.
Hell is life drying up.
The Hoarder, the one in us that wants to keep, to hold on, must be killed.
If we are hanging onto the form now, we're not going to have the form next.
You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.
Destruction before creation.
Out of perfection nothing can be made.
Every process involves breaking something up.
The earth must be broken to bring forth life.
If the seed does not die, there is no plant.
Bread results from the death of wheat.
Life lives on lives.
Our own life lives on the acts of other people.
If you are lifeworthy, you can take it.
What we are really living for is the experience of life, both the pain and the pleasure.
The world is a match for us. We are a match for the world.
Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.
Negativism to the pain and ferocity of life is negativism to life.
We are not there until we can say "yea" to it all.
To take a righteous attitude toward anything is to denigrate it.
Awe is what moves us forward.
As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you.
Don't bother to brush it off.
Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance.
Having a sense of humor saves you.
Eternity is a dimension of here and now.
The divine lives within you.
Live from your own center.
Your real duty is to go away from the community to find your bliss.
The society is the enemy when it imposes structures on the individual.
On the dragon there are many scales. Everyone of them says "Thou Shalt."
Kill the dragon "Thou Shalt".
When one has killed that dragon, one has become The Child.
Breaking out is following your bliss pattern, quitting the old place, starting your hero journey, following your bliss.
You throw off yesterday as the snake sheds its skin.
Follow your bliss.
The heroic life is living the individual adventure.
There is no security in following the call to adventure.
Nothing is exciting if you know what the outcome is going to be.
To refuse the call means stagnation.
What you don't experience positively you will experience negatively.
You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path, it is someone else's path. You are not on your own path.
If you follow someone else's way, you are not going to realize your potential.
The goal of the hero trip down to the jewel point is to find those levels in the psyche that
and finally open to the mystery of your Self being Buddha consciousness or the Christ.
That's the journey.
It's all about finding the still point in your mind where commitment drops away.
It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.
Where you stumble there lies your treasure.
The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for.
The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center.
You find the jewel, and it draws you off.
In loving the spiritual, you cannot despise the earthly.
The purpose of the journey is compassion.
When you have come past the pairs of opposites, you have reached compassion.
The goal is to bring the jewel back to the world, to join the two things together.
The separateness apparent in the world is secondary.
Beyond that world of opposites is an unseen, but experienced, unity and identity in us all.
Today, the planet is the only proper "in group".
You must return with the bliss and integrate it.
The return is seeing the radiance everywhere.
Sri Ramakrishna said: "Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond."
If you want the whole thing, the gods will give it to you.
But you must be ready for it.
The goal is to live with godlike composure on the full rush of energy, like Dionysus riding the leopard, without being torn to pieces.
A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation:
"As you go the way of life,
you will see a great chasm.
It is not as wide as you think,"
~ from "Reflections on the Art of Living: a Joseph Campbell Companion" edited by Diane K. Osbon
Come join us for an open dialogue about the commonalities and differences in various faith traditions. Our aim is to understand one another and build a stronger more cohesive community in the Utica area!
Ven. Myohye Do'an will facilitate a discussion of Agape and Ahimsa: Twin Roots of Nonviolence by Ira Zepp & Charles Collyer.
When: Monday, September 16, 6:30-7:30
Where: New Hartford Public Library
(Sammon Room), 2 Library Ln, New Hartford, NY
In the book Mindfulness in Action Chögyam Trungpa referred to two kinds of boredom that we can experience: cool boredom and hot boredom. Hot boredom is the one most of us has experienced; this is the kind of boredom thtat appears when pauses or moments of lowered stimulation arise. Hot boredom is a result of our addiction to constant stimulation and business. During a conversation, when a pause appears, hot boredom moves us to fill that pause. Hot boredom makes us feel uncomfortable when conversation stalls or stops for a moment. Hot boredom often arises during meditation, leading the mind to wander, making the body uncomfortable (ever experience those annoying itches that appear suddenly?), or, at the most extreme, gets us to end meditation altogether. Chögyam Trungpa explains:
"Hot boredom is like being locked in a padded cell. You are bored, miserable and irritated. You will probably experience lots of that in your meditation practice."
Cool boredom, on the other hand, is the opposite. It is expansive. It softens our experiences and makes room for self compassion. During meditation we have the opportunity to come home to ourselves, to really see who we are, often for the very first time. In order to establish this relationship, it becomes important to lower our need for stimulation. We need to become comfortable with pauses and moments of stillness. When we meditate we may become aware of the rise and fall of emotions and feelings, thoughts come and go, some can be quite strong, even disturbing. Cool boredom lets us witness to all that passes through us without the need to latch on, to become stimulated by what appears, but to be aware and let go.
This is the point in which we become true friends with ourselves, when we can see ourselves more honestly. We don't become concerned with how great or terrible we are. Good and bad, right and wrong are not matters of concern. Instead we see all this as part of the whole of who we are. Cool boredom doesn't appear right away. When we first learn meditation we are stimulated by the techniques, the discovery of what happens when we confront hot boredom.
Eventually, we will begin to experience cool boredom being challenged by hot boredom. When we don't require focus on techniques as much or when the effects of meditation become more subtle and stimulation is greatly reduced, we might think that our practice of meditation has failed. When we sit to meditate nothing much is happening. The thoughts are not as rapid, we experience less disturbing emotions or intrusive thoughts. We might find the itch of hot boredom appear again. But if we allow for cool boredom to have its place we begin to find this low stimulation refreshing. We begin to experience what it is to be without drama or the imprisonment of habitual patterns. We realize we are more than just the flow of emotions, sensations and thoughts. We have the opportunity at this point to meet who we are behind all this rising and falling. Cool boredom introduces us to who we truly are as a human being.
Cool boredom is not the experience of walls closing in, but the falling away of all barriers. It is cooling, refreshing, like a soft breeze or cool running water.
With cool boredom "we realize that existence does not depend on constantly cranking up our egomaniacal machine." We discover that there is a whole other way of living.
Connecting to nature has been proven to promote healing and wellbeing. Going for a walk, taking in a view of the sun rising or setting, sitting in a park beneath a tree or by a pond are simple ways to connect to nature for even the busiest of people. However, our rhythm of living today is often in opposition to our bodies natural time. We work against the rising and setting of the sun, constantly push our bodies and minds, ignoring the natural bio-clock of the circadian rhythm. Aligning ourselves with a natural rhythm can maximize any little bit of healing that walking in the park, or any other form of physically connecting to nature may offer. One of the easiest ways to follow a natural rhythm is to align ourselves with the lunar cycle.
We are physically born out of the dark into the light, and so in keeping with this pattern the lunar cycle begins when the moon is dark: the new moon. Energetically, the time of the new moon calls for introspection and meditation and to reflect on your accomplishments of the previous month. The new moon can then be a time of being rather than doing, a time to rest and prepare for the next cycle where energy will increase and action will begin again.
It is important to incorporate a regular interval of quiet time in our lives. So much of our society is focused on constant production and a striving to attain goals at all costs. It is impossible to be constantly productive. Constant productivity eventually fails due to exhaustion, burn out, and depletion of resources. Yet despite this, society pushes us ever harder to live up to this impossible notion. However, if someone wants to be productive in a healthy and balanced way, there needs to be a period of rest and reflection. Without such a time, we are more apt to make mistakes and spin off into directions that may not necessarily be in keeping with our goals.
The moon then moves from its dark phase and begins the first quarter or waxing phase. With increasing moon light, energy begins to increase. Our monthly projects are taking shape and our plans should be in motion. However, just like any project that has been started, obstacles and challenges will arise. First quarter energy reminds us to take a moment to re-evaluate our course of action and determine whether to continue on as planned or to redirect. By having taken time to rest and reflect during the new moon, we will have more stamina to make changes and course directions should it be necessary.
As the moon moves closer to its full phase, we will find our energy continuing to grow and our projects coming closer to fruition. Let the moon guide you. It's a giant reminder above us showing us that work can be accomplished in a healthy and balanced way, which is the path of true productivity.
The full moon phase begins its influence a few days before its completely full state. It offers heightened energy and stimulates productivity, which aids in the completion of a goal. The full moon tends to influence emotions (we have all heard the stories of the rise of activity at police stations, prisons and hospitals at the full moon), however, the heightened emotions rarely lead to lunacy. Instead the full moon's influence assists in gaining new perspectives, experiencing breakthroughs and revelations.
Now is the time to pour energy into a project or task. This is the time for high productivity and more investment in creative and physical resources. In a healthy productive cycle, as guided by the moon, a week of high production and extra effort is much more realistic than continuous and unsustainable action. The full moon offers the light of inspiration and serves as a beacon that our goals can be met when we work toward them with balance and clarity. Additionally, three days or so after the full moon is the best time to remove old habits, end unhealthy relationships, or quit an addiction.
As the full moon recedes into the waning phase. we come to the end of the lunar cycle. The decreasing of the moon's glowing appearance signifies the need to narrow the focus of our energy in order to tie-up all the loose ends of the project started at the beginning of the cycle. If the project is complete, this is the time to double check and make sure that nothing was left out or forgotten.
Like the three days surrounding the full moon, the new moon covers three days. At the start of the new moon, it will be time to reflect on accomplishments and rest and prepare for the next cycle. But, for now, during this last week, let the moon be a reminder that there is still some time left to complete and finalize the project and achieve the goals for the month.
Here is a brief overview of the moon's cycle which can be used as a guide for our own natural rhythm:
New Moon - the beginning of the cycle
Restlessness is all too prevalent in our society. We are encouraged to be busy from the moment we wake up. We move, move, move without giving ourselves little time to pause or rest. Bathed in constant stimulation of screaming televisions, blaring music, the ring of the cell phone, the beep of email messages coming through, many of us don't know what being still or rest really is. Often, when we are so conditioned by restlessness, entering stillness and quiet may feel unpleasant. However, no one can survive remaining totally restless.
Restlessness actually feels unpleasant, and we often push away from this unpleasant feeling by becoming more restless. It is much like a rock rolling down a hill, gaining momentum as it rolls. Restlessness affects both the body and the mind, causing thoughts to race faster, and the body to become tense and fidgety.
Restlessness is a form of alienation from oneself. This alienation feels unnatural and uncomfortable, and in seeking a solution to this discomfort, we look outward for answers. We get busy, which creates more restlessness and, because we aren't able to see the initial cause of the restlessness, more alienation.
Restlessness can manifest in many different ways: worry, planning, agitation, self-criticism, regret, anxiety, remorse, impatience, etc.. What all these forms of restlessness share is a preoccupation with the past or the future. Restlessness is a shifting away from presence.
What can you do when caught up by Restlessness?
1. Find a quiet place
A place that is calm, still and quiet is must easier to induce a calm, still and quiet body and mind. The best solution is to sit in stillness and reconnect to full presence. Focusing on the breath induces a calm state. If you are able to just observe the restlessness as it expresses itself in your body and mind, using the breath or a sound as an anchor, you will allow the energy to dissipate. Often the body just needs to unwind continuing with restlessness only winds the body up tighter. Think of a glass of dirty water. If it is continually agitated the water stays dirty. But if it is left to rest, eventually the dirt sinks to the body and the water becomes clear and still. Remember, getting and staying busy and trying to distract yourself is often just a way to fuel restlessness.
Smiling can go a long way toward calm. Smiling evokes a sense of satisfaction and contentment. Smiling during practice will keep practice gentle and supportive. Smiling when you catch yourself caught up in restlessness, can help you to pause long enough to shift you back to presence.
When you are able to sit in stillness, allowing restlessness to have space, explore it. Investigate and understand the cause. Is it fear? Insecurity? unpleasantness? anger?
4. Take short breaks
When very busy and it is difficult to fully stop and sit with the energy, try to work in frequent short breaks to help break up long stretches of busyness and keep it from shifting into restlessness. Sometimes, it is just too difficult to stay with strong restlessness. In this case, it is not compassionate to force yourself to endure it and muscle through. Instead, use wise and skillful breaks. You can tell yourself, "I will focus on some calming breathes for the next three minutes." Then go take a walk, or have a cup of tea, and then go back for another three minutes or so. Here, being a little busy can be beneficial. Just be careful that you don't get too busy and turn it back into more restlessness. Remember, overall, self-compassion is key to keeping the heart open and relaxing the body.
5. Practice compassion
Lovingkindness meditation practice can be helpful when thoughts are caught up in self-criticism, judgements or regret. A mind that is at peace is not restless. Try repeating phrases, such as:
May I be happy.
May I be at peace.
May I be well.
May I be safe.
Such compassionate statements directed toward yourself help focus the mind and open the heart, easing the mind toward peace and acceptance.
6. Slow down and simplify
If you are able to recognize when you're caught up in Restlessness, you'l learn how to stop becoming victims of it. Beginning by finding ways to slow down. Try cutting back on unnecessary activities, and learning to experience calm and stillness as pleasant and necessary. It can be challenging at first to avoid getting caught by Restlessness--especially when so many around us are unwitting slaves to it. Regular meditation practice is the best preventative medicine, as it allows you to experience how Restlessness manifests in the body and mind without fueling it. Over time meditation will help free you from the habit energy of Restlessness.
We are all touched by aversion--which includes: anger, ill-will and fear. Aversion is wanting a situation or feeling to be different than it is and expending energy to push away.
How does aversion interfere with practice?
Aversion creates energy that fuels itself. We shift into habitual patterns and act without mindfulness, which often creates more aversion. When acting out of habit energy, it becomes very difficult to sit and meditate. Should aversion arise while meditating, it can be difficult to keep the mind and body from responding and becoming hooked by whatever form of aversion may be arising. When we look carefully into the states that pull us away from presence we will find fear.
Fear comes from a limbic response to losing life, however, when we are caught up in fear, we lose life. Our body contracts, mind contracts, heart contracts. We take on a body of fear. Our world shrinks. We lose our sense of belonging: belonging to the moment, to each other, to the earth, to awareness.
If we are able to pause, we can shift from the limbic fight/flight/freeze response to the attend/befriend prefrontal cortex response. This shift from primitive to higher brain function is the very action of the evolution of consciousness. We cannot prevent something from going wrong by worrying or ruminating on it. Instead, if we shift to what is here, right now: the smells, the sights the sensations, etc., we become aware of what is happening and we can effect change.
When we open up we don’t suffer because we are activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
We suffer when we are locked in the sympathetic nervous system fight/flight/freeze reactive state.
So why is Aversion so strong?
Rather than react to aversion, we need to learn how to respond to it and free ourselves from the habitat response.
How do we stop aversion from taking us over and keeping us from practicing?
We come back to our breath! By re-connecting to the breath, we have the opportunity to step out of the habit energy pattern and stay present. In presence, we have access to wisdom and are able to actually know what is happening right that moment. This allows us to make better choices and cut the self-perpetuating cycle of aversion.
Learn how to attend and befriend:
One way to address aversion is to practice the STOP Technique. A useful and effective way to bring you back to your breath and into presence. It can be utilized anywhere and only takes a minute or two to practice. You can read about how to put this into practice to help with aversion by reading the blog post: STOP Technique.
When addressing desire as a resistance to practice it is important first to realize that desire itself is not bad. Desire is a natural survival mechanism. Desire is what gets us to eat, to sleep, to find shelter; it gets us doing what we need to do to survive and thrive. It is desire that fuels our passions, moves us to be creative, and to find pleasure in life. If someone is fully at peace with theirself, there is no need to grasp for things.
Desire becomes a problem when it becomes wanting and shifts us out the present moment. When we are full of fear, disconnected from ourself, we search outward for more and more….If we are acting without presence of mind it’s easier to get caught by wanting and become lost in a never ending cycle of un-satisfaction. Take notice when “if/only” thinking, arises, like: “If only I made X amount of money, then I would be successful.”, "If only I wasn't sick, then I would be happy." such thinking is where wanting or clinging often arises. Most of our ideas of what we need or want in order to be happy are wrong. This is because these “solutions” are almost always external.
Happiness or contentment is never dependent on external factors. If we are shifting our attention outward for satisfaction, we are actually pushing ourselves away from the very thing that can provide the peace and contentment that we are seeking.
When desire becomes a hindrance to meditation, the best solution is to give it mindful and compassionate attention. If the desire is strong or particularly difficult to face, you can work with it using the RAIN technique.
Through the practice of meditation we can develop a sense of how wanting-desire creates tension and takes us into suffering. The stronger the wanting-desire, the less mindful we are. Often the experience of wanting something can feel unpleasant, but suffering because of it is optional. We are taught that when we feel uncomfortable we should go do something about it, rather than observe the source of the discomfort. If we face the thoughts and emotions with openness and presence, we shift away from the small wanting self to our more expansive awareness. When we sit with desire and investigate the nature of it, in the moment we are experiencing it, no matter how difficult it may be, we allow ourselves to be freed from the clinging grasp of desire.
Instead of disliking how you feel or being unhappy about the experience you are having, accept what is rising. Instead of becoming caught in the never ending chase to satisfy a want that will most likely never be fully satisfied, let it have full presence and move through you. Often times the clinging as a result of wanting-desire goes unnoticed. It is like we become zombies blindly chasing after the object of our desire. But if we give it presence and recognize the energy around it, the wanting-desire often weakens and fades away.
If you find it too difficult to sit with the desire then try just slowing down. When we introduce a pause between the want and the action of chasing after the want, we are more able to make a better choice.
We continue to give away our power to others when we need others to get us, to understand us, in order for us to be ok, to be free. As long as we want other to respond to us in a particular way, we give away our power. If our well-being is dependent on another’s response, then we are not free. We have given up our power and have become enslaved.
Remember always be kind and compassionate with yourself, don't judge or criticize yourself. Recognize that there is usually an unmet need that is driving the wanting-desire. Explore the connection of this want in your body. You don’t have do anything about it. Just noticed it. Just feel what you feel. There is no wrong or right way to feel what you are feeling.
Even though we find it difficult to just let go, we remain aware of our resistance to let go. This holding on and being continually aware of ourselves and our attachments, however, will lead us to seeing that chasing or grasping for our desires is not the path. Instead, we recognize that the thing we are holding onto , and just be seeing what it is, we let go a little.
This process is activating our neural network, beginning the change to the particular neural pathway that keeps us holding. This takes practice, and each time we touch it with awareness, even if it is for a millisecond, this pause, allows for a new neural pathway to be formed. This pause breaks the chain of habit energy and reactivity.
Whether we are new to meditation or have been practicing for years, we all come face to face with resistance. Sometimes, because it is a new experience, it is more difficult to "train" ourselves to sit down and meditate and resistance, often obvious, can be hard to overcome. However, those of us who are well practiced, are not immune. Society seems to actively work against taking time out to sit quietly and work with the mind and our emotions, in these cases, the resistance can be more subtle.
Having an understanding of what kinds of resistance to practice there are can help us overcome them. Often these resistances have become such a part of our identity that we don't realize they have become habit energy. Fortunately, a lot habit energy is often quickly unraveled just by recognition. There are some forms of resistance that may have taken deeper root and we will find the need to recognize them repeatedly before they weaken enough for us to not be overtaken by them.
So what are these resistances to practice?
There are five:
At some time or another, we are touched by each of these forms or resistance. They take place before and during our sitting practice. When they rise up before sitting we find it difficult to make time to sit and meditate. When they rise up during meditation, we find it difficult to stay focused and present. When we are able to recognize the particular resistance that is manifesting, the best way to address it, is simply label it. For example, if I find I am experiencing a lot of Restlessness and I am feeling pressured to check things off a daily "to do" list. I may think I don't have time to sit and meditate. Or if I do manage to sit down, my meditation time is spent running through my "check-list". The thing NOT to do is fight it. To resist a resistance is to give it more power. These resistances love energy. The more energy we give them, the more resistance they can give us. Instead, what we do is just take note. In the case of the example, in recognizing that I am caught up in Restlessness and Staying Busy, I simply notice that is what is happening. I might say, "Ah, Restlessness." or "Ah, this is Staying Busy." Be sure to keep the label impersonal. It is not about you. It is just something that is happening. Don't judge yourself or berate yourself. It is habit energy. The more we just notice it happening, and the less we resist, the weaker the resistance.
You may want to keep a journal to simply jot down situations when particular kinds of resistance occur. Again, it should not be a journal to judge or berate one self, but simply to record instances of resistance so that you can recognize them when they arise. Over time, you will find, rather mysteriously, that the resistance occurs less and less. Sometimes they simply disappear!
In all of this, the key is compassion. Be kind to yourself. Being a task-master is just another kind of resistance. Soft, gentle noticing is all that needs to be done. Let the rest just happen.
One realm we have never conquered--the pure present. One great mystery of time is terra incognita to us--the instant. The most superb mystery we have hardly recognized--the immediate, instant self.
I am Myohye Do'an, a bhikṣu (fully ordained Chán Buddhist monk) and Chán Master. Here I share my thoughts and observations about living a life of compassion, attention and gratitude.