In the Buddhist tradition, the Pali word dukkha is used to describe the emotional pain that runs through our lives. While it’s often translated as “suffering,” dukkha encompasses all our experiences of stress, dissatisfaction, anxiety, sorrow, frustration, and basic unease in living. But if we listen deeply, we will detect beneath the surface of all that troubles us an underlying sense that we are alone and unsafe, that something is wrong with our life.
The Buddha taught that this experience of insecurity, isolation, and basic “wrongness” is unavoidable. We humans, he said, are conditioned to feel separate and at odds with our changing and out-of-control life. And from this core feeling unfolds the whole array of our disruptive emotions—fear, anger, shame, grief, jealousy—all of our limiting stories, and the reactive behaviors that add to our pain.
Yet, the Buddha also offered a radical promise, one that Buddhism shares with many wisdom traditions: We can find true refuge within our own hearts and minds—right here, right now, in the midst of our moment-to-moment lives. We find true refuge whenever we recognize the silent, awake space of awareness behind all our busy doing and striving. We find refuge whenever our hearts open with tenderness and love. Presence, the immediacy and aliveness and warmth of our intrinsic awareness, creates a boundless sanctuary where there’s room for everything in our life.
Right now, humans have two competing circumstances. The virus driving everyone to be risk averse. The virus driving everyone to be a risk taker because life is indeed short. Those are two competing interests that can be tough to balance.
I certainly don’t have any answers. Nor even an opinion. I know my level of risk-taking varies upon the day. Upon the hour. I guess all I can say is be mindful about it all. Don’t be too hard on yourself over FOMO if you follow your instincts to not take that risk. Don’t stress too much if you take a risk because you feel like you need to. Be compassionate towards yourself is the best you can do…and definitely the best thing for you!
Love this dharma talk by Jonathan Foust about “Your True Nature is Already Here.” You can tap into your true nature, by resting in presence without desire. In meditation, you might find your life starts changing because desires don’t have quite the same allure and fears don’t have the same grip on you.
Here are a few things that really turned my head:
1. At the 12-minute mark, Jonathan talks about the Buddha’s flower sermon, where the Buddha allegedly held up a flower and said nothing.
2. At the 26-minute mark, Jonathan quotes someone about how thoughts you have which you compare “what you like” against “what you don’t like” is a disease of the mind. There doesn’t have to be a dichotomy.
3. It’s a transformational practice to train your ADD mind to be here – and for you to have the power to observe without reacting. Observe your reactive patterns and consider possibility of “responding” to life rather than “reacting.” Tune in more to preference-less awareness, where you can merely be the observer.
4. Buddha nature involves stepping back to see more clearly. What is this primal feel?
5. At the 37-minute mark, Jonathan provides a quote to the effect that a little fish doesn’t understand “what is water?” We don’t see when we are “in it.”
At the end, Jonathan reads this amazing poem by Danna Faulds about “Awakening Now” – it just blew me away…
The latest dharma talk by Jonathan Foust – entitled “The Balance of Resilience & Surrender” – is replete with fine anecdotes and a roadmap about how to possibly find that balance. Jonathan tells the tale that Tara Brach often tells about when the first test pilots were attempting to enter the atmosphere, many died tried to fight to keep control. One finally succeeded – because he had been knocked unconscious and thus gave up the fight. From then on, that became the standard operating procedure.
I’ve learned on the basketball court that when I press, I often don’t succeed. It has to be a mix of being focused and giving effort – but also letting the “game come to me.” That’s when the magic happens. Of course, it’s hard not to press when you want it to happen. So it’s something you have to be mindful of, not wanting it so badly that you get in the way of yourself…
Experts say that the average person has 50,000 – 80,000 thoughts per day. That’s between 40-60 per minute. Doesn’t seem possible – but if you stop and think about it, that monkey mind does race. That’s part of being human.
Recently, I told my sister that I’ve been doing really well the past few months and she asked how that came about. The obvious answers involve getting vaccinated, being outside in warm weather and seeing some real live music. Not to mention a new job that is coming along just fine.
But the less obvious answer involves how I’m spending my 50,000 thoughts. Most of our thoughts are very repetitive. Telling ourselves the same stories in a loop. The key is to whether those stories are positive or negative. Maybe neutral. You know, it’s all about attitude.
So thinking about it more deeply, I’ve realized that I’ve been waking up with a bounce in my step. Enjoying a swim first thing in the morn – and I’ve been running positive stories from there. I know it’s hard to get there – and that I can fall off a ledge any moment due to the way the world is now – but I’m savoring the ability to maintain a nice run of good stories while I can…
Following up on last week’s blog about Part 1 of Jonathan Foust’s dharma talk about the flow state – we now have Part 2 of Jonathan’s talk, so I summarize what I learned here about how to train yourself to access the flow state at will:
The most creative people tend to be the most disciplined. That’s because we can be as much as 5x more productive in the flow state. A study found that a level of 5% flow is normal, your productivity doubles at 15%. You can cut the 10,000 hours required to master something in half by using flow.
So being in flow is a practical thing – it can improve your productivity for your work life. But wait there’s more – what if you apply to meditation. Pure flow can really help you tap into self-awareness.
There are seven things you can do to help you achieve flow:
1. Cut down on external distractions (eg. clean up your immediate environment).
2. Cut down in internal distractions – meditate or journaling before engaging in the activity you wish to embark upon.
3. Use background sounds to help you along (eg. pure sounds or music).
4. Have a clear outcome in mind for the activity.
5. Conduct a brief routine or ritual before you start – develop neuro-associations (eg. rub hands, other small movements, saying that you think).
6. Engage in the task during your peak biological time – are you a morning or night person?
7. Hydrate or small doses (200 milligrams) of caffeine.
As someone who loves to tap the subconscious through hypnosis, I was fascinated by this podcast by Jonathan Foust about the “flow state.” Around the 10-minute mark, Jonathan breaks down his discussion into four parts (the first three of which are covered in this podcast – the last part will be covered in a future podcast):
1. The magic of being in the flow state?
2. Is the flow state mindfulness?
3. How to sabotage the flow state?
4. How to access the flow state?
Since I play a lot of basketball, I know the flow state well. When I enter it, I can do no wrong on the court. I know my shot is going in before I even start to make a move. It’s all instinct and none of my actions are dictated by conscious thought. It’s only when I “press” – when I try too hard – that things start to go wrong.
Jonathan provides a similar anecdote. About when he played ping pong for first time. He could anticipate where the ball was going next. After I while, he thought to himself “I’m crushing this” and then he immediately wiffed. Perhaps part of this auspicious start was beginners mind but part was probably the flow state.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes the flow state as sort of an optimal state of happiness. Your’e fully immersed in an activity. You can have the flow state in a group setting as well. Those intense conversations where everything is blocked out. The flow state increases creativity and expression…can’t wait to learn how to more easily access the flow state. But I do know that hypnosis can help…
I’ve got a friend who’s been living on a sailboat for quite a while. He talks about the “aimless” feeling of living that far off the grid. Sometimes it’s comfortable; sometimes it’s not.
The comfortable part comports with Pema Chodron’s concept of “positive groundlessness.” Here’s an excerpt from this “Yoga with Daphne” blog that talks about that:
Pema Chodron spoke of a profound Buddhist concept Shenpa in her talk Positive Groundlessness: The Freedom to Choose Something Different. Through an understanding in the impermanence of all things in essence, and the ability to relax into this knowing. She offered a 3-step tools whom she deemed as “difficult”, but with practice, will help in not setting us back into our habits / patterns that keep us trapped, to not get stuck in the status quo or our perceived comfort zone, and to revel in the “unknowing” of it all.
Awareness (Jnana) ~ to notice when we get “hooked”- the baits, the triggers (expectations, fear, assumptions etc) that led us to believe that the rug is being pulled from under our feet, and our conditioned reflex to “fight/flight” by reacting with judgement, blame, anger, hate, even towards ourselves.
Desire ~ A desire to change – simply noticing or becoming aware isn’t enough if our default ego-driven response still goes “Yes, but…” A solid willingness to transform (Tapas) has to goes beyond superficial cognition, but also somatically. When the mind closes, the body contracts, and vice versa. Being able to allow our mind-body to stay open in challenging situations and self inquiring into the status quo can fundamentally change our behaviour.
Action ~ A life-long practice to keep coming back to this groundlessness in our words and actions. To keep falling flat on our faces and getting up, to not let our sense of righteousness drive us into believing that being right is more important than being love, to let our bleeding hearts crack open as we fall, and to allow this sense of groundlessness be the womb in which kindness and compassion flourish.
I was surprised to find that I haven’t blogged yet about “foreboding joy,” a topic that Brene Brown talks about a lot. Foreboding joy is when you prepare for the worst, even when they’re at their best. It’s a dress rehearsal for tragedy. For example, thinking “I love my friends. One day, they’ll be gone.”
People are mostly afraid of feeling emotional pain. So you wind up not experiencing joy in the moment because you feel too vulnerable. Here’s a quote from Brene pulled from this blog by Yemisi Fadiya:
Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that we won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster. And we struggle with the worthiness issue. Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections? What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world? Who are we to be joyful?