A group of us spent last weekend helping out a farmer friend with some chores around the farm, including the clearing of a few dead trees. This friend is quite attuned to her environment and I thought I would share what she so thoughtfully wrote (with her permission):
In prep, this afternoon, I did already drop one of the trees. One of the dead oaks had fallen a couple months ago and gotten stuck in a hickory (smaller than the oak) that was still alive. The weight of the oak pushed and bent the hickory so badly, I didn’t think it would recover from the fall of the oak.
So I dropped the bent hickory that was holding up the fallen oak. Observing the angles of both trees, knowing the strength of hickory wood, understanding the weight and pressure that the oak laid on the hickory, then making the wedge cut, listening intently to the first crack, and reacting to the anticipation of the fall (in this case, two trees would fall together).
It’s really an incredible feeling to have all senses “turned on” so intensely. To me, this is concentration meditation and open awareness meditation in full bloom simultaneously. After the drop, it’s quiet. Then I acknowledged to the tree that I took it probably a year or even two early. I don’t know for sure, but I sensed with that harsh bend, it would not have lived a regular time.
But I don’t sense at all that trees suffer, even when they are dying. They seem to be just fine when they are dying. It’s amazing. I used to go through the forest cutting off these giant vines that choke and kill trees, thinking I was being nice and “saving trees.” Maybe I was saving the trees, but not for them; it was for me. It’s interesting to re-think intentions.
And I don’t say that trees don’t suffer because they aren’t capable of suffering. They might very well be capable. I don’t know at all and take comfort in my forever agnosticism. But I’m pretty sure trees get – not in a thinking/understanding way, but rather in an actuality kind of way – that dying is just another process that is part of the “life” cycle. Suffering simply isn’t attached to that process for a tree.
Trees have been along far longer than humans; they have had more time to reach a higher evolution than us in that sense. This sense of tree (non)suffering came to me on a retreat once. There was a tree down by the river that was covered, really covered, in giant poison ivy. But before that break in silence, that tree let me understand that it was absolutely fine with the poison ivy. The poison ivy would kill it for sure, my guess is within one year, but the tree was absolutely fine – things were as they should be. Huh, we have so much to learn from our elders.
If you’re interested in learning about the basics of meditation, a painless read of one man’s journey towards that path is “Ten Percent Happier” by Dan Harris. Dan’s story is entertaining, a New York City news anchor who hit rock bottom before he found meditation & mindfulness as a way to redemption. It was a #1 bestseller. And it was motivational in moving my practice forward at a time when I needed the push a while back.
In his book, Dan posits that if there was a fairly easy way for you to become 10% happier in your life, why wouldn’t you do it? I found it to be an inviting way to approach mindfulness. Just think baby steps. Not looking for a cure for all your ills. Just alleviate some of your pain & suffering. And that’s how I look at the practical tips I’m sharing. Pick out just a handful for you to consider. The ones that resonate with you. You don’t have to try them all.
Dan’s book was so popular that he’s got an entire wellness business now. Including a great podcast – he has access to whomever he wants and he’s obviously experienced as an interviewer since that’s been his profession…
A few weeks ago, I re-read Deepak Chopra’s “Buddha.” It’s an easy-to-read, entertaining version of Buddha’s alleged life – with a few pages about the basics of Buddhism at the very end. It’s always refreshing to be reminded of what the basic teachings are:
1. The Three Universal Truths
2. The Four Noble Truths
3. The Noble Eightfold Path
And then drilling down into each of these, as pulled from this document:
The Three Universal Truths
1. Nothing is lost in the universe
2. Everything changes
3. The law of cause and effect
The Four Noble Truths explore human suffering, described as:
1. Dukkha: Suffering exists: Life is suffering. Suffering is real and almost universal. Suffering has many causes: loss, sickness, pain, failure, and the impermanence of pleasure.
2. Samudaya: There is a cause of suffering. Suffering is due to attachment. It is the desire to have and control things. It can take many forms: craving of sensual pleasures; the desire for fame; the desire to avoid unpleasant sensations, like fear, anger or jealousy.
3. Nirodha: There is an end to suffering. Attachment can be overcome. Suffering ceases with the final liberation of Nirvana (Nibbana). The mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. It lets go of any desire or craving.
4. Magga: In order to end suffering, you must follow the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path consists of:
– Panna: Discernment, wisdom:
1. Samma ditthi: Right Understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Right View is the true understanding of the four noble truths.
2. Samma sankappa: Right thinking; following the right path in life. Right Aspiration is the true desire to free oneself from attachment, ignorance, and hatefulness.
– Sila: Virtue, morality:
3. Samma vaca: Right speech: No lying, criticism, condemning, gossip, harsh language. Right Speech involves abstaining from lying, gossiping, or hurtful talk.
4. Samma kammanta Right conduct or Right Action involves abstaining from hurtful behaviors, such as killing, stealing, and careless sex. These are called the Five Precepts.
5. Samma ajiva: Right livelihood: Support yourself without harming others. Right Livelihood means making your living in such a way as to avoid dishonesty and hurting others, including animals.
– Samadhi: Concentration, meditation:
6. Samma vayama: Right Effort: Promote good thoughts; conquer evil thoughts. Right Effort is a matter of exerting oneself in regards to the content of one’s mind: Bad qualities should be abandoned and prevented from arising again. Good qualities should be enacted and nurtured.
7. Samma sati: Right Mindfulness: Become aware of your body, mind and feelings. Right Mindfulness is the focusing of one’s attention on one’s body, feelings, thoughts, and consciousness in such a way as to overcome craving, hatred, and ignorance.
8. Samma samadhi: Right Concentration: Meditate to achieve a higher state of consciousness. Right Concentration is meditating in such a way as to progressively realize a true understanding of imperfection, impermanence, and non-separateness.
We’ve all been on that treadmill of wanting to make a certain change in our life but never getting it done. Maybe we experience a handful of successful days. Maybe we never even get that far. It can be frustrating.
Don’t beat yourself up about it. It happens. Self-compassion. But know that if you think and hear about that desired change often enough, perhaps it might really happen for you. Sometimes it takes ten times to hear about the change for it to click in. Sometimes a hundred times. You’ll get there. Just don’t give up. Keep pondering.
Think of it like this: Each time you think or hear about it, you’re actually practicing. And practice makes perfect. In a way, this is true as you are slowly building up those neural pathways for the change you want. This is the science of neuroplasticity – our brains have the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections.
In other words, you can change old habits – including thought patterns you find uncomfortable & unwanted – by changing your neural pathways. It’s incredible field that has grown in the last 50 years, which debunks quite a few longstanding myths about how the brain works. There’s a quite a few book out there about this – such as Norman Doidge’s “The Brain’s Way of Healing” and “The Brain That Changes Itself.”
Here’s an excerpt from this blog by Tara Brach:
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.