Right Mindfulness – Seeing Clearly The Way Things Are

This month we will explore Right Mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the receiving aspect of the mental training section.  It is connected to our attentiveness to the present moment.  There is so much information out in space around mindfulness in relationship to relaxation, productivity and stress reduction that you may be tempted to think that this is the aim of Right Mindfulness.  I do not believe so.  Right Mindfulness is connected to seeing the Four Noble Truths.  In other words, recognizing the presence of suffering in our lives and having a stronger desire to understand it than to get rid of it.  It means staying with that suffering until we can penetrate the conditions creating to the suffering all the way until cessation.   Right Mindfulness is everything but relaxation, productivity and stress reduction.  Such things might occur but they are secondary to the aim of liberating the mind from the cage of the caged existence of a conditioned world.

This month is not about practicing what could be called secular mindfulness.  It is about practicing with the sacred by turning the wheel of the Dhamma.   It is about turning towards your experience – whatever it is – and getting interested in what you see.  It means letting go of any assumptions, judgments, expectations and opinions we have about our experience and just observe.  I find that using the observation skill from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication is the best way to develop Right Mindfulness.  It suggests that anything that can’t be seen in a camera lens or picked up on an audio recorder is just another form of evaluation.  I include all my adjectives, descriptions and opinions.  Eliminating all our evaluations allows up to view a situation from a more neutral and/or detached eye.

Experiencing from a neutral and/or detached sense door allows us to understand how our conditioning affects our perception of experience.  We can also began to realize how we create suffering in our lives.  So this month is about being open and receptive to life.

This receptivity then needs to be pointed in a particular way.  We want to be mindful of the arising and ceasing of all phenomenon.  We want to see this arising and ceasing has nothing to do with us and more to do with the natural flow of existence.  You want to see how attachment and craving interrupts this natural flow.  And finally that this interruption is the cause of suffering.  So this month – just observe.

I’m still sending you metta.



Right Effort – Reprograming Our Habitual Responses

This month we are moving into the third and final section of the Eightfold Path.  This means that after practicing with how we see the world, how we move through the world and how we behave in the world, we are finally moving into the mental training phase of the path.  In my opinion, this supports the idea that skillful actions come from our views and intentions more so than how much we meditate.  It’s not that meditation isn’t important.  Meditation is very important.  It is how we strengthen our capacity to continuously investigate the view we are looking at the world through and to stay true to our vows of non-harm, kindness and self-restraint from always getting our way.  What I’m pointing to is the idea that if you want your actions to lead to a life with less suffering – investigate your view and intentions.  If you want to strengthen your capacity to investigate you view and intentions – meditate.

There are three factors in the mental training section.  They are Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.  We need to develop all three in order to strengthen our ability to investigate and ultimately clearly comprehend the truth of the impact of the view and intentions behind our actions.  This month we will be exploring Right Effort, which is the energy that enables the mind to turn towards and sustain attention on something long enough to understand its implications.  Inattention and fleeting attention keeps us trapped in our habitual responses, expectations and judgments.  Right Effort is the engine needed for mental stability.

Effort, itself, is not something we have to generate.  It naturally arises in both our wholesome and unwholesome actions.  The same effort that fuels our aggression, dismissiveness and ambition also fuels our kindness, self-discipline and generosity.  Right Effort lies in our ability to prevent the arising of unskillful states, abandon arisen unskillful states, cultivate skillful states not yet arisen and sustain skillful states once they arise.  This may seem like a lot of doing but actually it is just the energy around mindfulness and concentration.  We simply become willing to pay attention to our mind states.  If we notice the mind is consumed with a defilement, we abandon it (we let it go by whatever means possible) and try to prevent its arising again.  Of course we all know it will rise again but our focus is on the effort of abandoning and preventing.  Meditation is one way we practice strengthening this skill by repeatedly returning to our neutral object.  We can also practice this throughout the day.  If we catch ourselves dwelling in patterns of irritation, anger, complaining, bitterness, worry, etc. we abandon it (over and over) and vow to not get stuck in it again.  At the same time we cultivate skillful states such as kindness, compassion, joy, equanimity and generosity by intentionally bringing such states to mind.  Finally, if we ever notice the presence of these skillful states we vow to maintain them.

To be honest, when I originally stated practicing with Right Effort it felt a bit artificial and unauthentic.  But in hindsight I realize its about developing the factor of Right Effort.  It doesn’t matter how often we abandon, prevent, cultivate and sustain.  In fact, the more we do all four the stronger our ability to do all four.  Try not to get caught-up in how many unskillful mind states you find yourself in nor how often they return.  Likewise, try not to dwell on whether you can generate skillful mind states nor whether you can embody or sustain their energy.  Just make the effort – over and over.  Your mind will be able to make use of your efforts on its own.  You are simply developing skillful habits of abandoning..; preventing…; cultivating… and sustaining…  Trust me, the mind will maintain the habits once developed.

I’m sending you metta!!


Right Action – Learning To See How Intertwined We Really Are

This month we will continue ever deeper into the 8-Fold Path with an exploration of Right Action.  Right Action in its simplest understanding means refraining from unskillful (harmful) expressions from the body.  It is commonly consider a practice with the Five Precepts.  The Five Precepts are the five mindfulness training practitioners work with in their everyday lives.  They are often thought of as vows, intentions, promises and/or commitments.  Each precept is preceded by a caveat “I undertake the training to refrain from…”  I refer to this phrase as a caveat because it’s important to remember that the precepts are not rules, requirements or obligations.  They are trainings we voluntarily undertake and, as such, they carry an inherent assumption that we still have work to do. If we don’t keep the “training” aspect at the forefront of our practice with Right Action, we might be tempted to hold ourselves and others to a rigid standard of perfection.

I’ll note the actual precepts in a moment, but I want to point out one more preliminary phrase I have started adding to my personal practice.   I have been teaching teen retreats for the last 4 years with an organization named iBme (Inward Bound Meditation Education).  They add a phrase to these five trainings that I really like a lot.  The phrase is “Knowing how intertwined our lives are….”; then we say I undertake the training to refrain from…  Adding this phrases has really helped me feel into the purpose of staying close and connected to the precepts.  It’s simple but very effective.

Now to the five precepts – they are refraining from taking life (killing), taking what is not given (stealing), sexual misconduct, false and harsh speech (lying) and taking intoxicants. Ideally, we are training to live completely within these expressions of action.  Moreover, living within these expressions has layers. This means we are learning – through practice – what is skillful Dharma and what is unskillful Dharma.  Skillful Dharma helps us see the wisdom and liberation of the overall Four Noble Truths around the nature of suffering and the end of suffering.  Unskillful Dharma keeps us trapped in habit and personal obsessions. 

So during the month’s practice, you may notice you take away another’s free will in order to get your way or you may be killing another by forcing them to exist only within your judgment of them.  You may see how your actions are a killing to the earth or you use caffeine, television or the computer as a intoxicant.  The point is not to hold the precepts over your head like a club waiting to whack you whenever you see some conduct outside of them.  The point is to pay attention when you see conduct within the precept and without.  What does it tell you?  How does your awareness help you understand suffering and the cessation of suffering?  What do your actions tell you about your view, your intention?  What do they tell you about the distinction between skillful and unskillful actions?

May your practice this month open your eyes to how intertwined we are…


Right Speech – Waking Up To The Impact Of Our Words In Thought And Speech

This month we will continue our exploration into the 8-Fold Path by looking the nature of Right Speech.  Right Speech is actually the first look into the ethical conduct group of the path.  It may seem strange to consider speech conduct, but it is part of the mental purification that the path takes us through.  This means we take the insights and wisdom derived from our work with Right View and Right Intention and apply it to Right Speech.  We pay attention to the ethical impact of our habitual use of words.

There are two ways to practice around Right Speech.  The first is simply abstaining from certain types of speech – false, slanderous, harsh and idle chatter.  There are no “degrees of badness” here; little white lies are equally important.  The main point of this is not to judge our speech or words but to see the impact.  Thus we want to see the impact of our false words as much as our truthful words, our demeaning words as much as our uplifting words, our painful words as well as our kind words and our disconnected talking as well as our connected talking.  This is all within the context of the 4 Noble Truths so we want to see where and how suffering arises in words and the nature of its cessation.

The second way we can practice is around noticing the causes and conditions of speech.  We could consider all our words within the guidelines of whether it is beneficial, necessary and non-harming.  When we hold our words within this context some words may be beneficial but not necessary or necessary even if it causes some degree of harm.  Here again we are practicing to understand the nature of speech.  I recently began practicing with understanding what happens when I get entangled in a conversation or disagreement.  In order to practice I have to be willing to be entangled.  I need to feel the discomfort of entanglement (while entangled) without needing to change or fix the situation.  Believe me, it takes a lot of courage to stay with this type of discomfort when you are aware of what is happening.  Doing it, however, gave me such an insight.  I have been noticing that people disappear when I am entangled.  I know I’m talking to someone but I can’t see them.  I have also noticed that the more engaged or connected I get with them, I more clearer they become again.  I have been having a lot of adventure watching the disappearing/reappearing nature of people in conversation.  I couldn’t do this if I held on to some kind of judgment about being entangled.

We are forever talking or using words – in our thoughts or to another.  Practicing with these words and beginning to understand their impact, will provide you with a much deeper understanding into the habitual nature of conduct and suffering.


Right Livelihood – Happiness In How We Show Up In The World

This month we are going to take the Path a little out of order and skip to Right Livelihood, the 3rd of the conduct aspects.  We are skipping over Right Speech and Right Action which we will discuss in August and September.  A way to look at these three together is that Right Speech relates to the intersection between us, as individuals, and the world.  Right Action relates to the intersection between our action upon the world and Right Livelihood relates to where our personal desires intersect with the wider world.

Right Livelihood is about how practice shows up in our careers, workplaces, school, volunteering – basically anything we do for income or contribution in the world.  I think contemplating Right Livelihood comes from two layers.  The first is whether we see our livelihood as practice or as separate from practice.  The second is how we use practice within our livelihood.

In Joseph Goldstein’s book Mindfulness, he pointed out that “[i]n Buddha’s teachings, wealth rightfully gained is seen as a blessing that can be used for the benefit and welfare of [one’s self and] of others.”  So this first layer involves ultimately seeing whatever we do in the world as a benefit for all beings.  It means that we see our livelihood more as service to the world.  We only acquire wealth by legal means, without coercion/violence or trickery/deceit and in ways that do not cause harm or suffering to ourselves or others. 

The second layer is about approaching our livelihood within the context of Right View (awareness of the karmic implications of our actions) and Right Intention (desire to live within restraint, kindness and harmlessness).   The Buddha listed 5 basic livelihoods that violate both of these Path aspects – dealing in weapons/killing; dealing in living beings; dealing in slaughtering of animals; dealing in poisons and dealing in intoxicants.  I think the main difficulty with livelihoods in these fields is the disconnect (that would be required) between what one does and the ultimate harm caused.  In this second layer we want to stay connected to our restraint from greed and direct/indirect harm from our actions even in the context of needing to earn money to live.

We will explore these to layers as the month progress.  We will consider how we feel about our livelihood, how to become more connected to livelihood, whether we bring practice into the workplace and how to; ways in which our practice can support us with hectic schedules, stress, boredom, difficult people, etc.  Basically, we will spend the month remembering that practice doesn’t stop at the bell.  See you tonight…



A little serendipity…

One of the teachers I most admire, Thanissara, posted this today.  I thought it was so on point from our discussion last night.  

From Rebecca Solnit–here quoting L.A. Kauffman:”

The scale of protest under Trump, thus far, has certainly been extraordinary. Researchers with the Crowd Counting Consortium have tallied more than 20,000 separate demonstrations over the period from January 2017 through May 2018, involving something on the order of 11 million to 16 million total participants. That’s more people protesting than at any previous time in U.S. history, including the most tempestuous years of the Vietnam antiwar movement.

“What’s more, it’s not just the size of these demonstrations that’s been unprecedented. It’s also their geographic reach — with protests being staged in record numbers of locations around the United States. A major day of action against Trump’s immigration policies is planned for this Saturday, June 30, with more than 600 demonstrations being staged all around the country, taking place in more than 80 percent of the nation’s congressional districts.

She continues ,”Until now, though, protests against Trump have mostly been marches and rallies: legal, permitted events…   It’s suddenly ramping up, though, as a growing number of people are now ready to do more than march….  “People didn’t know how to be in the Resistance, how to overcome Nazis or if they ever would; they just did what made the most sense and acted with extraordinary courage.

Eight days ago, I wrote: “Do it in faith. Do it knowing that the consequences will not be foreseeable. Do it knowing that all these look like nothing beforehand. Winston Churchill: “During that war we repeatedly asked ourselves the question, “How are we going to win?” and no one was able ever to answer it with much precision, until at the end, quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly, our terrible foe collapsed before us.”

Do it remembering that we did not know the Berlin Wall would fall, that #metoo would erupt and a thousand patriarchs would fall, that Nelson Mandela would not die in prison, that marriage equality would proceed like wildfire around the world, that Ireland would vote for abortion by a landslide last month.”

One of the reason that many people inside and outside government have hesitated is that there is no precedent for this. We have not had a foreign power corrupt an election, or quite such a clownish would-be tyrant take power or seen an administration occupy the seat of power as though they are conquerors of an enemy state that must be punished, dismantled and weakened. We have had some very bad presidents, not long ago. Unprecedented reminds me how much we don’t know what happens next. But the best case scenario is that we make it ourselves. That process has already begun.

It is entirely possible for us to win on a scale that transforms the country.  If we act.

Because we don’t control the future, keep your trust in right intention (renunciation, kindness and harmlessness) and let the universe do the rest!


Right Intention – Brings The World Into Existence And Moves You Through It

June brings with it the beginning of a new month and new step within the noble search of the Eightfold Path.  This month we will be exploring and investigating Right IntentionRight Intention is the other half of the wisdom part of the Path.  It is also referred to as Right Thought, Right Aspiration or Right Resolve and is located between Right View and Right Conduct.  A good friend of mind recently sent me a quote that I think captures Right Intention better than anything I have heard to date.  It reads – “if you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Intention is what propels us in live and Right Intention is what propels us towards liberation of the mind.  The more I practice and study this path, the more intriguing it gets.  Like most, I came to the path to end suffering which I could see through my conduct.  I hoped the path would help me to change my behavior.  This is basically what most everyone does.  We focus on the outward showing and try to fix that.  But I have come to see the limitations with this way of thinking.  Even if we could reverse every bad habit, conceivable cruelty, and harmful actions – it wouldn’t last long.  In about ten seconds, the bad habits, cruelty and harm would begin again.

This is because actions are the fruits of our intentions.  If our intentions are rooted in the natural impulse of the thinking mind, our actions will based in greed, hatred and delusions and we will be propelled towards suffering and entanglement.  If, however, our intentions are rooted in renunciation, goodwill (or kindness) and harmlessness (compassion), our actions will propel us away from suffering and towards liberation.  The Eightfold Path is about being aware of the root energy propelling our actions and, without judgment or shame, continuously reestablishing our intention to practice renunciation, goodwill and harmlessness.

Renunciation is said to be the remedy for greed and desire.  It does this by cooling the thinking mind’s habitual reactivity to pleasant, unpleasant and neutral stimulus.  It is the restraint that allows us to see the gap between stimulus and reactivity.  It helps us feel the tension around the insatiable hunger of the grasping mind.  Our liberation lies in the gap.  Practicing with renunciation is about understanding the nature of greed and desire.

Goodwill, or kindness, is said to be the remedy for aversion and anger (harmlessness is also a remedy for aversion).  It is the application of Metta in the midst of anger, betrayal, bitterness, frustration, irritation, etc that cools the trigger for retaliation and/or right the wrong.  Unlike with renunciation, practicing with goodwill/kindness is not about understanding aversion or anger.  It is about cutting off the trigger that compels us to retaliate, fix and change.  Without the compulsion to retaliate and/or right the wrong, we can see more clearly what would be the most appropriate response. 

And finally, I consider harmlessness or compassion to be the remedy for delusion.  This is because harmlessness is about having a willingness to see pain, sorrow and suffering in our own lives and the lives of others.   Given that the pain and suffering is already present, this is about being willing to be with the truth of this reality.  Practicing with harmlessness is not about understanding pain and suffering, nor is it about cutting off anything.   We are trying to care or show kindness in the midst of pain and suffering.  It is about bringing clarity around the reality and frequency of harm.

Renunciation, goodwill and harmlessness are the intentions of Right Intention.  We’ll spend the month exploring ways to practice with each of these root intentions.