Flying blind

I have a friend who is both a precious sangha jewel and an utterly sad bastard when it comes to flight sims. I hit turbulence recently, some major life events came up and the weather conditions of my mind were something akin to the hurricanes and forest fires going on in the US right now. The pain, oh the pain was unbearable, my mind was telling me, “you’ll be okay, you just need the object of your attachment” and I knew I couldn’t have that so my mind oscillated between the pain of not having the object of my attachment and anger. Not being careful with my mind, treating it like an open wound in a jostling crowd, I’d inadvertently fed it some small pieces of its desired object, and I’m not being vague for any other reason than it really doesn’t matter what that object is, it’s all the same, it could be sugar, another person, a TV programme about dragons, anything.

Attachment is THE worst pain I’ve ever felt. Experiencing it feels like torment, and unlike physical pain there is no anaesthetic, you have to feel it, go through it and come out the other side. The only thing you cannot do is avoid it. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep feeding it and hop from one object to another so I didn’t have to experience any painful feelings. That’s how our minds usually operate. We get an uncomfortable feeling and we placate it with its object: food, beautiful things to look at, sounds, stuff to touch, nice things to think about. But eventually it’s impossible to escape, eventually you will run out of things to distract yourself with, or your karma will run out and the object you want isn’t available, or if it is it just isn’t enough. I hope this is making sense and resonates with you as you read this. I imagine it will as we’re always going through the turbulence of attachment in some form or another, to greater and lesser degrees. The benefit of being ordained is you can’t just give in to that attachment. Well, you can but it’s consequences are heightened considerably.

So, this conversation I had with my really sad (and I don’t mean emotionally, I mean listening to Def Leppard type sad) friend was him mostly analogising about his flight simulation. He was telling me while I was in the clouds of my delusions it was impossible to fly on the level of sight. I couldn’t look out at the cockpit, which is the appearances around me, my mind had been distorted and I needed to look down and focus on my instruments, which was the dharma knowledge I had built up previously over the years, I had to experience that weather and fly through it without panicking or grasping too tightly at the storm.

I had run through the checklist:

Attachment is caused by a distorted view of my object, check.

IT was causing me pain NOT the lack of object, check.

My self grasping mind was the root cause, the absolute reason I was experiencing this pain, check.

I ran through all that, he also advised me to “turn my mind to wood”, something I always forget to do when in panic stations. That helped. But the biggest help of all was letting go of the need to control the hurricane of my mind at that time. It reminded me of something Louis CK said and I realised that applying dharma is a bit like looking down when you’re flying through bad weather. You have to trust the instruments of dharma to get you through it, it wont magically stop the storm, but you can go through it and come out the other side. And the good thing about actually experiencing those conditions and not avoiding or distracting yourself is you lessen that level of attachment, so the next time you experience it (and by jove there WILL be a next time), you have some experience under your belt. You know how the mind “tastes”, its qualities, how it makes you feel, what you want and the lies your delusions tell you about stopping those painful feelings.

I thought to myself, I can either keep feeding my attachment or actually deal with this now. And then, whilst I was listening to my friend talk about horizon levels etc. I noticed my mind pacify. I’d been tormenting myself too, like some kind of martyr, I didn’t want to talk to anyone about how I was feeling. I wanted to try and deal with it myself. That’s what delusion wants, it wants the breeding ground of non reliance. It doesn’t matter if you only have one sangha friend, just reach out when you’re feeling like you’re in deep. Don’t fly blind, have a co pilot. Anyways, I waffled on a bit, here’s some Def Leppard.

The lesson for me in this one was the preciousness of correct refuge. Having someone to cover your back, someone who is seriously, deeply invested in your spiritual, not seemingly emotional, welfare. They’re more precious than gold, and infinitely more rare. Someone with enough wisdom and experience to co-pilot you through the clouds, reassure you that you’re on the right path and what you’re experiencing is just the temporary weather conditions. Someone who you really value. A hero.

 

Advertisements

Mental Recitation

For many people reciting prayers out loud makes it difficult to concentrate on the meaning, because the sound interferes with their concentration. Therefore we need to become familiar with reciting prayers mentally from our heart without sound, which means that we need to memorize our daily prayers.

The above quote is from the sadhana The Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land According to Highest Yoga Tantra. It’s something I’ve been working on and trying to improve and I felt inspired to write about it today.

For the last fifteen years or so I’ve always used a CD (or tape back when we used those!) and sang along to them. Usually my concentration would drift in and out and sometimes I’d find myself almost at the end of my practice and mindfulness would return and I’d sing along to the last bit and pat myself on the back for doing my daily practice. Then when I read this instruction in the sadhana it made me think about all the years I’ve spent just mindlessly skimming through and not really paying any attention or developing any real concentration with my practice. I’d also get to the meditation bit and wonder why my mind was all over the shop and I couldn’t even grab a moment of mental clarity, lucidity, strength or stability. Now I know I was being very lazy, unbelievably lazy really.

At the last Buddhist festival I went to I remember my Teacher telling me to put down my walking aid of the verbal recitation of my practice and begin to develop strong concentration as I recited the prayers, mantras and meditation. And that’s what I’ve been working on for the past year or so.

My main method to develop this concentration is to have my sadhana booklet nearby but I try to mentally recite it without opening my eyes and looking at it. It’s much easier to do this with the parts of the sadhana I’ve been mumbling along to over the past few years, but bringing it down to my heart and really feeling, really communicating with the Buddhas, has been both extraordinarily difficult and equally as rewarding.

I’ve noticed how weak my mind is, how difficult it is to hold anything virtuous in my mind at my heart for any length of time. How fuzzy and unclear, slow and heavy it is. How, to some degree, I’ve wasted a lot of time being lazy. However! I’ve also noticed how effective the method of mentally reciting is, how quickly and efficiently is affects my mind. How already familiar I am with the content and the power of doing it without a walking stick is (the analogy of the walking stick was given to reciting the daily sadhanas verbally in the Buddhist festival in 2016).

There are conditions I think the mind needs in order to be able to mentally recite and memorize, conditions I’ve felt benefited my mind and impeded to. The first and I think the most important is to have the good soil (we’re heading into gardening analogous territory now) of virtue. [No, don’t run away, let me ‘splain] Having a mind free from drugs and alcohol, and other weighty things like attachment and anger (I’d definitely include caffeine in there for myself), just helps the mind be able to focus enormously. It’s not that drugs and alcohol are intrinsically evil, they’re not, sometimes they can be very useful, but if you want to develop a powerful mind you need the right conditions.

Once the mind has the buoyancy that comes with being free from anything that makes it weak you need to build strength in there and that comes from moral discipline [get back here, I wasn’t finished]. This in itself is a huge topic but I’ll just say for now avoiding things like killing (anything, even a fly), stealing, sexual activity (or at the very least misconduct), meaningless activities (this is something I find is very difficult for me and probably because I still have an enormous amount of attachment arising from self grasping) etc. is the level ground needed to be able to develop mental stability.

It makes sense really doesn’t it? If you want to be able to do some work you need a clean and well prepared work area. But I have spent a very long time playing around in that muck, the distractions that have led me away from the mental health I have craved for so long. That, in itself, is a lifetime’s work.

Which leads me to another thought I’ve been having about all this mental training and strengthening. Time. I’m running out of it. I’m sort of middle-aged now and I’m not getting younger, my mind is not getting easier to train. It’s becoming more difficult to hold my meditation objects. I wish I’d started this a long time ago. I wish I had more time but death is chasing me, it’s chasing all of us and one day we will be caught. So that’s why I want to work on this now, while I can, before it’s too late and my mind is soup. And not the good kind like cream of tomato.

I’d like to invite you to begin training without the crutches of sound. Be prepared for difficulty, it’s not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. But it IS fun, it IS rewarding (both short and long term) and it will improve your mind. That’s all folks!

Retreat

I’ve toyed with writing about this retreat, sometimes thinking it would help me to look back on and reflect, others thinking I might, as has been said, allow the blessings to flow from my crown out through my mouth. I feel inspired to right now so I’ll see how it goes. Prologue over.

At the beginning of the month I was tentative about going on retreat, I wanted to, I’ve always found them to be really useful in gaining some insight into my own mind. That seems quite obvious to say because that’s the function of retreat is it not? It’s the mental pain which is difficult for me in retreat. Faced with my mind amplified it is almost audible, the intensity of the delusions, their ferocity. But, as I’m sure I’ve said before, I’m not really all that afraid to venture into those dark parts, I don’t enjoy it as such although I do find enormous benefit in it after the fact. To do it without pretension is a massive undertaking for me, I don’t know about you clever sods but for me it’s really difficult not to veer into that area of my mind where I feel like I’m stroking myself with my own cleverness and insight. And so I hand it over to my Guru, my Spiritual Guide, and let him take the wheel in order not to crash, and also because the rabbit hole goes down to the absolute core, I need a navigator who’s been there.

It’s often after about three or four days and my mind settles after being ripped away from the teat of its distractions. The screams die down and there’s a [searches for the word] resignation, or even a surrendering to this process. I’ve given myself limits and boundaries, tasks and a time frame. What they are are either unimportant to you the reader or personal to me so I won’t write about those. I want to focus on the experience anyway, irrespective of those details it’s always the same thing I get from retreat, I can only describe it as a flavouring of the mind after an opening. Hmmm, maybe more actually, possibly [Oh god this is going to sound so utterly cheesy but it’s the only word that comes to mind here] an… awakening. *Lowers head*

After the mind’s resignation to the fact that boundaries are now in place, that it cannot do exactly as it wants when it wants something like a toddler’s temper tantrum comes along. This happens at multiple times at various degrees, the mind is very uncomfortable with itself, or rather mine is, you lot are probably all sitting on lotuses in perfect harmony with your chakras. Me, I’m fucked up, but I’m going in. Something I’ve noticed  with each retreat is just how much anger there is in my mind. On my first tranquil abiding retreat I was struck but just how much anger I had. Of course, it wasn’t my anger, it was my sons and their friends, it was noise, it was inconsideration, it was everything else except my mind. Luckily, I was blessed to have a moment of insight and saw in my mind a deep jealousy. My sons had freedom, they had friends, the had fun, they didn’t have to do this retreat just so they could find out why they hurt so much… blah, blah, blah. Once I understood why I could let go of it. Like when you have a physical pain and you’re in equal amounts of mental pain wondering what it is. A diagnosis always seems to help for me, it shines a light on where the pain is coming from and the unknown is illuminated.

The “sweet spot” of practice is something a teacher once taught in a class, I hit it sometimes, most of the time I undulate between pedal-to-the-floor and screeching halt. You can see it in this blog, months of articles, dead space, an article here and there, dead space, prolific writing, etc. Retreat is an imposed continuation of mental work, it’s hard, it’s really hard, it’s really fucking hard. I love it! When I take away the things I normally distract myself with I’m left with my mind, well, my Guru’s mind and this mind and a sort of dance. I’m club-footed and out of step but now and again I let him lead and the dance is breathtakingly beautiful. My mind and his. Elegant and delicate. Then I look down and notice my footing and I go off again. But it’s ok, I know I have this wish to step in time, allow him to move me, be moved, whatever.

Sometimes on retreat you… I… one, makes a huge, enormous, gigantic, colossal mistake. On occasion, it has been know to seriously fuck up. Now, I remember on my first retreat a friend of mind did just this and gave up, came off retreat and that was that. I remember thinking, “Why the fuck would you not just keep going, chalk it down to posterity and keep on it?” But apparently I had no idea of what those types of mistake do to your confidence. [retreats are a microcosm of  the macrocosm of my practice] It was on my second retreat I encountered le grande fuck-up [I think my Guru was giving my a free sample with my first one so I was a little more prepared, or resilient, or experienced, whatever]. I wont say what it was, it doesn’t matter, it’s a variable factor, subjective and in any case non existent. I did, in fact “give up” and just like when you break a leg or a vow it heals but it’s never as strong. The lesson for me was, limp on! Just finish, no matter what, finish what you start.

The reward for this kind of introspection is, heh, immeasurable. There really is nothing to compare it to, no analogy, no metaphor, only to say it must be tasted to be known. Each time gaining different nuggets that I can gather and take with me. One day I will go away for a very long time and these small retreats, that seem endless at the time, will have familiarised my mind with what it’s like to be alone, undistracted, disciplined, focused, steadfast and many other wonderful things. I look forward to reading back on this next year with fond memories of this year’s retreat, as I do with all of them, even the unfinished one. [that still does bug me]

“We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents” – Bob Ross

gsbh

For Nathan

It’s come around again. Your turn, and maybe I’m playing on 33 now, perhaps you’re on 78, but it will come for me. For now, let’s get you through this.

Imagine the caterpillar’s utter frustration, knowing it will be majestic one day, but for now a mundane, ordinariness is to be endured. Each day stuffing your gob because that’s all you can do, maybe even looking up to the sky knowing one day your Pollock-esque wings will lift you into the air for you to dance in the day among the flowers. There is no hasty path to this transformation. The caterpillar  cannot sever its own head in a rush to become a butterfly, it must patiently go through the mundanity of being a plant-munching grub, endure the suffocation of the cocoon, the agony of breaking through that case, wet, vulnerable and fearful. And then, when the day’s light dries its wings it can dance like light does off the rippling water, colours and patterns the caterpillar could never dream.

Ours is the path from caterpillar to butterfly, but our day in the sun is forever, and our time as the grub is near torment. You cannot become a butterfly if you end the caterpillar’s life. A butterfly is not a dead caterpillar, it is transformed. I have had countless days and nights wishing for the end of this arduous journey, but its suffering wont end if we snuff out the light, it’s just down the snake to the bottom of the board, perhaps without ever rolling the die again.

I don’t know if it takes courage to keep going, I never was a brave one, and each time I yearn to see what’s on the other side of life something pulls me back. It’s him, he keeps showing me my future wings, he keeps shining the sun on my hairy little caterpillar back with the promise of a beauty beyond imagination.

And then, what of others? You feel alone, disconnected and apart but the truth couldn’t be further from that. We are all intimately connected, we are bound to each other in eternity. Your pain is my pain, your joy is my joy and if you die a part of me will surely die. And so I say this, let’s eat these leaves for a while, let us accept that we cannot fly yet but if we stay in the game we can one day. And we will dance in a day that lasts forever in the sunshine of our making.

Knowing me, knowing you. Ahaaaa!

I wanted to share my experience of becoming a Dharma practitioner. We like to hear how people ended up where they are. And where am I? Well, today, I am a novice nun, ordained for four years, happy, mostly virtuous and fairly peaceful. I’m still like a kid learning to ride a bike, I peddle for a bit then wobble, put my foot down and then peddle again, but I am definitely riding. It wasn’t always the case…

My first memory was holding onto my sister crying as we watched my parents roar at each other. My first memory was fear. My mum was many things, a cook, a nurse, a hippy, artist, Neil Diamond fan (bigtime!) but mostly when I describe her the first adjective I use is “alcoholic”. Her two sons from a previous marriage had already been taken off her because of her drinking, my sister and I were headed for the same fate. It was like her drinking was a character in this play of my life, it was a very solid and real part of her, to me, for a long time,it was why I grew up without my mum. She had suffered in the most horrific and unbelievable way as a young nurse when she was kidnapped by a group of men and beaten and raped for days. I think that probably killed her because after that she was broken, I mean, who wouldn’t be? She couldn’t cope with us after her marriage to my dad broke down and so she left us with her parents. The social services took us away and placed us in foster care. It was a cold place with no love and plenty of violence and fear but strangely the day the social worker came to ask us if we wanted to go and live with our dad I didn’t really care, I was complacent at best. My sister made the decision for us and we were to go and live with him.

My dad had met his second wife in hospital where he was being treated for mental health issues. Once he got out he wanted to have his family back so filed for custody of my sister and I. His mental health was another character, he lacked judgement and care, he was angry all the time and even to this day I never felt love from him, but my word did I try to drag it out of him in any way possible! His childhood was awful, spending the first nine years of his life alone in hospital with polio, his parents rarely visited him. He spent all his life trying to fill that void but due to his anger he just kept pushing it all away.

My parents were damaged, vulnerable people, but they were magnificent. They were both very intelligent people, both of them very musical and creative, dynamic and very strong characters. They both had an amazing sense of humour but what I got from them was a deep rooted philosophy, a questioning of life. My dad was a mason and warlock for a time, my mum was a transcendental hippy of the sixties. My dad supported me as a Christian when I was a child. I used to love my correspondence bible study, highlighting passages and memorising them.

I lived with my dad, his wife and my sister for a few years after leaving foster care. We took in lodgers to help pay the rent. One night an old man came into the room where my sister and I were sleeping and abused us. I wasn’t going to say anything, I think I thought it wasn’t a big deal but my sister did. The next day we went to the police station and I was examined by a man wearing gloves and a white gown, he did what that man the night before had done, only this time with permission, this time in bright lights, this time I was terrified.

It didn’t get much better for a long time. I experienced more abuse from another lodger, this time it went on for a few years, I didn’t tell anyone. As a child I was quite complacent, or maybe I was just happy to have some attention. It’s strange what you normalise. I think my sister suffered more from that man. He didn’t favour her, she was a fighter and when he’d lock her out so he could abuse me she’d protest. I think it was because of her it ended, if it was just me it might have gone on for a very long time but I think she saved me from it. She’s always spoken out about things while I was very passive and let things happen. We went to live with my aunty for a while. My first taste of a normal family. It didn’t last long. After we left there and went back to live with my dad a very long and dark winter came.

We lived with my dad in a huge old house, it looked exactly like The Addams family house. It was cold, it was haunted and my dad called it “The mausoleum”. I got to about fourteen before the shit really hit the fan. At that age I started hanging out with my sister’s friend who was “cool”. Very good looking and very interested in boys. I’d always loved male attention (no prizes for guessing why, #daddyissues) so, when she started hanging out with much older guys from a band I was in there. I went to hers one night because there was a guy there who I liked. We started kissing and the next minute he asked me to go upstairs with him. Compliant, I went with him. He started undressing me and in my mind I was saying, “Woah there, this isn’t what I want” outside I said nothing. I felt like a deer caught in headlights. I wanted to run but I had been well trained by now to be quiet and pliable. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for the next ten minutes. I remember looking up at a clock hoping he wouldn’t take too much longer. After it was over I went into the bathroom and clean the mess out of me. I was pregnant.

A few weeks later I started throwing up. My dad’s third wife at the time noticed and they made me take a test. My dad stood over me and shouted “What’s that?!” Like he did when the dogs shit in the back room and he would beat them with an iron bar. What happens when something so cataclysmic like that occurs is I freeze, mentally, emotionally, everything just shuts down. I didn’t know what to do. My step mum said if I aborted the baby she’d kick me out. My sister cried for its life. My aunty offered me a place to raise it and my dad told me I was just a child and I couldn’t raise another child. I felt such a relief. I didn’t have to go through with this, my dad said it was ok. But I still had to leave. I stayed with my nan and granddad, then another uncle and aunty took me in. They didn’t know I’d aborted the baby and were hoping to have a baby themselves so I was potentially a solution to that. After a few weeks they asked me to leave and I went back to the mausoleum.

A few months later I took what I thought was a massive dose of sleeping pills. It didn’t work and I was told when I woke up by my cousin that I was selfish for doing that. I was, but, it seemed like a way out of this pain and suffering. I stayed in hospital for a good while, the psychologist wouldn’t let me go home until there was some stability there. Eventually they let me out. I remember the first though I had when I got home, “I’m going to do it properly this time”, but I just ran away to my mum in Edinburgh instead.

At this point I hadn’t actually told anyone about the years of abuse I’d experienced. My mum knew, she kept asking me what was wrong, that something wasn’t right. I was so numb I had no idea what it was she wanted me to say so I just told her about everything. Her reaction was amazing. It really shook me. She screamed, she cried, she bellowed for her child. All I could do was be amazed that someone actually cared enough to react like that. No one ever had.

She took me to counselling, but it didn’t really help. I always felt it just churned over old ground never really giving any solutions, for me it made me feel worse without ever really resolving anything. Her love helped most of all. I went to school there. I didn’t fit in, I was a scouser and it made me a target for bullying, but I remember she made me a burger and chips when I went home for lunch one afternoon. It was amazing, no one had ever done anything like that for me before, really cherished me from their heart. She even bought me a shell suit in hideous pink from her catalogue. It was the first time I’d ever worn anything fashionable. I felt quite posh. My sister came up a few weeks later and we fough so much my mum started drinking heavily. She beat my sister up and I got us both out of the house and the police took us to a care home for the night. The next day we were back with my dad in Liverpool.

I stayed with him for another year but it was unbearable living there so I stayed with a friend until social services found me a shared house. I was free of my parental home. I met my first long term boyfriend and soon got pregnant. I had my first child at seventeen. He saved my life. I enjoyed motherhood, I was also volunteering at a women’s organisation doing outreach work with young women. Then I met a friend who really put me on my spiritual path. She was unlike anyone I’d known before. She was all exotic-like, she was from London. I followed her into an Indian religion called Sant Mat, which means “path of the saints”. It was my life for a good few years but I started smoking weed. That was really the beginning of a very long battle with drugs. Because I hated alcohol I abused drugs instead. By the time my second son arrived I had tried most of what was on offer. Weed, cocaine, LSD, mushrooms, speed, ecstasy. I became a huge pothead. I’d bake it, sprinkle it on toast with honey, make pasta-a-la-hash, muffins, etc. I loved what it did for my mind. It lifted me out of the mental numbness, it made me feel creative and inspired. I took a lot of ecstasy. Some nights I’d take as many as 7. I could feel again. I felt something other than pain. I felt something other than numbness, but it was only borrowed bliss.

In 2001, I started telling people I felt something huge was about to happen. That I could feel a huge wave of death coming. I wasn’t sure who it was but I knew it was big. I said a lot of very strange things to people. I had a very strong feeling like I was Mary Magdalene, that my life’s path was to find Jesus. I had become psychotic and manic. My sister and friend were really worried about me and took me to hospital. The thing about madness is, when you cross that line you have no fear. There have been times I was terrified I was going to lose it, my mind that is, but when you’re over the other side there is no fear. A week later the twin towers came down and it solidified in my mind that I had some oracle-like ability.

I was in and out of hospital a few times and extremely suicidal. I was seeing a lot of disturbing things, thinking a lot of dark thoughts. I couldn’t stop it, I had no control over my mind at all. Being in that hospital made me see just how little we know about mental health and how to help people with mental illness. Our solution is to mask it really. To turn the volume down on the lucidity and clarity of the mind and make it so dull you can’t think of anything, let alone what the demons are doing.

A little time later, my mind was still quite unwell but the psychosis had toned down a touch. My sister began lending my books, The Celestine Prophesy, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, another Buddhist book I had. One night she was at my cousin B’s house, she’d popped over to her cousin’s house but came back and said that whatever the reason she went would have to wait while he mediated. My sister’s attention was caught. She has this amazing quality of drawing people’s stories from them. If you don’t know their life story in five minutes you’re not doing your job, she’d say. So she went back over with our cousin and interrogated him. He invited her to the Buddhist Centre in Liverpool. She went for a few weeks and gushed about it. She was very joyful, I remember seeing her inner light turn on, she was glowing.

She invited me to the centre but I was really reluctant at first. Organised religion wasn’t my bag baby. I was a free child of the universe and didn’t want a label on my spirituality. I was also deeply devoted to Jesus too and didn’t want to cheat on him. But I went after a few more weeks of seeing her glow. The first class I ever went to was in Liverpool Kadampa Meditation Centre. I remember being taken aback by the monk teaching the class. He was outrageously beautiful, uncomfortably so and he had an enormous presence. I felt like a rat in First Class. I definitely did not belong here. I was gatecrashing some upper level spiritual party and I hadn’t brought any wine.

The first teaching I had was on non attachment and I sat through it thinking, “Yeah, I’ve heard this all before” [sorry Guru]. I’d read a lot about the mind of non attachment in my Sant Mat days and thought I knew it all. The next three teachings were about non attachment. My mind was still very unwell at this time, I remember standing outside the centre having a cigarette talking to my cousin’s cousin, who btw is a monk now, I told him about the stuff going on in my mind. He gave me some really helpful advice about not paying inappropriate attention to my mind and slowly, over time that technique has helped in many different areas.

One night after class I went into the gompa, the meditation room and sat in front of this GKG

 

and I just wept. Sobbed. Begged him for help. I asked him to please stop my thoughts. I sincerely went for refuge to a perfect master that night without my knowing. The next fourteen years were him and me working with all of the shit that came before, not just in this life but countless previous lives. After wobbling about on my spiritual bike and not really being able to maintain a steady practice, and after my second husband left and became ordained, I took ordination myself. It really is like I’ve had two lives in one.

Since I became a nun I’ve experienced a balanced, peaceful, happy mind, growing all the time. Stabilising and becoming so much more joyful. Why? He’s the Wizard man! He’s something not of this world, appearing in it. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso saved me from my horrific life and not in any weird, culty, brainwashed by religion way because I needed something that was actually going to work, because the sex, drugs and bacon rolls never did. I know now the drugs were me trying to experience something extraordinary. I know others take DMT, ayahuasca, peyote etc. to try and open themselves up to deep spiritual experiences, and I’ve spoken with people who have taken them and from what I can tell it’s a garbled mess, it’s a trippy experience but nothing they can use in everyday life. Nothing like the peace I found in my Guru’s heart. He stopped the relentless thoughts, he stopped the harrowing visions, he stopped the depression, the feeling of being filthy, he stopped the psychosis and the pain.

I never thought enlightenment was something normal people do, it was something otherworldly. In the early days it was so daunting. I was surrounded by people who were from completely different walks of life. I was sitting and talking to people I would never have been able to relate to outside of Buddhism. It removed all of the barriers of status. That’s what I want my message to be about. Some stories in Buddhism are about kings and nobles who renounce everything and some, like Milarepa and me, are about clawing your way up from the bottom. I’d like to become just like Milarepa, he was an incredible practitioner who had extraordinary suffering in his life but he came through it, through the kindness of Marpa, his Spiritual Guide. And here I am through the kindness of mine.

If you made it down here thank you, I would love to hear your journey too. Love to you!

 

Angry birds

This article is how most parents with anger problems, like me, cope with parenthood. I’m so grateful I have Lamrim meditation, Lojong (training the mind outside of meditation in daily life) and Mahamudra as my “coping mechanisms” which not only help me to use my really difficult and often times reluctant job of motherhood, but use it as my spiritual path. Being angry is very normal, how we deal with it can either mask it, suppress it and avoid it or use the situation as a chance to develop the mind.

What usually happens is my child does something I don’t like, I get angry and shout or worse, he cries and I feel guilty, a bad mother, a bad Buddhist, a bad nun. Rinse repeat.

When I’ve mediated in the morning. Wait, it might be helpful to talk about fitting meditation into your life with babies, toddlers, five year olds, teenagers and older young adult children. I have them all :D…

When they’re babies it’s easy. You just breastfeed them and meditate with them latched on, or wait ’til they’re asleep. But you have to either be well organised (that’s not me) or become an opportunist meditator and jump in there when there seems to be an eye in the storm (my not preferred but usual style of practice). Toddlers are a bit more difficult for me, maybe you have some suggestions you can leave in the comments for us if you have experience. I just let them play while I meditate in the same room. I remember my now seventeen year old crawling all over me, asking me to open yogurts etc and I just got on with it (my sister came over once and she tried to organise everyone to be quiet while we meditated and did puja together. I kinda just giggled and left her to it as I’d also tried that and just got myself all angry that they would “BE QUIET I’M MEDITATING!”) I know, I know, it flies in the face of inner peace and all that.

Then they hit a nice age where you can stick netflix on, give them a bowl of cereal and say, “I’m going to do Heart Jewel, be down soon”. I have a five year old I can do that now. Sometimes it’s interrupted, sometimes not. It’s usually ok if I prepare him with a request to stay in the living room while I go and sort my mind out.

I’ve done some awful things to my kids in the name of inner peace. I’ve swung from lax hippy to religious zealot trying to find a well balanced middle ground. Shouted at them for doing thing I have taken vows not to only then to realise they’re MY vows, not theirs. I may have seriously damaged my relationship with my eldest son for that kind of behaviour. Ouchy.

 

Teenagers can be just as difficult, if not more difficult than toddlers. Loud music, pushing boundaries, testing limits. This is where the real work needs to be done. On oneself I mean. Teens are just figuring things out just like we are. In fact Kadam Bridget Heyes once said, “Minds have no age”, which reminded me that just because they’re seventeen doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to understand complex things like consideration for others. Like I said though, the real work for me is practising patience, which I discovered is actually just training in love.

Do you need a picture around about now to break up the words?

ilikemushrooms

Back to my ramblings.

Getting up early before they’re awake is a magical time to practice, it gives you an awesome energy all day but it takes discipline. Doing it at night requires everyone else in the house to be in bed/quiet and if your house is as busy as mine that can be nigh on imposseebluh. But it really is worth doing. Meditation has given me the space in my mind to be an ok mum, progress spiritually, develop my mind and not only tread water but swim, really fast, in cool dolphin-like ways. Am I pushing this analogy now?

When I first started meditating it was really difficult. Sometimes I gave up thinking this was impossible and I should wait until they’d grown up. I soon realised this wasn’t wisdom and that I needed to sit in my shit and meditate right there in it all. I have meditated in a very loud and busy house, I’ve meditated in complete silence. I think because I’ve done that over the years I can meditate in any surroundings and my concentration has developed fairly well because I didn’t wait for perfect silence on the outside.

I still find meditation challenging, I can hold my mind for a very short time before I become distracted, but that’s really good. I’ve made progress. There was a time I couldn’t shut my mind up at all, not ever for a moment. I put that down to training in mahamudra. This blog doesn’t have the scope to talk about that but if you ever want to train your mind to it’s fullest postential I highly recommend The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra.

Well, that’s about it for now. I’d like to finish by saying, you’re doing amazing! Don’t ever identify with your failings, just keep on keeping on.

If you’d like a more professional approach to Kadampa meditation please read Luna Kadampa’s Blog and Kadampa Ryan’s Blog

Some other useful links:

New Kadampa Tradition:  http://www.kadampa.org.

Tharpa Publications:  http://www.tharpa.org

Dorje Shugden Debate:  http://dorjeshugdendebate.wordpress.com/  This site is a thorough examination of the arguments made with respect to the “controversy” surrounding Dorje Shugden

Daily Lamrim:  http://dailylamrim.com/  Outstanding blog from a very pure Kadampa practitioner.

 

Spiritual Currency (maybe)

Is it possible to “buy” spiritual attainments? Of course not.

Sort of.

I’m sitting here in a very beautiful house, surrounded by very beautiful things, very materialistically comfortable and my mind feels flabby. I feel very comfortable. And strangely enough I’m not very comfortable with that.

 

When I was in a less outwardly affluent situation a few weeks ago I had to have strong refuge, I had to keep my practice going or I’d sink. This nice, comfortable, easy life is actually tremendously dangerous for someone like me. I may soon forget suffering altogether and fall deeply asleep in the comforts of samsara’s pleasures. I have no particularly strong delusions arising right now, everything is kind of good. I even have a new job doing what I’ve always wanted to do.

I would gladly give all of this up in a heartbeat for the realisation of renunciation.

I realise the benefit of experiencing a certain amount of suffering, not too much that I can’t function or practice, I’ve been there too, living like a hungry ghost or even a hell realm being just wishing to die. I think the currency for my realisation of renunciation is not being attached to all of this “nice”. I’ve heard it said many times that we can have whatever we like as long as we’re not attached to it. My question is then, if you’re not attached to it then what’s the point of having it? It’s a bit like having a Bugati Veyron parked in your driveway and never having the wish to drive it. You can have that gorgeous Viking looking dude with tattoos and a motorbike as long as you don’t have attachment to him. The mansion with the swimming pool. All the things that actually just have no essence or meaning as long as you don’t want it. I’ve probably misunderstood the teaching here, there’s always a middle way between things but it makes me wonder why you would want the mansion or the pool or a partner if you had no wish to be attached to them? Maybe I’ve missed something.

 

And I suppose, really, most of the time, I don’t. The only riches I want are the minds I’ve experienced in my practice. The mind of universal love, if but a glimpse of it, was far more rewarding than any house, car, lover, Ikea washing bin with a weird name. So yeah, that’s how I’m buying my realisations in a way. I look at this crap around me [honestly, there really are two emoji poo cushions right next to me] and it’s vapid, it causes stress, an uneasy comfort in my life. Bah! I should just shut up and be content right now, if nothing else, samsara certainly does rip the rug that really ties the room together from under your feet when you least expect it!

The Darkness

darkmaster

I was thinking this morning about, well, the depths of delusion we all have in our mind. Like cancer, we shouldn’t identify with it but we all have aspects of our mind that are, let’s say, difficult to share with others.

 

I was thinking about some of the thoughts I have, thinking, “Woah, that’s just between me and my Guru that one”. I remember a friend of mine telling me he had this recurring thought where he saw a vast number of people all before him and he dropped a nuclear bomb on them. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t judge him because I’ve had thoughts most people would be terrified to admit, or perhaps most people don’t have such absolute darkness there (or at least not in the forefront).

 

I was sat in Costa with my very good friend today, we touched on the subject, although unless you listen to Doom Metal I’m not sure if it’s ever safe to venture too deeply into these areas. I told him about my musings and how I think it’s imperative that we at least address these aspects of the mind. Never identifying them as “me” but looking at them, if at all possible, because it is by looking into these very disturbing parts of the mind that I can recognise it, and thereby begin to reduce it and eventually eliminate it altogether.

 

There are things I think are powerful and awesome that most people I know think are quite scary and need to be avoided, and that’s okay… horses for courses. Some folk love the lightness of Buddhism, but that’s not all there is. There are many depictions of Buddha in immensely powerful imagery, and in the East these images are hidden from general consumption. For me, it’s venturing into this area that gives me the most comfort. Why? Meaning. Quite simply; if something has meaning it has me captivated, and so, even though others might find it terrifying I find it deeply meaningful and rather than it scaring me, I feel empowered and energised.

 

Experiencing suffering, looking into the black recesses of my mind, feeling emboldened by powerful imagery, or art, or music made me feel very disconnected from my peers for quite some time, and then I found Buddha who was like, “Dude, this is the stuff you need for your path”. And I was like, “Woah, really? You mean I’m not broken? I’m fortunate?” And he’s like, “Yeah, totally”.

 

I don’t know if you’re one of those people, like me, who have stinky, dirty parts of the mind that initially you want to recoil from and completely disassociate yourself from, but I’m feeling more and more that acknowledging them is essential. After all, it doesn’t even exist really.

 

 

The Object of My Attachment

I, as you know, am of wholesome thought and deed for most of the time :P, however, from time-to-time my mind slips into the quagmire that is desirous attachment. For those of us who wish to train our minds in a spiritual way, conquering all minds is an absolute imperative. None more so than this mind of desire, or rather desire in its uncontrolled state.

The other night I happened upon this…

Gaspard+Ulliel+ZlctzYwUeC0m

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Gaspard Ulliel and is found mostly in the French regions. My mind absolutely flipped its shit when this was discovered. It is, in my not-very-humble-opinion, the epitome of the perfection of form is it not? Well, I don’t need an answer, it’s French! There’s your answer.

Where was I? Oh yes, wholesome… So, what is a person to do when such occurrences occur? Well, what else but strip him 😀

I asked myself (after a great deal of oogling) where this Form Realm God-like creature is exactly. Where IS the object of my desire and what exactly is my mind doing when I look, and look, and look at him?

If this Gaspard Ulliel’s inherent beauty can be found I must be able to isolate it from all the parts it is not and I should be left with its essential nature mais non?

Is it his skin? It’s pretty much all my eyes can see. If I take his skin off and pile it on the floor can this beautiful creature still appear beautiful to me? Oh, when I said stripping this is the kind I had in mind. Was it not yours? 😉

peeling

Err, nope. A pile of human skin on the floor is definitely not what my mind was extremely agitated over. Have you ever seen what’s underneath the skin? It’s not a pretty sight. All that gooey flesh, lubricated in blood and other juices (and not a French accent at all amongst all those sinews and tendons). I mentally take this layer of squidgy mess and pile it next to the floppy heap of skin I once admired. And then those bones, ooohhh those delicately structured cheekbones looked so nice with all the other stuff on them, how can they be so completely unattractive now? I think, “this is closer to my REAL body since I shall spend far more time looking like this bony collaboration than when it’s covered in flesh and skin”. Have you ever held a dead man’s bone? I have a friend who dug graves, he told me he’d stand in this putrid smelling “soup”, they called it, digging into a mess of sludge and decomposing bodies. Takes decades for those bodies to rot and you have to be careful not to dig too far over to the other grave or the soup will spill out into the grave you’re trying to dig now and what was once a little paddle now becomes a wade in a six foot pool of fifty year old body stench broth.

He knew I’m a macabre sort, not minding the odd image of a skull to remind me of my own impending slippage from my mortal coil, so he brought me back a souvenir from his day of pit-shifting. A pipe made from human bone. To say it freaked me out would be the understatement of the century. Nay, it freaked me the fuck out. There is nothing more apparent of one’s own imminent end than holding onto what will be your own body quite soon. It felt like death. It’s a strange feeling that, I can only describe it as a lack of life. No horror film has ever come close to conveying that feeling of holding that dead man’s bone for me.v0_master

And what about the marrow inside his bones? Where is this elusive attractiveness that once appeared so very clearly? Gone, utterly gone. It cannot be found in any of its component parts, each of those parts, in fact, is repulsive to say the least. So, not only can I not isolate this quality of attractiveness but the aggregates of the whole I found to be beautiful were now churning my stomach.

Ah, but it’s all of those parts and more. It’s “him”, the collection of those parts is where the beauty lies… Errr, really? Because all I found were floppy messes of skin, pints of putrid fluids, freakish-as-fuck bones, marrow etc. Putting those bits together again somehow magically becomes enigmatically attractive? What’s the key factor making this an object of desire? Selective attention to an incorrect discrimination. An imagining. Hallucination. A figment of my mind.

And now my mind lets go of that attachment to form it once had, the desire that made my mind so unpeaceful is gone, for now, until one day I realise that all the inherent qualities and especially the existence of all form, all sound, tactile sensations, smells, tastes and minds are like this, a mistake.

Karmic zits

I’m still in a little pain, the bruising after the event, I’m still slightly sensitive to any mental pain but for the most part the unbearable suffering has stopped.

It could have been anything really, the events that led to the popping of my karmic zit were secondary. The pain was caused by my previous karma. Actions performed long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, by someone completely and utterly oblivious to the seeds they were sowing and the pain it would cause in the future.

I had a lot of external events going on around me, each one with its own particular set of difficulties. Objects of strong aversion and attachment both arising, it seemed, simultaneously. I couldn’t get a foothold on my mind, I was trying to control it with intellectual knowledge, telling myself I ought to be dealing with all of this in a more skilful way, but all I could do hold on to my Spiritual Guide’s coattails, as it were, and cry.

I decided to scale back on my formal practices. Something I tend to do is build up these really elaborate practices and keep them for a while. Things I’d like to be able to do, and can certainly maintain for a few months, but then it all becomes too much and I just can’t hold it any more. My Teacher spoke of this once a while back, he called it a spiritual sweet spot. He spoke about progressive resistance, the method used by weightlifting champions when building up muscle. They lift weights for a period of time and then rest, allowing the muscle to heal itself before progressing further with training. He spoke about tennis players who find the spot on the racquet where they can hit the ball with perfect precision. This is what I have to do with my mind; find its sweet spot so I can hit those delusions away with ease. Scaling back has brought me a little closer to this. My mind feels nice and light and I feel I’m doing just enough to keep my mind peaceful and happy throughout the day.

I think one of the reasons I was feeling so much mental pain was because I’d forgotten how much benefit I get when I’m “suffering”. As unpleasant as it is I do learn so much about my own mind when things aren’t going according to plan. And it also makes me question what my “plan” is anyway. Whenever things go wrong for me I can guarantee it’s my selfish mind wanting something it can’t, and probably shouldn’t, have. I’m not skilled enough, yet, to know what to do in those situation where I know my self-cherishing mind is spiralling out of control, maybe cherish others, but that can cover a whole range of things. I even question my cherishing of others, am I just trying to fix their samsara or am I helping them to find pure, unending happiness in lifetime after lifetime? And sometimes I feel I’m doing absolutely everything I could possibly be doing and still my mind is unhappy. I suppose I have to accept that my mind is a contaminated aggregate and so will give rise to unhappiness most of the time, as does my body. And therein lies the rub. I am expecting instant results. This Dharma stuff takes lifetimes. Again, my Teacher said once, we’re working on the wrong kind of timescale.

Sometimes I can feel the pressure of my karmic zit build and build. It’s causing my pain and I know it’s going to pop but I keep squeezing it at the red, hurty phase, I’m too impatient and I have to wait until there’s a good head on it. I’m doing purification in a very formal way, trying to recite as many purification mantras as possible but not quite getting the accepting adversity bit down. If I realised the way karma works I could just sit back and let it all come to a head – pardon the well intended pun – and then cause myself less pain as this karmic wave arises. I mean, I’m experiencing something I don’t wish to happen and me squeezing at it is just causing even more pain on top of that.

One of my favourite practices is taking on the suffering of others. I’m not realised so I can’t actually remove others’ negative karma but from my own side this practice has an amazing effect on my mind when I’m really suffering. I read a story about Buddha Shakyamuni’s rebirth in a hell realm (I think it’s in Meaningful To Behold – Geshe Kelsang Gyatso) and he was suffering from a pain unlike anything we could ever imagine in his head [I’m doing this story no justice at all here] and the wish arose in his heart, “may this pain experienced by all living beings ripen upon me right now and may they be free from it”. Instantly he took rebirth out of the hell realm he was in into a heaven. So whenever I’m blessed enough, mindful enough, fortunate enough to remember to do this practice I instantly feel much better. It’s just sometimes I don’t do it, forget, blessings can’t get through, I don’t go for refuge or something and so my pain is prolonged. Sometimes something really magical happens and I’m actually happy to be experiencing that particular suffering because I know I am really spiritually benefiting from it.

Of course, this isn’t a teaching from me, I’m not saying anyone should bear more than they could. There are no prizes for who can endure pain the longest here. We should definitely do everything we can to put and end to any negative circumstances. I’m just offering you some mind cake to savour. I think the lesson I’m learning right now is, back off from what you think you ought to be able to do (a continuing lesson for me) and do what you can comfortably do. Seek refuge in reliable sources. Don’t forget suffering is an integral part of my spiritual path, try not to push it away. Help others in whatever way possible. Let things unfold. Everything is as it should be.