Monday, October 29, 2007

A little bit of insight...brings a little bit of calm

From Tricycle Magazine's "The Daily Dharma"

October 29, 2007

Our Minds are Used to Thinking

Our minds are used to thinking, but when we want to become calm and peaceful that is exactly what we have to stop doing. It is easier said than done, because the mind will continue to do what it is used to doing. There is another reason why it finds it difficult to refrain from its habits: thinking is the only ego support we have while we are meditating, and particularly when we keep noble silence. "I think, therefore I am." Western philosophy accepts that as an absolute. Actually it is a relative truth, which all of us experience.

When we are thinking, we know that we are here; when there is no chattering in the mind, we believe we lose control. . . Our first difficulty is that although we would like to become peaceful and calm and have no thoughts, our mind does not want to obey. . . So instead of trying over and over again to become calm we can use whatever arises to gain some insight. A little bit of insight brings a little bit of calm, and a little bit of calm brings a little bit of insight.

- Ayya Khema, When the Iron Eagle Flies

from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Being the Space Within for Our Millions of Moments

Do you ever feel trapped by your mind...that you are what you think, and that there seems to be just no way to shut off the stream of non-stop repetitive, sometimes obsessive, maybe even harmful thinking? Is nighttime sleep the only way you can escape your mind?

If you feel this way, I encourage you to read "The Power of Now," as well as the companion book "Practicing the Power of Now," by Eckhart Tolle.

I read these books a few years ago, and every once in a while I find myself browsing through them to re-absorb some truths . The brightest gem is that the best way to calm the mind...train the to stop thinking about the past or the future and learn to abide in the present moment.

O.K., easier said that done. But if you read Tolle, or better yet listen to him (which I had the occasion to do -- in person -- this past weekend in New York City), it is the only rationale thing to do. And in this case, the rationale way feels good.

As Tolle says, there is no past and there is no future. These are just words that we've invented to explain the phenomenon of time. The only thing that is real and tangible is the present moment, which is always slipping away.

When we allow ourselves to be immersed in the present moment -- pleasant or unpleasant -- we truly embrace life. There is no thought to the past, and none given to the future. After all, isn't the future just our projections of our hopes and our fears?

Listening to Tolle, I thought of a truly wonderful moment in my past that I had the good fortune to be aware of as it was happening: holding a sleeping infant on my chest.

It was my nephew, and as I sat there on the couch, the house perfectly still, I listened to his short breaths and smelled his clean hair. I had a blanket around us both. My brain stopped thinking and I started feeling. I realized that this was a moment where I wasn't required to make a judgment. I didn't need to wish it was better, or that I wanted to be somewhere else.

All I needed to do was be. All I need to do was experience what was happening.

It's a great memory of a single moment that I'll always treasure. Tolle's point is that all our moments, whether we're at work or at home holding a baby, can be like this.

But it takes work. First, we must realize that we are not our thoughts or our personal histories. How can we be if these things are constantly in flux? Instead, our real true self is the great quiet, the stillness that resides in us all. It's a formless entity that is part of the universe, and which we all share. It is God for some. And we can only begin to find that through cultivation of stillness -- rather than relying on our thinking.

Meditation, especially the practice of Vipassana, is a great way to get to know our true selves. During practice we focus on the sensations and feelings of the in and out breaths. How does it make our body feel? Where does it interact with our body?

We acknowledge distracting thoughts but release our attachment to them -- in order to return 'home' to our breath. Vipassana helps me build the discipline to trust my inner wisdom rather than my busy, chattering mind.

This past weekend, Tolle offered another powerful and on-the-spot way to cultivate the present and to remain there, despite distractions, negativity, or any circumstances that may come our way during our day. Tolle suggested that we say internally: "Can you be the space that encounters this?" Can you be the space that calmly observes something purely for what it is -- without projecting our fear or judgments onto the situation?

When I first heard that expression, I envisioned creating a ring of space between me and anything that I might encounter -- let's say a negative, critical judgment that my mind manufactures about myself or another. But then I realized that that space is me already, not something that I must create.

This space is fluid and formless...but not empty. It is the highest knowledge, the sacred of the universe, the wisdom beyond what the world knows. It resides in me and in you. It resides in all of us.

Abiding in that space and witnessing our millions of moments allows us to observe without prejudice, make wise decisions, to act with kindness and compassion to ourselves and others.

But best of all, abiding in the space, the true identity inside us, allows us to be in each and every moment. It is the best gift that I can give to myself.