Right Intention – Just Survive

In my childbirth class I laminate a cheat sheet for my students. Somehow that makes it feel official. Same thing with setting an intention for spiritual practice for the day. Putting it out onto my blog site makes it feel like now it can truly be put into motion. I think we all want to share something helpful with others. I realize that there’s a good chance no one is reading my blog but me, and if they do they may well not be helped. But it is ever so helpful to me. And that’s at least one person.

It’s been a while since I wrote and I would like to change that. So here I am, starting again. In my last post I considered the 8 fold path. The second point is right intention. Which is perfect, because I am setting an intention here to post regularly what I am practicing. I need this. I have made some big changes in my life. We moved to a new town. We got a puppy. All of us are adjusting. On top of that, maybe in part because of that, the insomnia I’ve been dealing with for the past few years became unmanageable. While I am sleeping now, with the help of drugs, I am still reeling from about six weeks of serious sleep deprivation and one breakdown that caused me to finally get help.

One thing that has slid in the midst of all this change is my commitment to meditate and keep Zen practice at the forefront of my awareness. What I want to do and what I actually do have been at odds for too long now.

My husband went away for several days for a conference and my mom came and stayed to help out. And oh my did she help out. We worked every day she was here, from the moment my daughter was in school until I picked her up and beyond, on organizing my house that has still not gotten fully organized since we moved in six months ago. She basically created a room for me. My office had consisted of metal shelving that held all my accouterment for teaching my childbirth class, a desk piled high with papers, a bookshelf, and yoga matts and meditation cushions piled in a heap. She moved all my business stuff down into a closet and to the kitchen desk, and of my office space she created a serene clear desk, everything neatly filed away or dealt with, a space for my yoga props, a space for meditating, and filled my book case with my Zen, yoga, and writing books. So now I have this creative, meditative, yogic space that is just for good things for me. It is wonderful. Everyone should have this. Everyone should have my mom for a few days to sort them out.

I have used this space every day since – for writing, yoga, and meditation. For perusing my Zen books for spiritual guidance. And just for being. This is the room of one’s own Virginia Woolf referred to.

So here, in my lovely space that is just for me, I am setting my intention just to survive. I read today on the web how many people deal with insomnia and panic attacks as they approach menopause. I’m 45, my periods have been weird for a couple years, my insomnia started around the same time, I am convinced that this is what I’m dealing with. It is incredibly hard – probably the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with. At times like this, one of my Zen teachers said, we just survive. It’s like the world series – it’s not the time to practice. It’s time to fall back on what you know. What I know is this. I can handle whatever comes when I take it one moment at a time. I am comforted that I am not alone in all this craziness as I approach menopause. I have a wonderful life and I don’t need to appreciate that at all when I’m going through something this hard. All I have to do is survive a moment at a time. This feels like a perfectly reasonable right intention for me right now. Just survive. Right now. In this moment. That’s it.

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How to Wake Up

This is what I want to figure out – how to wake up and end suffering. I was thinking about this – that this is what I really want and that, damn it, there must be a way. We’re born into this human body that is, as far as I can tell, by default set up to be dissatisfied, to think thoughts that don’t serve us, and to suffer. Why don’t we have a manual for dealing with this buggy product we got? It’s a natural calling for me to want to write one. When I was in college, summers I did temp work because I could type fast, and every job I got to the person before me left no instructions and when I left, I left detailed instructions on everything I did for the next person. That, and I figure if I can figure out how to wake up – as a person who’s slow to get this but for some reason remains completely committed to finding out – anyone can.

Then I realized, before I start writing documentation from scratch, the Buddha already did that. He also acknowledged that the system is messed up. It’s the first noble truth. There is suffering. Then he said there’s a reason we suffer (the 2nd noble truth). Then he said it’s possible to end suffering (the 3rd noble truth). And finally he said there’s a path to follow to bring suffering to an end (the 4th noble truth) which is the 8 fold path.

So here it is. Here is the Buddha’s manual on how to wake up. Ready…

1. Right view
2. Right intention
3. Right speech
4.  Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7.  Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

Cheri translates these as:

1. Compassionate comprehension that dissipates delusion
2. Compassionate aspiration that harms no one
3. Compassionate speech that makes for clarity
4. Compassionate self-discipline that brings no regret
5. Compassionate livelihood that brings no discredit
6. Compassionate endeavor that results in goodness
7. Compassionate mindfulness that proves this path
8. Compassionate awareness that leads to nirvana

So it’s time I look at this manual. Today I will start with right view (or right comprehension).

Wikipedia says that with right view we understand the truth of karma, suffering, and impermanence. We also look for wholesome and unwholesome actions/states of mind. It says that by paying attention to the four foundations of mindfulness – body, feelings, mind state, and mind objects – we will have our best chance at staying on top of right view. Oh yeah, and it’s important to realize the truth of emptiness (no self) too.

This is 1 of 8. Number one is a mess. There’s so much here I don’t even know where to start. And it’s not a procedure. It isn’t step 1. I’m sorry, but so far I’m not finding the documentation user friendly.

I let out a cry familiar to everyone frustrated by obscure documentation: “Just tell me what to do.”

I did another search on Right View with “the gist.”

TNH said right view is “the insight we have into the reality of life, a living insight that fills us with understanding, peace, and love.”

“Just tell me what to do.”

The next search result brought some relief.

Someone named Ch’onsa Kim said, “When we are able to recognize suffering as it enters our lives, see that our own desires have brought us this pain, and understand that letting go of this desire can bring us peace we have attained Right View.”

The finest way I know to let go of my personal desires is one of the most transformative practices I’ve used. “I make an offering of this whole body mind for the benefit of all beings.” Just give it all away. Moment by moment. Make the intention to make an offering of every cell of this being for the benefit of all beings. It is an instant relief. My heart opens, suffering vanishes, and I do feel that I see clearly. I am looking at the world through eyes of compassion. That’s pretty good. It took some work to get here, but I think this is how I will work with right view for a bit – by practicing making an offering of this whole body mind for the benefit of all beings. Then I’ll move on to #2.

The Practice
I make an offering of this whole body mind for the benefit of all beings.

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Life as Poetry

Recently I started writing poetry again. In my childbirth class, I teach a meditation where I have my students focus on each sense, opening to the field of sound, sight, feeling, tasting, and then to whatever is arising in the moment. When I am writing poetry, I look for the poetry in life and I find it. It is everywhere. Walking into town, I decided to open up my senses and all of a sudden, as if out of nowhere, I noticed bird calls all around me. I looked up and this giant bare tree was etched against the blue of the sky. And I felt the cold in my nostrils as though I could receive winter right through them. A moment I could have been walking along lost in my little concerns of the day, but instead opened up to seeing all the miracles life was offering me. How often I refuse this gift.

The Practice
To open up the senses, experiencing the poetry of this moment.

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My Deepest Desire

Listening to Adyashanti again. He said, and I’ve heard this before from my Zen teachers, that there is nothing asking you to change anything about yourself or your life. This is in reference to finding out what truly matters to you. He said, life doesn’t care if you keep doing things exactly as you’ve been doing them. There’s no good or bad about this. Take away the idea that someone out there, some childhood idea of God, is watching and waiting for you to make the right decisions. Life has supported you all this time to do things exactly the way you have and would be fine with you continuing this way to the end. So take that piece away and now, what do you really want?

And when I look at what I really want and how I actually spend my time, there is a disparity. This morning, when Steve’s alarm accidentally went off at 6, instead of rolling over I remembered this and got up, came downstairs, and meditated. We usually meditate before we go to bed too, and did last night. It’s a wonderful thing to end one day and start the next in silent, still presence, coming back to my true nature.

The Practice
My deepest desire and how I actually spend my time – this is what I intend to look at until we meet again.


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I Am Not My Thoughts

I’ve been watching closely lately what my mind is doing and what the impact is on me. I watched myself suffering over comparing myself to others, trying to figure out my life in various ways, questioning the choices I’ve made. It isn’t always a miserable stream. Sometimes it goes the other way. How great am I, how lucky are we, it’s a wonderful life. None of that defines me. If it did, I’d be schizophrenic. I’m the greatest, I’m the worst. Life is great, life isn’t worth living.

So when I’m stuck in one of these stories, I’m pulling back and experiencing the misery of believing it. Just watching what it’s like. That helps me see that this way – going through the mind to attempt to improve my situation – is not the way to go. My mind is never going to figure anything out. It’s been trying for 45 years, and when I’m believing I’m my thoughts I’m as stuck as ever. Nothing at all has gotten figured out.

That’s the good news and the bad news. The bad news is this is never going to work. The good news is I can stop all that and be free, in a place where there is nothing to figure out. And what is that place that is instantly available to me at any moment? Awareness. Not putting my attention on what is being seen, but on who is seeing. This miraculous consciousness. When I bring my attention to that, I am instantly brought back to my true home.

And then I slip again. Get lost in my thoughts. Something brings me to – usually the realization “this sucks.” Then I watch again – that I am believing my thoughts are true and notice how it feels. In that spot, it is so much easier for me to remember that there is another way, that I’ve been here many, many times before and that I don’t actually need to be. Then I hopefully make the choice to return to awareness.

The Practice
Take every opportunity to notice if you are identified with your thoughts, notice how it feels to be doing that, and return to awareness.

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The Source of Vitality

I’ve been interested in the teachings of Adyashanti for the past year or so. He is doing an online course for January. Tonight he talked about the five foundations of practice. The first is to be clear about why you’re practicing. What is it you really want? Do you act in accord with this deepest desire? He talked about your vitality source – knowing what makes you feel deeply alive. For me, there are many things – yoga, meditation, exercise, teaching, this blog, writing – but what it all comes down to is being present so that I can experience my true nature. It is the feeling of being completely alive, of being complete, of being loving toward and loved by all things. It is a feeling of belonging absolutely, of being home.

The Practice
Asking myself again and again what my deepest desire is so that I live in accord with that and feed the sources of my vitality.

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There’s Nothing to Figure Out

We have gone through a big change – we upped and moved to a new town and our lives are forever changed. To get here we needed to sell a house, buy a new house, and find a new pre-school for Phoebe. I worked hard to achieve all of this and it went about as well as it could have. So now here we are. Most of the boxes are unpacked. Most of the work we needed done on the house is done. Steve is getting used to his commute and working from home. Phoebe’s getting used to her new school. And now there isn’t quite so much to figure out.

As I was driving home from teaching yoga in Berkeley yesterday, I had the thought that it was time to get back to my spiritual life. And this voice said, “I’ve got to figure this out.” And then a dawning came – there’s nothing to figure out. I can’t get to freedom by figuring it out. It’s already here. And I just stopped all of that. I didn’t search around for a method to get to the truth. I just stopped. And of course the truth was right there in front of me.

I didn’t vilify my ego for the last several months of figuring things out. It helped me achieve what I did. But I will never get to true practice that way. Thank God.

The Practice
I am saying this to myself: there is nothing to figure out. Try it. It’s the most liberating thing in the world.

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At the first retreat I ever did in Thailand over twenty years ago sister Dhamadina at Wat Suan Mokkh told us that by being present we would experience grace. The feeling of the cup in our hands. The beauty of our own movement when we attended to it. The feeling of this very breath supporting our life. As she spoke, she looked graceful. I felt graceful. Grace was everywhere. I think it’s what I’ve longed for all along – to step back and see the beauty of life as it expresses itself through me.

The Practice
A mantra always helps me remember my practice. I will experiment with the mantra “grace” or “grace right here in this moment” or “this is grace.” It’s just a word – grace – but it points to exactly the feeling I get when I am truly present.

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Just This Breath

It was the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep. Amidst the struggle, knowing I would be getting up when Phoebe did regardless of how many hour I lost now, I cast about in every direction for a path to sleep. I read, I watched TV, I tried to figure out my life, I reached back into the dark corners of my tired mind for ways to relax. Nothing.

Then I dropped it all. Cheri Huber says when you have suffered enough you will come to practice. That moment felt like that. My effort to practice can get in the way of really practicing. It’s simple really. Drop everything and be with this breath. Just this breath. It was such a relief.

I tell women in labor to stay with this breath – when they’re contracting and when they’re in a break. It’s so pressing to cope moment by moment that staying present is clearly the way to go. But when we’re going about our day to day lives it can feel useful, right even, to be anywhere but here. It is possible, I know, and joyous to bring this present moment practice into our daily lives, moment by moment.

The Practice
I am working on dropping the thoughts and coming back to this breath – just as I do in meditation – throughout my day. I want to know – what will a whole day spent present with the breath as I go about the regular business of the day be like?

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Everything is Buddha

In the one day sitting I did recently, my teacher said absolutely everything is Buddha. Tea cups, tables, the air we breathe, perhaps hardest to believe – all people. He suggested viewing even difficult people as Buddhas who are there to help us along our path to awakening. Like the Zen master who smacks his student upside the head.

The Practice
I am practicing seeing everything as Buddha – absolutely everything and everyone as a loving, enlightened being who is deserving of my deep respect.

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