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#348 A step toward Awakening Jan. 17 21

                     A step toward Awakening

“ What are you” or “Who are you” is a classic Koan that every Zen student has to answer properly.

If the answer is related to the “I, me, myself & mine” the student fails and must work on the Koan again and again. So….How to define yourself w/o talking about yourself?

This is a typical counter-intuitive and contradictory statement common in Zen teaching.

We are trying to identify ourselves all the time even if we are not fully aware of the process.

On going self-identification is part of our ego’s job.

If we are asked the question:” Who are you “? the answers are always the same and can be divided into 2:

1) Direct relationship to you such as gender, age, race, religion, traits, thinking, feeling, belief, tastes, etc…

2) But, in fact, most of the answer’s components have nothing to do with you directly because you will define yourself in relation with your surrounding world such as family / social/ professional status.

Example: “ I am a woman/man, 56 yo, spouse of X, have 2 kids, 3 grand-kids, work for Bell Canada, play hockey and I am a non-believer” .I am  born in Canada,  my father was from England…my mother came from Spain,……blah blah blah.

In this typical answer that people will give all the time, none of the characteristics are specific nor genuine to you except of course your 23,000 DNA-based human genes.

Our DNA is unique to each living being not from its chemical composition but only from the sequences of its 3 billion base pairs.

We do need a social ID, This is law and there is no point to avoid it.

But why are we trying to identify ourselves thru others, thru our work or thru this or that.  

“How are you?”……” I am busy”. This is another classical answer of self-identification in which the ego cannot conceive being inactive. We are using role-playing for self identification.

Where is Zen in all this stuff?

The single most vital step toward Awakening is to “di-identify “yourself not only from your material self, your thoughts and feelings but also from your possessions, interactions and role playing with the external world including people.

Using biological, mental profile, interaction with the world, possessions and achievement, etc., cannot define your True entity because they are just proxy and reflection of it.

A mirror cannot be described by what it is reflecting.

Learning to di-identify ourselves from our biological, mental, and social persona is a mandatory step towards awakening that is to discover our genuine self or immaterial. Our true entity is totally hidden behind our ego-made “personal self”.  

True self cannot be described. It can only be experienced. For example: despite thousand words to describe the taste of an orange, only from experience  -that is by eating the fruit – that we discover its taste.

How to get there?

Start by just considering the fact that, maybe what you are defining as “I, me, mine and myself” is not your real entity but just the transient , tiny biological, mental and social reflections of it.

Just sit, tame your mind, walk the journey and discover of your Real self always present.

Does experiencing True self has any day-to day application? You will be surprised.

Thank you arnaud

#347 About complaning Jan.10 21

About complaining

Complaining is one of our ego’s favorite strategies for feeding itself in order to get stronger and more powerful. Ego loves complaining even if, most of the time, complaining will not change anything excepting producing negative energy, which will neutralize our positive one.

I will talk about these later on.

Every complain is a little story that our ego-mind is making up in such way that we believe in it.

Whether we complain aloud or only in thought makes no difference.

Some people don’t have too much to identify themselves and chronic complaining is one way to express their unique self.

When we are in the grip of our ego tricks, complaining about anything but more specifically about people is habitual. The process is mostly subconscious which means that we are not even aware of it.

Applying negative labels to people, either to their face or more commonly when we speak about them to others is often part of our self-identification. There are better ways for it.

One of the common side effect of complaining is to trigger other negative feelings such as guilt and guilt is also one of the tool that our ego is using to built its identity.

So, watch out, if you catch yourself complaining about life, your life, your mistakes, a past or current event, a person in either by talking about or just thinking about silently.

It is worthwhile to realize that complaining is always a cardinal sign of non-acceptance of what life and its content is.

Non-acceptance invariably carries an unconscious negative charge, which may bring more other negative feelings such as anger, resentment, regrets, and fear unless social complaining is part of your small talk and has no negative consequences.

Finally: when we complain, we are making ourselves a victim.

So, what to do as far Zen philosophy is concerned?

The recipe is not new to you because the process is always the same.

Pay attention to your thoughts and words and discover that you are complaining about someone or something, then:

   – Acknowledge and accept the fact that you are complaining.

   – If you can fix it, do it with or without help.

   – If you cannot fix it which is the most common scenario, see your complaint as the inner voice of your ego in search for enhancing its identification. Then let it go.

   – Also, realize that having too many and too high expectations that cannot be met are frequent causes of frustration, anger, and complaints.

– Try to be more grateful about things rather being resentful.

All else is simply stupidity or even madness.

Thank you.

arnaud

#346 Is suffering necessary? Jan. 3 21

Dharma talk # 346                   Is suffering necessary?

Of course not or ..maybe! However physical and emotional pains are unavoidable.

Events in Life are what they are and not what we want nor what we don’t want to be.

“When we do not get what we want or when we get what we do not want,” we are creating suffering at various degrees…… and Life does not care less.

Few external events such as the loss of a loved one, of a job have/will induce suffering but they are seldom and transient during life and, again, there is nothing we can do about them.

So, most of our suffering is coming from our ego-driven mind with its poisonous arrows such as:

“ I want”, “I don’t want”, “I like”, “I dislike”, I am a victim, my feelings, my illusions,  etc..

I, Me, Myself, Mine” are the roots of all of our negative feelings and illusions.

They describe the word  “Dukkha” in Sanskrit, poorly translated as “suffering”

Is suffering necessary? …..Yes and No.

I already said NO because we are not looking for.

However, I will now elaborate on the YES answer that is:

Without being masochistic, suffering can be used as an opportunity when it happens.

At this point, it has a purpose if not a necessity.

Let me elaborate on this counter-intuitive statement:

If we never suffer, we will not be able to discover the master of our suffering and its hidden tools that create suffering because we are trapped in a fictional daydreaming state, away from reality.

The master is our ego and its single strategy to generate suffering are “ I, me, myself and mine”

Suffering is like a waking call because it cracks the thick shell of our egotistic mind like a pneumatic hammer breaking concrete or like an MRI of our mind.

When the opening is done, we can look at our naked ego and discover, inside this beast, the tools it is creating to induce emotional pain from negative feelings to illusions and mind set.

Up to us to deal with them using awareness thru meditation.

At this point, suffering did its job and is not necessary nor has a purpose anymore.

This is the “NO” answer of the beginning.

Unfortunately, our ego becomes busy again to rebuild its shell, to blossom, and to bring back new egotistic causes of suffering.

Fresh suffering will, again, break the shell of our selfishness and so on until the end of our life.

When you are able to observe your ego-driven negative emotions, you realize that they are not the real you because you cannot be both the observer and what you are observing at the same time.

This realization that is the separation between genuine self and ego-driven self is also called “Awakening” or “Enlightenment”  

Thank you all. 

#345 Humility: a hidden force towards equanimity Dec. 2 20

 Humility: one of our hidden force towards equanimity

 The following talk sounds distant from Zen philosophy, but stay tuned to the end.

Suppose you are at a job interview with the HR recruiter, and she/he is asking the following: “ What is one of your best qualities?”… and, after a short pause, you answered: “ Humility.” At this point, you probably just killed any hope of getting the job, regardless of your CV and experience.

Humility is a ‘no go’ in our Western rat-race world, especially in business. Its meanings carry negativity, such as docility, low self-esteem, meekness, resignation, inferiority complex, lack of pride and ambition, and so on.

In fact, based on the recent psychological research, being humble simply means to have the ability to accurately assess our deficiencies without denying our strengths and skills. Knowing what we don’t know is true knowledge — a kind of intellectual wisdom.

On the other hand, having this constant delusion of knowing a lot is, besides being arrogant, a trait of genuine ignorance,

To be humble is to be attentive and disposed to our own limitations, weaknesses, and mistakes.

A humble person does not ignore, avoid, or try to deny her/his limits or deficiencies.

On the contrary, if you’re humble, you do not carry a load of negative qualities, overconfidence, judgmental and patronizing behavior, etc….; all of them are traps in which we are stuck.

True humility is not thinking less of ourselves, it is thinking less of what we think! Learning from others is also an excellent trait of not only humility but also true self-confidence.

A mistake, that makes you humble, has far more positive impacts than any achievement that makes you proud and even overconfident.

 When we come to the point where we have no need to impress anyone, our freedom and equanimity rise. The social and professional consequences of humility are obvious, i.e., the link between humility triggering forgiveness. Humility appears to be a great asset to sentimental, social, and professional relationships.

It’s also found that someone who is more humble is more likely to:

1) Initiate a long-term, romantic relationship, perhaps, because they’re less likely to see themselves as ‘too good’ for someone else.

2) Better listener,

2) Less judgmental.

3) Less intimidating,

4) Forgive more easily; the ability to forgive is very important because pain is an inevitable part of any social and professional relationships.  

We mess up often. Saying something we don’t mean, being inconsiderate or forgetting an important event. So, when looking for a partner, it is a good idea to find someone who recognizes that making mistakes is part of being human. 

Where Zen fits into all of this?

One of the key teachings of Zen is the practice of “Don’t know mind.” Initially understood as practicing ‘being ignorant” the meaning is exactly the opposite: it means to have an open and receptive mind rather than having a mind-set on everything.

Believing that we know a lot can be a great source of bitter delusions and restless minds whereas accepting “not knowing or open mind” brings serenity.   

Thank you.

#344: Start with the end in mind ….by Gaurav Dec. 20th 20

Start with the end in mind…

So what happens in the end? We become dirt. We may be buried, cremated, or as in the case of Zoroastrianism left to be fed to birds of prey and then become bird poop. Either way, the end is dirt. So why are we, the walking pile of ‘eventual’ dirt, so consumed by our individuality. We will mix in with the same dirt like everyone else. Yet we stress our importance and our insecurities like we are at the center of the universe! It is quite something. If we start to look at not just our problems but also simple joys with this lens we will see that what ‘matters’ to us doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Our attachment to our physicality, mental problems, and material possessions lead to much sorrow but to what end.

But knowing this isn’t enough of course. There is an entire life to be lived until…well when we become dirt. But in another sense, it is over in a blink. The key is to regularly meditate on the end…to remember the temporariness of it all. No matter who we are this one single truth cannot be denied or ignored. Too often out of fear we shy away from this topic but focusing on the end can be very therapeutic. It may sound daunting but when done regularly it will not depress but bring you the kind of liberation and peace that is hard to describe in words. Bhutan is considered one of the ‘happiest’ places in the world by several measures but the reality is that Bhutanese peoples train to meditate on death from very early on in their lives.

We want to admit it or not, choose to see it or not, the end is coming. We can hide or prepare by focusing on it regularly. The concept to embrace here is that there is life after death…not necessarily in the context of reincarnation but the fact that consciousness survives and as much as we will become dirt we will facilitate life after we are gone. Our physical individuality will merge with the very elements it was created from.

Thank you


#343 A Winning mind Dec.13th 20

Wanting to be happier

Wanting to be happier is a universal daily expectation.

The scientific study of happiness called positive psychology has mushroomed over the last two decades. Major research institutions have taken on provoking search into the joy of joy, with surprising results. Here are few:

Researchers from UK used MRI, heart-rate monitors and blood levels of several hormones and neuropeotides as biomarkers to analyze what they called “mood-boosting triggers”. Using different stimulus on 600 adult participants, they were assessing the degree of happiness or pleasure generated. Among all possible triggers, one came above all the time:

What was this magic stimulus?

A smile.

Maybe this why smiling is an ongoing trait of all of my Zen teachers.

Smiling, involving 43 muscles has truly remarkable biological-related positive emotional effects.

It actually makes you feel good for a short duration even if you’re not feeling good in the moment.

A 2009 fMRI study in Munich demonstrated conclusively that the brain’s happiness circuitry is activated when you smile (regardless of your current mood). If you’re down, smiling actually prompts your brain to produce feel-good hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin for a short period of time.

Smiling is also a predictor of longevity.

In a 2010 out of Wayne State University, researchers looked at Major League baseball players.

They found that the frequency, duration of a player’s smile, and frequency intensity of laughing actually increase lifespan, all things being considered statistically.

A 30-year longitudinal study out of UC Berkeley examined the smiles of students with spooky results. Students’ smiling attitude  turned out to be accurate predictors of:

1)  High their standardized psychometric tests of well-being.

2)  How inspiring they are to others.

3)  How fulfilling their sentimental life will be.

Research also demonstrates that when we smile, we look better to others and make them more relaxed. Not only are we perceived as more likable and courteous, but those who benefit from our sunny face actually see us as more competent.

Finally these weird statistics.:

     Young children, especially below 5 crack a smile around 400/day.

     Around 30% of us smile over 20 times a day.

     Under 14% of adults smile fewer than 5 times a day.

Smiling consciously or even laughing on a regular basis and without a specific reason is a difficult skill to learn and practice.

Our society, especially in our working environment, is expecting us to look serious and in deep thoughts.

However, smiling will make us feeling good, making us looking good, and will get us to better. interpersonal skills and relationships.

Smiling once a while will not fix our mood 24/7 but it is better than the doom and gloom of a frozen face.

Thank you.

#342 Controlling anger Dec. 6 20

Controlling anger

Anger is an emotional involuntary reflex mostly ego-driven. Its onset is impossible to prevent.

This destructive emotion is very hard to control because it takes over our rational thinking, pushing us into further detrimental consequences.

Whatever its sources and they are many, anger is affecting not only you and me but also people around us.

At its onset, we behave like a volcano projecting tons of hot larva and toxic gases around.

Anger makes us radioactive to others because, when the damage is done there is no return point.

It will remain anchor in the mind of others whatever how they try to forgive you.

So, what to do?  

1) During acute blast of anger:

   a) To pay attention to it and look at its triggers. Without this phase, you will remain prisoner of it.

   b) Then channel your angry energy into constructive and helpful actions.

       For example: Leave the room, go for a walk, do something constructive to burn of your negative energy.

2) During ongoing chronic state of anger:

     a) Change your anger habit to achieve a long-term constructive approach:

         We spend a consistent amount of time being angry about this and that. It may become a sort of addiction

         The best way is to write down in an “anger diary”. Analyze your anger: triggers, frequency duration. Once you get a sense of how much time of your life you spend angry, you can work on its frequency and duration. It is like quitting smoking because chronic anger can be, again an addiction.

     b) Paying attention to your anger-triggers is key:

         As you become more familiar with the anger-triggers you will be able to see them coming and make an effort to respond differently. You learn how you get angry and become curious about how it arises and how to cool down.

        When becoming angry becomes an habit, it will overrides all subtle emotions causing anger.

        Anger often arises from feelings of anxiety, helplessness, frustration or jealousy.

        As you are approaching your anger with awareness, you will get better at feeling these more emotions.

3) As mentioned previously, the other victims of your anger are people around you:

   Unloading your anger at people is like emitting radioactivity.

   Self-defense and counter-anger measures arise from them as they try to protect themselves from your radioactive blast.

   Remember the anger creates suffering not only for you but also for others. The consequence is often irreversible for life.

To summarize:

What triggers anger is mostly ego-driven and multifactorial such as:

Unsatisfied desires, hatred, illusions, regrets of the past, anxiety of the future, people, circumstances  and many other negative feelings can or will trigger anger.

Learning to be detached from the triggers and paying attention to our anger are keys.

Remember that you are the one pulling that trigger and when the bullet is fired you cannot retrieve it.

Thank you

#341 “Circuit breaker” Nov 29th -20

          Circuit breaker

A circuit breaker is an electrical switch designed to protect an entire circuit from damage caused by a sudden overload or from a short appearing somewhere in the circuit.

By interrupting the current, the circuit breaker is protecting the entire system.

Our brain-mind is also a giant electrical system made of 100 billion cells called neurons.

All of them are interconnected and the total number of neural connections within our skull is phenomenal, around 10^15, that is more that the number of starts in our galaxy.

Brain cells are also connected to our peripheral 40trillion cells composing our body.

Few more numbers to swallow here:

Human brain mass represents 2% of our body mass but 20% of our total energy consumption.

It means that, per unit of mass, our brain-mind consumes 20x more energy that any other organs.

In order to keep alive our body, sensors and thinking, this bioelectrical machine works continuously 24/7 and between 70,000 and 120,000 thoughts are produce daily not stop.

Despite its complexity, our brain-mind works only in “one or nothing” as far thinking is concerned.

Using the physical electrical system as an analogy, our brain-mind system can also be the victim of sudden /chronic overload. These overloading processes are biochemical and bioelectrical and I will not go in the detail of them.

There are 3 main differences between an electrical system and its brain-mind biological equivalent:

 1) Brain has the capacity to create and erase connections in order to fulfill the needs.

     This is neuroplasticity and a basic computer cannot create hardware spontaneously.

 2) Brain uses a very tiny amount of energy (12 watts and around 400 cals during 4 hours of thinking).

 3) Finally, an electrical circuit is built with automatic protective circuit breakers, our brain does not have any.

Sudden or chronic overload of our brain-mind activities are frequent such as powerful emotional stress, chronic or acute negative feelings such as anger, fear, nostalgia, depression, acute excitements, physical pain, etc…. Our brain-mind, like an electrical circuit, can “overheat”,

and be the source of serious mental and psychological problems.

During these restless episodes, the brain-mind cannot expect the protecting effect of an automatic circuit breaker because, as already mentioned, there is none.

So, what to do to cool down our restless overheated mind and minimize further damage?

There is, indeed, a built-in, hidden circuit breaker in our brain-mind that we can use all the time.

It is called mindfulness. or mental focusing w/o using any analytic or decisional process.

Neural circuit-breaker was discover more than 10,000 years ago!

By paying sustained attention to something such as breathing, sound, odor, visualization, or whatever, we are forcing our mind to shut down in order to focus on what you are asking him to do. To be mindful is telling your mind: “Shut up and focus please”

Mono-thinking such as mindfulness practice is a wonderful circuit breaker to use as much as we can. The more you practice, the better and more efficient the circuit-breaker becomes.

Instead of being the victim of your ongoing thoughts and the risk of creating overheating, you become the ruler, at least for a few min. depending on your level of practice.

Thank you.

Zen Master Ji Gong Korean lineage.

#340 My journey in meditation by Rob. Sun. 22 20

I started meditating many years ago. I meditated primarily as a way to help me deal with stress and insomnia, both of which are related.

My meditation wasn’t a routine practice and I did it only when I felt I needed to. As a result, I didn’t progress beyond a basic level. That level typically involved focussing on my breath until a degree of relaxation set in. Nothing more.

I recall one evening several years ago. I focussed on my breath as usual, but something more happened. The typical stream of random thoughts slowed to a trickle and became almost non-existent. I then remember feeling a profound sense of peace and calmness like I had never felt before. That was the only time I would experience that for a long time.

Several years later, I joined Oakville Zen. With a more routine and disciplined practice I was sometimes able to reach that place I had been before. That profound sense of peace and calmness. Or serenity as it is called. But as I progressed down the path to that place more often, I noticed something else happening. I became more mindful of that stream of random thoughts and gained some insight about it.

From being mindful I discovered that a large number of the thoughts that aimlessly pop into my mind involve attachments. By attachments I mean thoughts about the past, the future, situations that don’t exist, thoughts about the way we think people or things should be, thoughts about material objects and other things we have or want to have, and so on. I’m not talking those parts of the day when we have thoughts for a purpose, such as making a decision, solving a problem or learning something. I’m talking about that stream of thoughts that clouds our minds most of the other parts of the day. That random chatter or “monkey mind” as it is called. That chatter that distracts us from the here and now, the reality of things as they are and that original serene state of being.

The more I became aware of my thoughts about attachments, the more I also began to understand the burdens that accompany them. By burdens I mean the forms of suffering that often come with such thoughts, such as stress, anxiety, fear, grief, anger, regret and so on. Even positive emotions and feelings about attachments have their associated burdens, albeit more indirectly, as they often ignore of the reality of impermanence.  That is, everything that gives us happiness today changes, irrespective of what we want or desire. Clinging on to, or trying to control, a present source of happiness often leads to disappointment tomorrow.

I started meditating years ago to deal with stress, but I ended up with something else. I ended up discovering something about the path to serenity. It involves being mindful of my thoughts, recognizing and accepting them for what they are without judgment, and letting them go. The attachments and burdens of the ego are let go in the process. In letting go, that profound sense of peace and calmness flows.

#339 Did you compliment latetly? Nov.15 20give

               Did you give compliments lately?

XIII century Japanese Zen Master Dogen, also a Samurai, used to teach the following. I am editing :

“As often as you can, think about someone close to you: family member, friend or even coworker and give them a simple genuine compliment….. w/o expecting something back. The closer the person to you, the better. Also, the more specific the compliment is, the better the impact. “

This is a strange advice and yet it is an integral part of Zen teaching.

Over the last 17 years I was asked, many time, if I was giving compliments once a while.

When I was asked for the first time, I even did not understand the purpose and meaning of the question considering the question…..to be , as usual, an enigmatic  Zen question.

Think about this:

” When was the last time you did you compliment someone, why? and how?

 How often you are expressing good words to someone”?

You will be surprised of your findings, even among your loved ones and best friends.

We do compliment our pets but almost never our human contacts.

We are not educated to give compliments and many of us are reluctant to do so because they fear their compliments would not be genuine.

Our Western society is not helping us to compliment someone especially if that person is not the same gender than you.  You may be sued for harassment.

In most companies now, giving non-work related compliments is prohibited by HR.

If I say to one of our Oakville Zen ladies: “ Wow, you are very well dressed”. she maybe offended and, subconsciously, questions my motivation behind the compliment. 

“What Arnaud has in mind; this is not appropriate for a Zen Master?”

In fact, we are groomed to behave the opposite side: that is judgmental, remarking problems and flaws of others.

In Zen teaching, giving compliment is not limited to others but also includes self.

This is very important in respect to achieve equanimity.

We talked already at length about self-compassion and self-forgiveness without falling into narcissism.

Finally, become mindful of any compliments other people are giving you and assess their positive effects on you.

Being mindful to the practice of giving compliments here and there will help you greatly in the control of your negative state of mind.

It will promote good feelings to others and to self, free of charge.

To finalize this short talk:

Dogen wrote the following:

 “Kind words bring kind and compassionate minds and kind minds bring kind words.”

This is a great catch 22 scenario.

We should become familiar to the practice of kind speech to others and to self.

It is not praising the merit nor kissing their bums, it is free recognition.

Also, it has the power to turn restless minds into more peaceful ones to the giver and to the receiver.

Thank you.