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#354 Mindfulness in motion Jul 12 21

      Mindfulness in motion

The first time I met my second Zen teacher was in his kitchen,14 years ago.

He was peeling potatoes. Being absorbed with what he was doing, he did not notice me.

I watched him for almost 1 min. and was puzzled how slow his movements were.

It was like watching a movie in slow motion.

As physician, my first impression, was a medical one. I said to myself:

Sunim (which means teacher in Korean) is suffering of Parkinson or some other neuro-degenerative diseases.

Soddenly he looked at me and asked: Who are you?

I replied: “ I am Arnaud…….. I talked with you on the phone to become one of your students.

Come to peel potatoes he replied. No hi, no welcome. No social manners.

So I started peeling these veggies.

Silence for ………a long 5 min. Then he said:

Why are you peeling potatoes so fast!. Are you so hungry?

No Sunim.

He said: Where is your mind? …….Timidly I replied: Well.. I am here.

No!….Only your body in here.

You are peeling potatoes thoughtlessly like an automate on auto-pilot.

You are not focusing on what your hands and arms are doing because your mind is elsewhere. You are like a decapitated chicken (and he laughed ). Where is your mind?

He was right. My mind was elsewhere, still trapped in the field of neurological diseases!

Then he said: Peel the potatoes at my pace and you will see what is happening next.

So I did….trying to focus on peeling …..slower. It was very challenging and almost boring because I realize that I was forcing my mind to focus on the slow motions of my arms, hands and fingers, and the mind does like boring stuff, preferring to escape in a different and more exiting space-times as he always does.

It was the first time in my life that I realize that my body and mind were one meaning that body and mind were in the same space-time and doing the same thing.

It was my first Zen teaching with him and a great one because Sunim did not even mention the practice of mindfulness per-se on what we are doing, and yet, I was a graduate from Jon Kabat Zinn 2 years training at T.G.H and already a Zen student for 2 years.

Moving back to the Zendo, Sunim served the tea to the students before meditation. 10 cups.

He was pouring tea  s..l..o..w..l..y, in full awareness of what he was doing.

It took forever! or seems like it. Again, Sunim was teaching mindfulness in motion.

Then his teaching became more formal. He said:

From the time you wake up to the time you fall asleep, you are doing thousand on movements

automatically, without thinking because of routine. At the same time your the mind is elsewhere doing something else.

Zen calls that: “ day sleep walking” or “headless chicken running around”  ( big laugh )

The message from this experience is the following:

Practicing mindfulness is to pay attention, to be aware, to focus on something in order

to anchor our monkey mind to wonder from one branch to the next. There is no analysis,

judgment or decision. Anchoring the mind is the first step to control our thoughts and emotions.

Beside static sitting mindfulness-based meditation, the practice of mindfulness in motion

is a great way to process faster in the quest of mind control.

Being mindful to your steps called walking meditation is important but you can add mindfulness in motion to any of your movements during the day. How to do it?

By slowing them down your moves, you also slow down your mind because you become automatically aware of them. Body and mind are together. Do this mindfulness in motion exercise at regular intervals during the day by picking any automatic movements that you are doing subconsciously. You will experience reality of the moment.  Thanks you.

#353 The power of equanimity June 27 21

    The power of equanimity

How do we sustain our sanity in the face of sudden internal and external challenges?

In Zen Buddhist the answer is equanimity.

For many, the word equanimity implies passivity, coolness, indifference, even sort of

 “whatever” .

The Pali word for equanimity is upekkha, which is effectively translated as” balance”.

Visualize a tightrope walker: she/he is walking on a tight cable that we will call life holding a long pole, called emotional mind. In one extremity there is  the negative stuff such as feelings, events and people and on the other extremity the positive stuff. Moving in a perfect balance, this tightrope walker is practicing, in the moment, equanimity .

Too much good stuff and the walker will lose emotional balance because she/he

will look for more and more w/o being ever satisfied, and this craving is causing suffering.

Too much bad stuff and the walker will lose her/his emotional balance also causing suffering.  

The tightrope walker must maintain perfect equilibrium in keeping both extremes under control and we should do the same.

Balance doesn’t come from:

   Wiping out all negative feelings or being trapped in them.

   Accumulating positive stuff or being trapped in them.

And yet, we are conditioned toward extremes.

   When it comes to feeling painful emotions, we may think there’s no way out, and we come to identify ourselves with our negative feelings completely: I’m a negative self.

  On the other hand, as we said before, we are conditioned to accumulate more and more w/o any positive feelings.

So: we have the tendency to be attracted to the extremes that is to be unbalanced.

Equanimity is what frees us from these 2 extremes that attract and can trap us.

Equanimity is the state in which we can recognize, in a mindful way a feeling or emotion:

   Either negative. Accept it as it is and then look for solutions if any.

   Or positive, knowing that it will not last forever.

Both should be treated equally as far their emotional reactions and consequences. 

   What is keeping us from being absorbed by negative feelings and ongoing craving is the essence of equanimity. Equanimity is preventing us from being reactive towards one of the extremes exactly like the tightrope walking and keeping her/his balance by controlling the pole.

In Zen Buddhism literature Equanimity is described as the open door towards serenity and wisdom.

It means having an open mind to everything, able to hold everything. Its essence is complete presence and acceptance of what things, people and events are and not what we want and don’t want.

Again, it does not mean being passive or indifferent since, if there are solutions, we should look for.

Equanimity means OK with pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, guilt and pride in such a way that our hearts are fully open. It means practicing emotional balance all the time, being aware of the both sides of our

emotional coin.

Equanimity doesn’t mean we have no feeling about anything; it’s not a state of blankness. Instead, it is the spaciousness that can relate to any feeling, any occurrence, any arising, and still be free.

You will ask: what is the difference between equanimity and serenity.

Equanimity occurs during an acute episode (feeling, event or people) whereas serenity

is a state of  permanent equanimity. We practice equanimity to achieve serenity.

Thank you

#352 Our Inner prosecutor Jun. 20 21

If we leave our inner prosecutor that I will call Mrs./Mr. Negativity, unrecognized and unchecked, it creates a pattern of negative emotional roller coaster that can undermine our well-being and destroy our serenity. This prosecutor will accuse you of what we did /didn’t, should do/don’t with many negative feelings as consequence. 

These negative feelings are like arrows penetrating your heart and mind.

When self-criticism becomes severe it is affecting our life and even spiritual practice.

We don’t realize that we have fallen into a persuasive negative pattern of thinking about ourselves as defective or broken

How can we subdue our Inner prosecutor?

We never rent and watch the same painful movie 200 times. 

And yet we allow our Mrs./ Mr. Negativity to play painful episodes from the past and present over and over non-stop, almost in a masochistic fashion.

No one, a child, a pet, or a plant, can thrive under that pattern of negative attack.

And yet we allow our inner prosecutor to attack us in this way, repeatedly.

We need to tell her/he that, yes, we are not perfect but it is OK as I will describe soon.

This is a tricky balance: obviously we need to practice proper insight in order to correct our flaws and weaknesses and to prevent mistakes but at the same time we have to learn to accept them.

The Buddha divided all his thoughts into two classes, those that led to serenity and those that led away from it.

The prosecutor relies upon an idea of a negative self—a small self—that is imperfect and must be fixed all the time. This is the source of negative energy and distorted picture of our genuine self. Zen is quite clear about not giving our precious energy to inflictive ongoing thoughts.

If you recognize your prosecutor and stop feeding its mental negative energy, its power will weaken.

How to proceed effectively?

Through a specific mindfulness meditation practice called Metta meaning Loving-Kindness.

We can meditate as the Buddha did, practicing full compassion for all living beings including ourselves regarding flaws, mistake and wrong behavior of the past and present time.

Again, it does not preclude search for correction but it will prevent ongoing negative self-image that many are trapped within.

When our minds become quieter, when we are resting in this very moment, there is no past or future, there is no comparing, no right, no wrong, no bad, no good.

Again, the practice mindfulness- based loving kindness to ourselves does not mean being narcissist. It means looking at our negativity using acceptance and acceptance brings non- emotional feelings allowing proper and pragmatic understanding of our flaws and mistakes. Such non-emotional state should help in not only correcting them but also moving one step further towards serenity.   

Thank you.

#351 Maxim: a friend, a Zen Master Jun.13th 21 by Gaurav.

  • Zen master

    If you look at the meaning of the word Maxim it is a ‘short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct’. I found it very fitting. The concept of a master or guru is central to many eastern philosophies. The idea is simple – in the world of darkness we need a guide who can show us the way. In other words, we seek a master who has transcended desirelessness since desires bring so much of our suffering. I recently realized I have one such master at home already…Maxim. I realized there is a lot to learn from him only if I observe intently. Here are top 3 of the many lessons.

Mindfulness: Maxim is almost always in a meditative state and does not spend time mulling over life. He is forever focused on the present moment. I haven’t seen him planning or stashing away his food for future consumption. He lives life as it comes. All his emotions and physical reactions are driven from the immediate present unlike us where past guilts, and future anxieties dictate much of our present behaviour. I am not sure if our ability to contemplate our condition is a curse or a blessing but trying to be mindful is our attempt at solving our ultimate problem.

Space: Maxim takes us approximately 2 square feet – the smallest footprint in the house. Even so he respects everyone’s space. I may invade his space, but he will only come to me when he is ready to share his love otherwise stays to himself. Maxim lives freely (and completely naked) but is content with basics i.e. food and water. My takeaway – we must minimize our footprint to live a more peaceful life. The more we have the more we tend to worry.

Self-control: Maxim is tremendously focused and composed. I don’t think Maxim harbours any grudges e.g. when I was late in giving him food. He displays tremendous self control – unless he feels threatened, he will simply walk from a situation. He doesn’t want to be liked – I don’t even see him attached to his toys. His ability to stay silent most of the day is one of my biggest learnings…to listen more than I speak. Another is to respect others and give them their space.

While I may have cited Maxim’s example as a guru if you look closely in fact everything alive or not is trying to teach you something. It feels as though consciousness is learning from itself and growing exponentially. The more we become aware of this idea the more we will see how connected we are with the universe. Therefore, be mindful of the stress you introduce…it will invariably affect the entire system. But if you are not in the moment you miss the opportunity to learn, to experience. This is precisely why mindfulness meditation is so crucial…to experience life fully. For those with pets you have a resident guru – just look a little closer.

#350 Thinking thoughtlessly Ju. 06 21

Dialogue between a student and teacher about 3 topics:

About suffering:

Zen says that desire, hate, and illusions are the main causes of suffering and I have to be mindful of them in order to have better control of my emotions and delusion. Right?

YES

But if I want to control my desires, hate or any negative feelings, then I am creating another desire that is to control something. So, what is the point?

The point is these 2 words that you said “ being mindful”.

To be mindful is to pay attention to something w/o analytic thinking that is w/o pre-conceived ideas, attachment, judgment and w/o decision.

Train your brain-mind to be an observer of your feelings rather than them controlling you.

Practicing mindfulness during meditation and on the go will polish your brain-mind to become a mirror reflecting feelings, things, events, and people as they are and not as you want them to be. A Zen mind is a mirror mind. It is just reflecting things w/o attachment, cognition,andw/o thinking…. sort of thinking thoughtlessly. 

About time:

Zen says that we have to live in the present moment, the only existing time, because

 it is only in the NOW that we are alive and experience concrete reality. But I believe that past and future exist because I have memories, pictures and a planning calendar.

BUT IT IS WRONG THINKING

     When the present moment is gone, it is dead by becoming part of the past.

So both past and “past-you” are dead. Pictures and memories will not make them alive.

Both are fiction.

Don’t be a “past-you”. It does not make sense because it will bring you suffering such regrets of what was wrong and nostalgia of what was right.

     When the present moment is gone, it becomes the “next moment” but this next moment is,

 in fact, in the unborn future and the “future you” is also not born yet.

So, both future and “future you” are not born yet. Calendar will not make them alive.

Both are fiction.

Don’t be a ”future-you”. It does not make sense because it will create expectations of what you want and worries of what you don’t want; most of them just thoughts and potential suffering.

Obviously we have to plan using calendars but calendars are only on paper and on our smart phone. Can you predict how and where you will be in 24h, 1 week, and next month? NO

Train your brain-mind to be an observer of the NOW. Practicing mindfulness of the NOW during meditation and on the go will polish your brain-mind to become a mirror reflecting things, events and people as they are and not as you want them to be.

A Zen mind is a mirror mind and, like a mirror, it is just reflecting things w/o attachment, cognition and w/o thinking…sort of thinking thoughtlessly.

About using our 5 senses:

Zen says to practice our 5 senses mindfully as the way to be conscious to our surrounding true reality and be connected to its components so the mind is attached with the body to be one entity rather than being elsewhere doing something else. I don’t get I t!

How often are you mindful to the sound of your car, a taste of a nut, a smell of the grass, the color of a cloud or the contact of warm water on your skin during shower? If you do it, it is analytically for a specific reason. For example, checking the sky for rain.

Being mindful of our 5 senses is to hook up our wild mind to our body. We become then one entity rather than our body doing something, usually routinely, and our mind wondering elsewhere doing something different. At this point, we are mono-thinker because the mind is paying attention to what the body in doing ….. close of being thoughtless. 

Remember this: having a Zen mind is not an extraordinary, supra natural skill to learn.

It means just to be….like a mirror….. in the moment….reflecting present reality as it is.  Thank you

#349 How the ego intellectualizes existence by Angela May 30 21

                               How the ego intellectualizes existence  Angela

I am struggling with the contrast between the roles that I perform, the clinging and aversion that are attached to these roles, and the desire to be free of it all.  I know that my roles are just social constructs and are not “real” but as a mother, spouse, friend, family member, community citizen and manager of two hospital programs in the middle of wave 3 of this ongoing pandemic I can’t help but feel that these roles are important.  They help guide my priorities, mainly towards investing my time in the service of others, which I feel allows me to contribute to the world around me in meaningful and tangible ways.  Through my meditation practice I have learned that these are labels, not real, and often it’s my ego that is attached to thinking about myself in these terms.  But without these roles who/what am I?  Or maybe it doesn’t matter?  Maybe these types of questions are my ego’s way of distracting from the point – the ego’s way of intellectualizing my existence.  The point is, I am, and I am not, any of these things.   These labels are based on my understanding of past events or projection of my actions into the future, and are not based on what is happening in the now.  I think perhaps the way to think about it is, who I am in this world is more connected to what I am doing at any given moment and how my senses are interacting with the world around me, rather than how my mind or ego is thinking about it. 

My comments

This excellent Dharma talk from Angela is touching the root of Zen:

Indeed, our society is like a play in which each of us is acting in many roles at the same time and in different settings such as family, friends and work.

This is how most of us see herself or himself, and how the society perceives each

us interacting within.

As Angela pointed out well: are these societal acting roles are the real me, that is my genuine entity?

For most people, the answer is yes: we are a separate, independent, unique biological and social body-mind entity who comes and goes.

For few, we are more than this reductionist materialistic description. Our genuine self has nothing to do with its materialistic role-playing description.

It is not just an useless philosophical /metaphysical question but a very practical one:

When you realize that you are more than what you think you are that just a material being, serenity is around the corner.

This is the basics of the Koan “ What/Who am I”? that Zen student have to solve before

the teacher.

#348 Why boredom is exciting May 22 21

            Why boredom is exciting

When we’re bored, we become uncomfortable and restless like a withdrawal from an addiction.

In our Western culture, being bored carries the feelings loneliness, laziness or even being useless. Our self-image is wounded because our ego perceives boredom negatively, sort of failure.

Our ego say “ I must be busy and show to others that I am busy  ”

When someone is asking: “ How are you doing?”, the #1 reply among adults is “busy”

The word “boredom” was used for the first time by C. Dickens in the 1850s.

Before then boredom was never mentioned. In earlier times people found meaning and connection through village squares, church and social gatherings. Rat race did not exist.

Being bored is a secular disease. Why?

Because we are in the rat race, because we are multi-tasking, because we create “To do list”, because “doing is being”, because we are addicted to IT which, by-the-way is now recognized as a medical condition similar to chemical addiction since the level od dopamine (so called molecule of happiness) increased while we are interacting with the screen.

What is triggering boredom?

Boredom occurs during 2 main instances:

  1. We can be bored when we are facing repetitive, automatic and non-stimulating

     stuff such as daily duties, social events and even people. I call it active boredom.

   2) When we are disconnected from our addictions such as IT. This is passive boredom.

When boredom strikes, we feel some void and the negative feeling of being unproductive, useless, impatient, restless or even lazy in the current moment.

Boredom can make us uncomfortable. When there’s nothing stimulating, flashy, and distracting, we experience the urge to seek distractions a.s.a.p. and the #1 source of distraction is, again, the IT world. We Google, text and call for no specific reason.

The moment we start chasing something, we create its opposite.  Examples:

   When we are chasing happiness, sadness is waiting around the corner.

   When we are chasing distractions, we become subconsciously aware that, w/o these distractions we will be easily bored.

Our smartphones and Skype only provide fictional human connection and w/o the physical interaction, dissatisfaction and frustration may occur, which, in turn, can evoke cravings for stimulation. This is a vicious circle.

So, what to do?

Rather than trying to find something “exciting” to escape from our feelings of restlessness, just pay attention to your boredom and meditate on it in a mindful way.

When you meditate on your boredom, you are not bored anymore because you are doing something actively rather than “doing nothing”!.

Boredom becomes even exciting because you become busy again.

No need to jump on your cell phone, Netflix or chocolate.

Beside focusing on your boredom, you can also focus, in a mindful way, on your connection and interaction to your surroundings by using your 5 senses.

You will realize that there is no void, boredom evaporates like a miracle.

Boredom, void feeling useless are just in our head. Thank you

#347 Dialog between student & teacher by Kris may 15th 2021

DIALOG BETWEEN STUDENT AND HIS SPIRITUAL MASTER

These 11 Q&A are presented to new monks and spiritual aspirants.

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is a well-known Hindu saint who passed away in 1886. He suffered from throat cancer but did not let the disease to limit him. He led a very productive life and his many sayings have been captured in a book called the “Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna”. He had 18 close disciples, the most famous being Swami Vivekananda.

 Swami Vivekananda came to United States in 1893 to give a speech on Vedanta to the World Council of Religion and he was very well received. That is when the seeds of meditation, yoga and Vedantic studies were established in USA.

There are Ramakrishna missions all over the world including Toronto and Montreal.

The dialog below took place when he was a lay student around 1950’s

Question : I can’t find free time. Life has become too hectic.

Answer :  Activity gets you busy. However, productivity gets you free.

Question Swami: Why has our life become complicated now?

Answer : Stop analyzing life… It makes it complicated. Just live it.

Question:  Why are we then constantly so unhappy?

Answer:  Worrying has become your habit. That’s why you are not happy.

Question: Why do good people always suffer?

Answer:  Diamond cannot be polished without friction. Gold cannot be purified and refined without fire. Good people go through trials, but don’t suffer. With that experience, their life becomes better, not bitter.

 Question : You mean to say such experience is useful?

Answer : Yes. In every term of the word, Experience is a hard teacher. She gives the test first and the lessons later.

Question : Because of so many problems, we don’t know where we are heading…

Answer : If you look outside,  you will not know where you are heading. Look inside. Eyes provide sight. Heart provides the way.

Question:  Does failure hurt more than moving in the right direction?

Answer: Success is a measure as decided by others. Satisfaction is a measure, as decided by you.

Question: In tough times, how do you stay motivated?

Answer: Always look at how far you have come, rather than how far you have to go. Always count your blessing, not what you are missing.

Question : What surprises you about people?

Answer: When they suffer they ask, “why me?” When they prosper, they never ask “Why me?”

Question :  How  can I get the best out of life?

Answer : Face your PAST  without regret. Handle your PRESENT with confidence. Prepare for the FUTURE, without fear.

Question : One last question. Sometimes I feel, my prayers are not answered.

Answer:

 There are no unanswered prayers Keep the faith and drop the fear, Life is a mystery to solve, not a problem to resolve. Trust me. Life is wonderful if you know how to live.

Stay Happy Always! In conclusion, even though the questions and answers are very simple, they are very profound and applicable to all spiritual seekers to reduce their worldly cravings. The spiritual process is to first listen/read these answers, then meditate on it. If it makes sense then internalize it and PRACTICE it daily to start your spiritual

#346: Suffering: a mental hbit May 09 21

                                                                        Suffering: a mental habit

Apart from external painful events, suffering is a self-generated mental habit: doubt, guilt, shame, resentment, regrets, anger, fear, frustration, blame, I want, I don’t want  and many more.

This mental habit is affecting not only you but also others and these persons may impose their mental habit on you.

A common painful mental habit is, quite often, our own judgments about self and others and

the judgment of others causing pain to themselves and us.

It is very hard to stop our own double judging habit and it is even harder for us to help others stop their judgment.

Judging more consciously, less automatically, gives us the opportunity to be more compassionate

to self but also to others.

The practice to apply only decisional judgment should help but it takes time and effort and mindfulness meditation should help.

Either way, we are the ones who suffer from those feelings, so we need to create mindful habit to disconnect ourselves from this mental habit of automatic judging.

Another painful mental habits are guilt and blame.

They are alike because when we feel guilty we blame ourselves, and when we cast blame, we also assign guilt to others. Whether we accept or assign blame, we fuel negative feelings either about ourselves or another person or both. What a mess!

Pride and shame are the polar ends of the ego spectrum. They are also painful mental habit.

This spectrum represents our basic evaluation of ourselves in our relative world.

In this relative world, we are better or worse depending on our situation and how we are using pride and shame to rank ourselves among each other.

We even compare ourselves to other imaginative versions of ourselves, sort of mental avatar, comparing who we think we are to who we want to be or should nor be.

That ranking system, which is mostly unconscious and fluctuates widely with our moods, causes a lot of suffering and feeds into all kinds of judgments, leading to more guilt, shame, pride, and blame. Another self-inflecting catch 22 scenario.

Practicing mindfulness awareness of our detrimental mental habits starts by practicing mindfulness meditation because, while meditating, we learn to practice conscious awareness on our breathing.

When you bring your attention to your breath, you become present and aware.

Also, once a while, practice self-compassion that is remember your basic goodness.

Your basic goodness means that you don’t want to self induce suffering  nor cause suffering.

Negative feelings are strong habits that will always find new and creative ways to invade themselves in our emotional mind.

Practicing mindfulness during meditation and on the go will not make our negative mental habit

go away, but it will slow them down some how and even stop them from keeping you slave of your painful self-talk.

T Y

#344 The sunshine od awareness Apr.25 21

The sunlight of awareness

Is there a difference between consciousness and awareness?

All experts consider the words as synonyms meaning: knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.

Therefore, we should not try to differentiate the words to avoid being trapped in an non-productive sematic trap.

When we go outside, and thru our 5 senses, we have the knowledge and perception of our surroundings but does it mean that we pay attention to them all the time.

Also, being aware about a friend being sick does it mean that you pay attention to her/his condition all the time?

We aware of this and that but w/o paying attention because our mind is too busy thinking about zillions of other things rather than being actively aware of our surroundings or to any other situations events or people.

In Zen, awareness carries a more specific meaning:

It implies being actively aware, to focus or to pay attention consciously on something or someone in a mindful way that is w/o judgment and w/o decision.

When you say to a kid “Pay attention to what I say”, the kid stops what she/he is doing and listen.

The kid is practicing awareness on what to do and will stop her/his current wandering activity.

This is exactly what we are doing during meditation:

A double awareness:

  1) Of our breathing in order to anchor and slow down our wandering mind.

  2) Of our mind itself busy in producing thoughts and feelings.

Meditating is observing the changes that take place in your mind under the light of awareness

while focusing on breathing as anchor to slow it down.

When our wandering mind slows down or even stops running, thoughts /feelings become manageable almost one by one.

Bringing the light of our awareness on every thought and feeling, allowing us to recognize them, accept them without judging or trying to stop them.

They will go the same way they popped-up. Don’t resist.

To meditate does not mean to fight with our mind. Meditation is not a battlefield with you against your restless mind. If you try to fight, you will loose all the time and become frustrated with your meditation practice.

Here is another aspect to consider:

When we are under the control of our mind we are an object

To meditate means the opposite, you become the observer rather than the object of our runaway and restless mind.

Why the opposite you may ask.

Simply because when you observe x, you cannot be x at the same time!

Paying attention by focusing then observing is awareness in its most conscious and active form.

This is why we called it sunlight awareness.

Without the proper use to observe our mind during meditation and even during the day, it will remain in control of you all the time.

Thank you.