So here you are sensitizing yourself to your most direct experience of the body, and you're learning to relate to the body in a way that's comfortable. At the same time, you find that the breath is a mirror for the mind. A sudden emotion comes into the mind, and the breath will change. That's one of the reasons we sometimes feel that we've got to get our anger out of our system: The way the breath has changed in response to the anger is uncomfortable.
So you can undo that effect. As soon as you sense a change in the breath, you can consciously breathe in a way that dissolves away whatever tension has built up in the breathing. That weakens the power of the anger. This is another way the breath can be your friend. It's like having a friend who reminds you when you get angry that it's not in your best interest to be angry.
It can soothe you when you're angry, put you in a better mood. It can be your friend when you're sick; it can be your friend when you're suffering from fear or any other strong, unpleasant emotion. The breath can be there as your friend, but only if you learn how to befriend it. Get to know it. As with any friendship, it takes time. You can't just walk in and shake hands and say "Hi, you're my breath, I'm in charge of you, let's go. After all, you've been a stranger to your breath for who knows how long. It has been there for you, but you haven't been there for it.
You haven't paid it much attention. You don't really know it well. So here's your opportunity to get on good terms with the breath. When you have your breath as your friend, you have a friend wherever you go, in any situation. As the Buddha said, to really get to know someone requires 1 time and 2 being very observant.
Here you've got a whole hour of time. It's up to you to be observant and to see how well you can get to know the breath. To show some goodwill for the breath in a very direct and visceral way like this is to show goodwill for yourself, the wish that's expressed in that chant: "May I be happy. At the same time, you cause no harm to anyone else. The way you breathe doesn't directly affect anyone else at all. Indirectly, if you breathe in unskillful ways and uncomfortable ways, you're going to get irritable and take it out on other people.
But if you're breathing comfortably, there's no irritation to take out on anybody at all. In this way, the fact that you're working with your breath is a way of showing goodwill for other people too. As you're sitting here, there are a lot of things you could focus on in the present moment. You could focus on the sound of the crickets. You could focus on the sound of the bombing practice off to the west, the temperature of the air — all kinds of things.
The question is: Which thing are you going to focus on that's going to deliver the best results for the mind? This is where the breath comes in. It's something that's here all the time — coming in, going out, staying still — giving us our sense of the body. It's a place where we can settle down, something we can stay in touch with at all times — if we're mindful. It's important to understand what mindfulness is: It's the act of keeping something in mind. The word sati is related to the verb sarati, which means to remember.
You focus your attention on one particular thing and then keep reminding yourself to stay there. This is how concentration is developed. But concentration is not just a question of memory. To be a part of the path, it has to be alert as well. We're not trying to put ourselves into a trance. We simply want to stay focused on an aspect of the present moment that's going to be helpful. Mindfulness is what reminds us to stay at that present sensation or present occurrence; alertness is what allows us to see what's going on.
The third quality we add is persistence or ardency. Keep with it. No matter how loud the bombs or incessant the crickets, you're not going to send your attention after them. You know they're there. You're not going to deny that they're there, but they're simply not places you want to go. You're going to keep tabs on this one thing: the breath coming in, going out. If you prefer a meditation word, you can stay with buddho. If you want, you can focus on the parts of the body, like the bones, skin, your liver — anything that keeps you grounded here in the present moment in a way that helps mindfulness and alertness to grow, to develop.
Your ability to stick with these qualities is what's going to help them grow. When you notice yourself wandering off, ardency means that you bring the mind right back. You don't give up. You don't get discouraged. While you're with the breath, ardency means that you try to be as sensitive as possible to the sensation of the breathing. The more consistent your sensitivity, the more refined the sense of comfort you'll derive from the breathing. As Ajaan Lee says, when you're mindful and alert like this, mindfulness and alertness change into the factors of jhana , or steady absorption.
We often hear that mindfulness practice and concentration practice are two different things, but the Buddha never taught them that way. He said that right mindfulness leads naturally to right concentration. In all of the descriptions of the path — such as the noble eightfold path, the five faculties, the seven factors for awakening — right mindfulness always precedes right concentration. So don't think of them as separate practices; think of them as qualities of the mind that help each other along. Mindfulness turns into directed thought as it shades into the steadiness of concentration.
Once concentration gets more solid, your mindfulness gets a lot steadier. When you reach the fourth jhana, the Buddha says, that's where mindfulness becomes pure. The word jhana is related to a verb jhayati, which is a homonym for a verb to burn — to burn in a steady way, like the flame of this candle at the front of the room.
Pali has different verbs for the word to burn. There's the burning of an ordinary fire that flickers and flares, but then there's jhayati, which describes the burning of an oil lamp — steady, so steady you can read by it. And that's the whole purpose of getting the mind to stay steadily here in the present moment: so that you can read what's going on in the mind.
In the beginning, the steadiness requires some protection, just like the candle here. If the wind outside started to flare up more than it is right now, we'd have to put a glass globe around the candle to keep the flame steady. That glass globe is directed thought and evaluation. Keep reminding yourself to come back — stay with the breath, stay with the breath, stay with the breath — consistently. And then evaluation, which grows out of alertness, looks at the breath: Is this a comfortable place to stay?
What do you need to adjust? Do you need to move the focus of your attention? Do you need to adjust the breath? Do you need to adjust some of the concepts in your mind about what you're doing? If the breath is too subtle to follow, can you stay simply with the sense of the body sitting here? There are lots of things to evaluate. This is where the element of discernment or insight comes into the practice. Again, we often hear that jhana practice is a tranquility practice and insight practice is something else, but again, the Buddha didn't divide things up that way. He said that you need tranquility and insight in order to get the mind to become steady like this.
The insight lies in understanding what problems you have to face and how you can get around them; the tranquility lies in the element of steadily, calmly watching things. So you use directed thought and evaluation to protect what you've got. As a sense of ease and fullness develops in the present moment, you've got to protect it even more.
Stick with it, work at whatever you need to do to maintain that sense of wellbeing — learning when you're trying too hard to make it better, learning when you're not trying hard enough to notice what can be done to relax things even further, make them even more gratifying and pleasurable. That's all a function of insight: watching things, evaluating things, figuring out which causes to change to make the effects just right. This is the element of insight, the element of discernment that we're working on while we're on the path.
We develop it in simple practices like this: learning what's just right in terms of the breath. That's the middleness of our middle way right now. The word middleness also applies to the appropriateness of what we're doing. Sometimes we have to be very protective of what we're doing when there are lots of external distractions, or when the mind itself seems to be rambunctious and hard to control.
We have to make an extra effort during times like that. At other times, the effort doesn't have to be quite so strong: All you need to do is just watch, keep tabs on things, and they seem to behave on their own. If you mess with them too much, they're going to rebel, so you have to be very sensitive to what's needed, what's going on. This is part of the middleness of the middle way: the appropriateness of what you're doing.
As you develop this sense of appropriateness, this sense of "just right," you're developing discernment in the midst of concentration practice. The Buddha said there's no discernment without jhana, no jhana without discernment. The two qualities help each other along. So if you find yourself slipping off the breath, slipping off the topic of your meditation, remember these things.
When things get balanced, you don't have to think about them that much. Once you develop a sense of balance, you just maintain that balance in your practice. It'll be sub-verbal. It's like sailing a boat. When you get on the boat for your first sailing lessons and you're told to steer the boat to the left, sometimes you flip it over because you steer too hard. Or you're told to steer to the right, and again you flip it over in the other direction because you're steering too hard. But after a while you begin to get a sense of exactly how much pressure you have to apply to the rudder, and you get so that you hardly even think about it.
It becomes an intuitive sense. You're alert to it — you have to be alert — but you don't have to verbalize it. This is what we're working toward in the practice: gaining that intuitive sense of what's just right for right now — when you have to apply a little bit more pressure, when you have to hold back a little bit — so that you don't need all these concepts. As the meditation gets more and more intuitive, as the mind gets more and more firmly settled right here, you can actually drop the directed thought and evaluation and just plow right into the sensation of the breath or whatever your object is.
When you get there, you begin to wonder, "Why did you ever think you had to do anything more in the meditation than just be right here? So watch out that you don't get complacent, because you can lose this. It's simply a matter of having that intuitive sense of where your spot is and how to stay there. This is how to develop a foundation for the mind: You use mindfulness and alertness, you use your discernment to get the mind concentrated, and then once it's concentrated you use that concentration to discern things even more clearly. All the factors of the path help one another, and they all come together.
There's a unity to the path. Even though it has eight folds, it's one piece of paper. So if these thoughts are helpful when you find yourself drifting off or losing balance, keep them in mind. There will come a point where you don't have to consciously remember them. All you'll have to do is be very watchful, very alert, making sure you're not complacent, and you can drop the concepts.
Dropping them doesn't mean you'll forget them. They'll be there to pick up again when you need them, but you don't have to carry them around all the time. They're like a magic set of tools: They float right within reach. You don't have to carry them.
Or like your shadow: It goes everywhere you go, but you don't have to carry it with you. It places no weight on you at all. I once heard of a tennis pro whose game had gone into a slump. He tried everything he could imagine to get his game back: fired his trainer, got another trainer, tried different rackets.
Then one day he realized he'd forgotten the number one lesson in tennis: Keep your eye on the ball. The same sort of thing often happens in meditation. You start out with a very simple process and then it gradually grows more complicated. After a while you forget the first principles: i. So try to spend the whole hour staying with the breath, no matter what. Be really sensitive to how the breath feels, and to what you're doing to the breath.
The breath is a fabrication, which means that there's an intentional element in the way you breathe. You want to be very sensitive to that, to what you're adding to the breathing process.
Try to do it skillfully. As long as you're going to add an intentional element, add something good. Your relation to the breath is something very intimate, very private. Often it's hard to talk about how the breath feels, because the breath feels like the breath feels. It doesn't quite feel like anything else. So we talk about it indirectly, in terms of metaphors and similes, realizing that our descriptions are approximate. When you hear something in the instructions, learn to translate it in such a way that it relates to what's happening in your direct experience.
And keep your inner experience primary. For example, I've noticed that one of the best ways of getting the breath energy in the body to be comfortable and full is not to put any effort into the out-breath at all. What effort there may be goes into the in-breath. As for breathing out, you don't need to help the body. It's going to breathe out on its own. When you don't force it out, that allows the breath energy to fill up in the body. This is hard to put precisely into words. It's not like you're trying to stuff the breath in, but because you don't squeeze it out, then each time you breathe in, breathe in, breathe in, and allow the sense of fullness to run along your nerves, the nerves begin to glow.
Again, this doesn't fit easily into words, for it's not a visible glow. But there's a feeling of glow-like energy filling the nerves, radiating out from them, radiating out of the blood vessels. You try to breathe in such a way that maintains that sense of radiance. The body then feels a lot more comfortable, the blood can flow freely through all the different parts of the body.
It feels really good. So try to relate that to what you're doing right now and see if you get results. If you don't, try experimenting a little bit on your own to see which way of breathing really does feel good in the body. When you do this, it sets up the issue of pleasure and pain, cause and effect, right from the start. That's what the Buddha's teachings are all about: Why do we suffer from pain? How can we use the pleasure of a concentrated mind to lead us to even greater ease and wellbeing?
Often it's best not to analyze the issue too much in advance. You can read the books on jhana or vipassana, and then try to impose the words on your experience. And of course your understanding of the words comes from where? It comes from ignorance. So that takes you away from your direct experience, away from this very private matter of why the mind is causing itself suffering, how your intentions are causing suffering.
So instead, try to approach the meditation from a standpoint that's more familiar: How do you feel right now? Which ways of thinking about the breath, which ways of letting the body breathe, lead to pain and a sense of constriction? Which ones lead to a greater sense of openness and ease? Start from your immediate experience and branch out from there. That's the way Ajaan Fuang used to teach meditation. He'd have people get in touch with their breath. He'd use a few analogies and similes, and then he'd listen to the words they used to describe their own experience of meditation, when the breath felt "sticky," when it felt "solid" or "dense," when it felt "full.
For instance, one of his students would talk about the "delicious breath," so Ajaan Fuang would start his instructions to that student by saying, "Get in touch with the delicious breath. In this way, the meditation is not something imposed from outside. It's something that develops from your own inner sensitivity. Then somewhat after the fact, after you've had some direct experience with it, you can read the books and begin to relate their terms to what you've experienced.
Even then, though, it's always best to take those terms and use them as post-it notes, for as you develop your inner experience further, your understanding of the inner terrain is going to change. You may have to move some of those notes around. This is a much more trustworthy way of approaching the meditation than trying to fit the mind into a mold based on your understanding of what somebody else has written or said. If you do that, it takes you away from your direct experience, from your own sensitivity.
And there's always that element of doubt: Does this really qualify as what they're talking about? Whereas if you approach it from the other direction — "If I do it this way, how does it feel? Now, your sensitivity may not be refined enough to see subtle levels of stress, but there's no way you're going to see those subtle levels until you deal with the blatant ones first. And it's a natural matter that over time, as you get more familiar with the breath, more familiar with the way the body feels from the inside, your powers of sensitivity are going to develop.
You pick up things that you didn't notice before, both in the breath and in the way the mind relates to the breath. This way you keep the meditation very direct. It's your own private matter. Ajaan Fuang once said that he didn't want his students discussing their meditation with anybody else aside from him. When you talk to other people, they have their ideas, they have their preconceived notions. Maybe they know something about meditation, maybe they're very wise, but that in itself is a questionable thing. You don't know how experienced they are, how much they really know.
Secondly, you may start taking their words and trying to fit them on your own experience. If you don't have enough inner experience, it's very easy to get messed up. Even when they simply ask you a question, the way they frame the question already embodies a certain viewpoint. And that viewpoint may be questionable. So keep your meditation a private affair. After all, the suffering you're causing yourself is a private affair, something nobody else can see. Even when we live together day in and day out, each of us is making a lot of decisions that nobody else here will know.
We may see some of the outside effects, but the actual experience of suffering — your suffering, your pain: You're the only person who can feel it. And you're the only person who can know which little decisions you make from moment to moment to moment. That's what you want to learn how to observe. So try to develop your inner sensitivity as much as you can, so that you can make sure your decisions are going in the right direction.
The intentional element here is to try to minimize suffering as much as possible. This is why breath meditation relates directly to the sublime attitudes we chant every evening. This is your front row seat on the question of how to bring about more happiness. This is the being you have the most direct impact on. So if you learn how to be kind to yourself in the way you breathe, it's going to be easier to be kind to other people.
If you see that there's some stress and suffering inside, have some compassion for yourself. Try to breathe in a way, try to relate to the breath in a way, that minimizes that stress. When you learn compassion for yourself inside like this, it's a lot easier to feel compassion for others outside. The same with empathetic joy and equanimity: When the breath is going well, appreciate it.
Enjoy it. As for the uncomfortable things in the breath that you can't change, you've just got to watch them for a while. The word for equanimity — upekkha — actually relates to that quality of just watching, looking on. In other words, you see that this may not yet be the time to do anything, but you never know when the situation will change, so you just keep watching, watching, watching, until you detect things.
And even here the breath helps a lot. It gives you a foundation from which to watch. As you're staying with the breath, you're in the present moment. Simply being with the sensation of breathing helps pull you out of a lot of your thoughts, that ongoing committee discussion in the mind. If you're with the breath, you're like an outside observer on the committee meeting. You're not necessarily pushed around by the voices in the committee. In that way, you're in a better position to see, "Is this the time to exercise goodwill? Or is it more the time to exercise equanimity, compassion, or empathetic joy?
So these two types of meditation — the meditation that develops the sublime attitudes and the meditation on the breath — really come together like this. The breath gives you practice in the proper attitudes and puts you in a position where you can see which of these four attitudes is appropriate at any one time, always taking your inner experience of stress — something you're most intimately related to — as your touchstone. That way, your knowledge is not just words. There's a direct experience underlying it all. As your skill is being developed, you're growing more sensitive to what that experience is, and more honest with yourself about where you're still causing yourself stress.
Your experience of stress is your only proof of whether the meditation is working, and even then it's reliable only if you're honest with yourself. You may want to look for an outside authority to verify things for you, but that leads to the question of who out there is awakened, who is not. You may have some ideas, you may have some intuitions, but you can't really prove anything about what's going on outside.
Your only real proof is what lies inside. And until you make the inner proof as clear and as honest as possible, you'll have no proof about anything at all. So this inner sensitivity, something totally private to you, is what you're trying to develop here. That's where you start; that's what helps keep you on the path. And of course, this sensitivity doesn't necessarily have to be here only while you're sitting and meditating.
Try to keep in touch throughout the day with your inner experience of what you're doing and what stress is or is not arising as a result of what you're doing, the little choices you make inside. Try to carry that awareness around as much as you can, in all your activities. Make that your first priority. When you act, act from that point. When you speak, speak from that point. When you think, think from that point. In that way the meditation becomes timeless. Ajaan Fuang once made the comment that our lives are often chopped up into little times: time to eat, time to talk, time to go here, go there, do this, do that.
Instead of having more time when life has more times like this, everything gets chopped up into little tiny pieces and becomes less.
But when you make this inner sensitivity as continuous as possible — you breathe in, let the body breathe out if it wants to, but you don't have to force the breath out; breathe in again, breathe in again — that inner sense of wellbeing can grow. Then as you carry it through the day, it becomes solid. It may take time to focus on it, time to get a sense of what helps it, what doesn't help it. But the sense of inner refreshment that comes: You want that to be as continuous as possible.
The more continuous it is, the more strength it develops. The more resilient it becomes, the more you can rely on it, even in very difficult situations. This involves unlearning some old habits. Society often teaches us to give all our attention to things outside. What happens of course is that we lose touch with our own inner sensitivity. We become strangers to ourselves. So reintroduce yourself to this inner sensitivity.
Open up this area of your awareness, and be as sensitive to it as possible. In that way the meditation will grow in an organic way — not from words imposed outside, or ideas imposed from how you understand the words outside, but from a direct experience of what's actually going on inside. What works and what doesn't work, what's skillful, what's not, where there's stress, where there is no stress: These are the questions that only you can observe and only you can know.
And they can be answered only by a very honest sensitivity that's always willing to learn more. Ajaan Lee sometimes talks about not being aware of the breath in the whole body. He sometimes recommends focusing on one spot and just staying right there. Some people, he says, find it too distracting to deal with the breath sensations in the different parts of the body.
As you're thinking about your hand, your arm, or your leg, other thoughts related to hands, arms, and legs might sneak in and carry you off someplace else. He compares this to starting an orchard. If you plant your whole orchard all at once, using all your resources, you may find that you've overextended yourself. You're faced with a drought for several days, the trees all die, and you end up with nothing. In cases like that, it's smarter to start out with one little area and to focus on planting just that, caring for that.
Say you plant a mango tree. You care for it for a couple years, and then when they give their first crop of mangoes, you collect the seeds and plant them. The same with the second crop. That way you gradually enlarge your orchard until you fill your whole plot of land. So if you find that focusing on the breath here and there in the beginning of the meditation gets you distracted, just focus down on one spot and stay right there. Tell yourself: You're not going anywhere else.
You may want to use the word buddho to help keep things under control. But just use one spot in the body: It might be right between your eyes, the middle of the forehead, wherever you feel is closest to the center of your awareness in the body. You stare right down, right there. The one warning is that you not tighten up around that spot. Think of the area as being open and free flowing. In other words, the blood can flow in, the blood can flow out. Energy flows in, energy flows out, but you are not moving.
You're going to stay right here. No matter what happens, you're going to stay right in this one little spot. That can gather the mind together and keep it there. You're not trying to take care of too many things at once. Other people find that one spot is not enough. In that case, you might want to try two spots. There was an old schoolteacher I knew who had come to meditation late in life.
After she retired, she went to stay at Wat Asokaram. She found that the easiest way to get her mind down — she told me once, well before I was ordained — was to focus on two spots: one right between the eyes, the other at the base of the spine. She'd try to keep both spots going at once. In her case, she said, it was like connecting the two poles of a battery. As soon as the two poles were connected, things lit up inside. That enabled her to get the mind into concentration really quickly. What all this shows is that concentration is an individual matter.
Different people find that their minds settle down in different ways. And there's room in the practice of concentration for you to experiment and see what works for you. There's no one ideal method that's going to suit everybody, and the whole purpose of the concentration is for the mind to settle down with something it likes, something it finds interesting. The iddhipada, or bases for success, basically say that concentration will succeed by stressing one of four different qualities. For some people, it's fired by desire.
For others, persistence, the energy of stick-to-it-ividness. Other people find that concentration works best when it's based on the quality of intent, when you dive in and give it your entire attention. Other people find that analysis works. It's by analyzing the breath, by making it interesting — and finding that it really is interesting, the way the breath energy flows in the body, how it can be very different from what you might expect, by playing with it, by experimenting with it — that you find yourself absorbed in the present.
Not because you're forcing yourself to be there, but simply because you get interested, just as you can get absorbed, say, in painting a picture. As a child I used to find that drawing would have me absorbed for hours. I'd be working on a drawing and I'd have no sense of the passage of time. It'd be time for dinner before I knew it. And the same can work in your meditation as you learn to analyze the breath. You pull yourself into the present moment not with any force, but simply through the power of your curiosity.
Some people, though, find that analyzing things like this gets them distracted: You start thinking about the breath, and then you start thinking about your stomach, and then about the doctor who looked after your stomach, and all of a sudden you find yourself thirty miles away.
In that case your meditation may succeed based either on the desire to stay here, or the effort to stay focused on just one spot, or being intent on one spot, or on two spots, whatever you find works. So there's room for experimentation; there's room for you to learn what works for you. Keep this in mind as you practice. Sometimes you've got to use your ingenuity. As Ajaan Fuang once noted, all the elements in really well-balanced concentration are there in the seven steps in Ajaan Lee's instructions. The problem is simply that different people will find different steps to be the ones that really pull them in.
Once they've been pulled in by one of the steps, they've got to balance out the other ones. Ajaan Lee talks about finding your one spot in the body and staying focused there, but some people miss this step because it comes after the steps that tell you to explore the breath throughout the body. But the steps don't have to be done in sequential order.
Think of them as different component factors of concentration. You may have to start out with just the one spot. Once that's established, you can develop the other components. In other words, you stay focused in your one spot and then see how it's related to the area right around it. Then radiating out from there, you look at the areas right around that, until you've got the whole body in your frame of awareness, even though you're still really staring down on the one spot.
You can't help but be aware of the body. In other words, you don't totally blank out the rest of the body. After all, the purpose of concentration is to be aware all around as a basis for discernment. Discernment can arise only when you're aware all around. If your concentration is the sort that blocks things out, it's not going to be a good basis for discernment.
You won't see unexpected connections. You'll have huge blind spots in your range of awareness where all kinds of things can hide. So one way to start is to go right for one spot and then gradually expand from there. But if you find that too confining, if the mind rebels against being forced into one spot, you can have it range around your body. Notice how the breath feels in the toes, how it feels in the fingers, how it feels in the arms and the back, how your posture effects the breath, how your breath effects the posture.
In other words, use the meditation as an opportunity to explore. This is one of the good things about the breath as a focal point for meditation. You can use it both as an object to stare at and as an object to analyze. If you find that the mind needs more tranquility before it's going to get anywhere, okay, you can just settle down and be very, very still. It's almost like you're not even watching the breath.
You're more focused on the direction in which your awareness is beamed. You're preoccupied with just keeping the beam steady. The one danger you have to watch out for there, of course, is that you might clamp down on the blood circulation in that spot. So watch out for that. Allow things to come in and go out, but you stay at that one spot as consistently as possible. But as for the connections you can see when you use the breath as an object for discernment, they're infinite.
We were talking earlier this morning about name and form and how they play a role in the arising of suffering. Well, they also play a role in the path leading to the end of suffering. You've got form, which is the form of the body, the four great elements, and the breath is the most prominent element. You've got perception: whatever perceptions you have of the breath, whatever ways you have of conceiving the breath.
That's an effective way of getting the mind to settle down: simply by holding that perception in mind. You pay attention, which is another element of form. You've got the intention to stay. And then you've got the feeling that arises when you try to create a feeling of ease. In other words, instead of allowing these things to happen willy-nilly, you try to bring as much awareness and clarity to how they function in bringing the mind to stillness.
So these elements — which if left to their own devices based on ignorance would lead to suffering: You're now playing with them, all the while being very aware of how they interact.
Along with not being happy at my job. My Immortal fan fiction. The Secret of Roan Inis 5. The king said, "Okay, I'll give him another cloth and other things in addition" — a cloth and a horse and an elephant, all kinds of stuff. The bank officer says the bank will need some kind of security for such a loan.
This is one of the best ways of learning their interactions: by playing with them. You adjust your attention or your intention and see what happens to the feeling. You change your perception, and see what effect it has on the mind. What we're doing is to take the basic causes of suffering and to bring as much awareness to them as possible — specifically awareness in the form of the four noble truths: Where is there stress, what are you doing that's causing stress, and what can you change to make the stress go away?
You start with blatant levels of stress related to how you're sitting here breathing, trying to get the mind to settle down. And then from there, you grow sensitive to levels that are more and more subtle. You're here right where all the action is. It's simply a matter for you individually to figure out exactly where you can get your first handle on these issues.
Establish that as your beachhead, and then from there your understanding will begin to spread out. There will come times in the meditation when you begin to think that just being very still right here is kind of stupid. Nothing is going to happen. And you wonder what else is there to do next. Well, ask yourself: Who says that it's stupid? Why do you need to push the "what's next"? Those are perceptions right there. Right there you've got some issues you can work through. Everything you need to know for the purpose of putting an end to suffering is right here.
Just bring a lot of alertness to it. A lot of mindfulness to it. And notice what works for you in getting the mind to settle down. That's how insight arises, by seeing what works. That's the way the Buddha tested all of his insights: Did they work? In other words, he was looking for pragmatic truth, the knowledge that would make a difference. As for truths that wouldn't make a difference, he just put them aside. He was very single-minded in his quest.
Whatever was necessary for putting an end to suffering, he focused on that. Whatever wasn't necessary, he might know it but he didn't let it clutter up his mind. As he said in describing his Awakening, he learned the equivalent of the leaves of the forest. What he brought out to teach — in terms of focusing on the issue of suffering, its cause, its end, and the path to its end: That's just like a handful of leaves. But it's precisely the handful you need.
If you were to make a comparison with medicine, there can be lots of medicine in the forest, but just this one handful is what you need for your specific disease. As for the other leaves, if they're not helpful for your disease, why bother with them right now? The mind has this disease of ignorance, craving, greed, anger and delusion. And if we don't take care of it, it's going to fester, going to cause a lot of suffering for a long time to come. So focus on the leaves that will cure it. As for the other leaves in the forest, you can pay attention to them after you've got this specific disease cured.
So everything you need to know is right here. It's simply a matter of paying attention. See which perceptions work, which perceptions don't work, which ways of paying attention work, and which ones don't, which intentions work, and which don't. Just by exploring these issues, you can learn an awful lot about the mind — and make a big change in the mind as well.
Once, soon after I had first met Ajaan Fuang, I had a dream. In the dream I was visiting Ajaan Lee's monastery. I had never been there, but in the dream they had a big museum several stories high. I had the choice to climb the stairway or to climb a ladder up on the side of the building, going straight to the top floor, and I chose the ladder.
I wanted to go straight up to the top. But as I was climbing, the ladder fell down. Fortunately I was caught. The problem was that the ladder wasn't leaning against anything solid. At the end of the dream I found myself at the door again, having to contemplate going up the stairway.
That's when I woke up. And that's pretty much a story of how my practice started: A lot of things happened very quickly those first couple of weeks with Ajaan Fuang but then they all unraveled, and I had to start back at the beginning, step by step by step. This can sometimes be discouraging. It happens to all meditators. Sometimes by fluke we happen to hit something very advanced — or at least it seems to be very advanced — in the meditation and then it all unravels right before our eyes.
At first it can be encouraging, but ultimately it turns discouraging as we see the defilements we're still living with in our minds — that those quick, flashy experiences didn't actually make much of an impact.
The follow-up work seems a lot less glamorous, and a lot of people give up right there. But it's important that you don't give up and that you don't look down on the situation where you are. Don't get discouraged, because wherever you go, those are the issues you have to deal with, that's the situation you have to address. If you don't deal with it now, you have to come back to that same situation all over again, and sometimes it gets worse.
So the proper attitude is that whatever issues arise in the meditation, those are the ones you have to deal with. Don't compare them with where you've been before in the meditation, or with the issues you'd like to be dealing with now, or where you want the meditation to go. Most of us would like to be magically beamed up to a higher level of concentration or a higher level of insight.
But it's often the case that our refusal to look at the situation in our minds right now is what's preventing concentration and insight from arising. So look at what you've got. Look at where you are. Don't pass judgment as to whether the problem you're facing is elementary or advanced. It's the problem you're facing. It's the problem that has to be dealt with. Bring all your powers of attention to bear right there. And be glad that you've got the opportunity to practice. Don't view it as drudgery. A lot of people are in situations where they have no inclination, have no idea what the practice is about.
Or they may have an idea and the inclination but they don't have the opportunity. Here we have the opportunity. We've got the inclination. We have some idea of what the problem is all about. These opportunities are rare to find. So the teaching on acceptance means accepting where you are. It doesn't mean that you accept that you're going to stay there forever.
You simply accept that this is the situation you're facing right now. Whether it's something you like or not, whether you find yourself attracted to it or not, that's not the issue. The issue is: Are you willing to work with what you've got? That willingness is an important element in all levels of practice. It starts with our willingness to help other people, and goes on with our willingness to practice the precepts. This volunteer spirit is an important part of training the mind. That's what it's all about: realizing that you've got to put energy into it if you're going to get anything out of it.
When you're willing to take that first step, make that first gift of your energy, that's where the practice starts to grow. Without that attitude, it doesn't go anywhere. All we can think of is what we'd like to get out of the meditation, but before you can get anything you have to give.
As for generosity, sometimes people look at what they've got and they'd like to be able to give much more. They'd like to make a more impressive offering, but their means are limited. So they have to content themselves with giving limited gifts to begin with, but the momentum builds on that. Sometimes the little gifts bring the greatest reward. Ajaan Fuang liked to tell the story of a man and his wife who had only one upper cloth between them. They each had a cloth to cover the lower parts of their bodies, but only one cloth between them to cover the upper parts of their bodies.
That was back in the days in India when you didn't go out of your house unless you had two pieces of cloth around you: one wrapped around your waist, the other over your shoulders. Because they only had one upper cloth between them, they'd have to leave the house at separate times. If one was going out, the other had to stay at home. They were that poor.
One night they heard that the Buddha was going to be giving a talk, so they agreed that the husband should be the one to go. The talk was basically on the rewards of generosity. The husband kept sitting there thinking, "This is why I'm so poor. I haven't been generous. What have I got to give?
All I have is this one cloth, and if I give this I won't be able to go anywhere. But if I don't give this, what can I give? I won't be able to give anything at all. It was originally supposed to be a short Dhamma talk, but it went on and on and on until midnight. The king was in the audience, lots of people were in the audience, and they were wondering why the Dhamma talk was going on for so long.
Finally around midnight the man stood up shouting, "Victory! He was going to give the cloth to the Buddha, so he went down and gave the cloth. People in the audience wondered who this was, and why he was shouting "Victory. The king said, "Okay, I'll give him another cloth and other things in addition" — a cloth and a horse and an elephant, all kinds of stuff.
One of each. And because the man was on a roll, a generosity roll, he gave all those things to the Buddha, too. So the king upped the ante — gave him two of each. The man gave all of that. The king kept doubling: four, eight, finally sixteen. At that point the man decided to keep eight of each of these things — eight pieces of gold, eight pieces of silver, eight pieces of cloth, eight horses, eight elephants. He gave the other eight to the Buddha and went home with his remaining eight.
The lesson of the story is that a small gift by a person of little means translates into a lot more in terms of its rewards than a large gift from someone of large means, because the first gift requires more of a sacrifice. The same principle applies in the meditation. When things aren't going well, you have to make a sacrifice of your pride, a sacrifice of your likes and dislikes, and get down to dealing with what's actually happening in the mind.
Only when you're able to make that sacrifice can the rewards come. In the beginning they may not be all that impressive. You may not get a piece of gold, a piece of silver, an elephant or whatever, but you do make a step, you see a slight change in the mind. That's much better than just sitting around being discouraged.
So whatever the issues you're facing in your meditation, be content to deal with them, because those are the real issues, the genuine issues you've got to face. They may not stack up against the things you've read about or the things you've experienced in the past, but a little solid progress is much more valuable than all the quick and flashy special effects out there in the world.
Ajaan Fuang sometimes had students who would come to sit and meditate with him for the first time and gain visions of their past lives or of heavenly beings. Some of his older students felt jealous and discouraged by that. Here they'd been sitting and meditating for months with nothing special happening, and this person comes in and has all kinds of interesting things going on all at once. It often happened, though, that the quick and flashy students didn't last very long.
When the visions stopped, when there was no more entertainment, they left. It's the steady progress that makes all the difference, that turns out to be the winner in the end. So sacrifice whatever attitudes get in the way of looking at the issues staring you right in the face, because those are the genuine article. They're right here. They're not abstractions. Instead they multitask, shortchanging their health! Not Good! Eating on the run including inhaling your food may seem convenient, but in the long run, it may be just one more factor leading to an early demise.
There are also some foods to avoid like chocolate see links worth noting below. Physicians are all too quick to write an Rx, but please consider some alternatives. In addition to chewing your food, there is a great herbal remedy from Gaia Herbs called Relfux Relief I make no money promoting this product! Yes, answering emails has become a chore. Yes, the new Ipad is a sensation particularly with color , but all of these activities take time, and there is only so much time in the day.
No app is ever going to change this. We still only have 24 hours, 8 of which we are essential for sleep. People, in an effort to have more screen time, are shaving off minutes, even hours off of precious sleep time. One of the first rules in time management is to see where precious time is slipping away. Procrastination, while still a time robber, has taken a back seat to tech time also known as screen addictions. Life imitates art as people become cast members of TRON falling into cyberspace and not being able to get back out easily. The art of subtraction suggests to start cutting back on those things that steal time away from you each day.
Rather than adding something new to the mix and feeling choked at the end of the day, be emboldened to subtract something that is stealing time from your life and quality of life. Stress Tip for the Day: Time to start subtracting. What are your time robbers? Who are your time robbers yes, they can be people too! Do you multitask eat dinner while checking email or talk on the phone while surfing the Internet?
Take inventory of your life and see what are the real time robbers in your life. The make a plan to create heathly boundaries to pull the reins in on your life. Here is one of many links: www. Photo for the Day: Not a photo, but a powerful image of trying to control time. After smiles and a bear hug, we sat down to talk and got caught up on our lives. In an effort to get to the bottom of the problem, she was sent to a Lyme Disease specialist in Connecticut smart move.
In a matter of days the diagnosis came back positive. Lyme Disease, a bacterial infection thought to be carried and transmitted by deer tics, can mimic a great many health related problems, including fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and a great many others.
While your body is fighting this bacterial infection, unrelenting waves of fatigue are draining to mind, body and spirit. It can become a vicious cycle, because stress specifically cortisol can decrease the efficiency of the immune system, thereby making it harder to combat and rectify the problem. According to Dr. Lyme Disease is now recorded in nearly all 50 states. If you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid, Crones Disease, arthritis or any other disease that involves aches and pains or if you know of anyone who has , consider having a test done for Lyme disease.
Even then, consider finding an expert on Lyme Disease starting with physicians in Connecticut, who know this disease well. The Internet is chock-full of information. Here are some recommended web sites. It is not just tick-borne; it can also be transmitted by other insects, including fleas, mosquitoes and mites — and by human-to-human contact. And, except when it is diagnosed at a very early stage, Lyme is rarely cured by a simple course of antibiotics. Photo for the Day: It seemed only natural to include a photo of a deer today since the primary carriers for Lyme disease are thought to be deer tics.
From what little research I have uncovered, this disease was initially diagnosed in Lyme, CT, hence the name, though cases have been reported in all 50 states. This mule deer was photographed outside my front door last year. In a stress filled world, people can take themselves WAY too seriously. Here are some jokes to get you on your way.
This is the bell curve of life: At age 4 success is… not peeing in your pants At age 12 success is…. A lesson in high finance A gentleman walks into a bank in New York City and asks for the loan officer. The bank officer says the bank will need some kind of security for such a loan. So the gentleman hands over the keys to a new Rolls Royce parked on the street in front of the bank. Everything checks out, and the bank agrees to accept the car as collateral for the loan. While you were away, we checked you out and found that you are a multimillionaire.
Watson go on a camping trip. After a good dinner, they retire for the night, and go to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Hourologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.
Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe.
What does it tell you, Holmes? Ring the door bell and run like hell. He hates that. The statue arrived in the mail today. Much better than a statue, however, are some of the accolades from viewers of Earth Songs that I would like to share with you. For those of you in the Boulder area, there will be a command performance screening on April 8th with live music from some of the musicians who recorded tracks for the films score, contact me for details at brianlukes cs.
I am really enjoying it. As a stage IV cancer patient, it brings me lots of healing and relaxation. It is gentle touch of the hands and feet. She indicated it was being played in hospitals and for hospice. He speaks very little. My patient was totally mesmerized with the DVD. He watched the DVD during the whole session. It worked very well. The images are beautiful and the music very calming and relaxing. I also use this for myself at the end of the day and find it very relaxing and calming after a very stressful workday.
They are also very good for stress reduction. For those of you who might to take a peek at the trailers, please clink on or cut and paste the link below. During dinner with a good friend of mine last week, the conversation turned to her family. I was quickly briefed on the status of her three grown stepchildren, the youngest of whom has serious anger issues and problems with substance abuse. Years of family counseling appeared to provide no relief from the quagmire of conflicting personalities and childhood wounds.
Simply stated, we are here to learn to love unconditionally this is no small task. But what happens when somebody wears the label of victim and sabotages all efforts for a healthy relationship with violence, abuse and childish behavior? Strong physical boundaries allow the space for healthy emotional boundaries. Once these physical boundaries are in place, this might include sending cards and short letters rather than any kind of get-togethers. Loving from a distance means keeping your heart open, but protected so than no harm may enter. You cannot disown your family when alcohol, drugs, in-laws, violence or other factors become toxic to your heart space, but you can keep a healthy boundary and express love from a distance.
Stress Tip for the Day: Find minutes today and sit quietly focusing on your heart space. Breath in and out as if the inhalation and exhalation originate from your heart rather than your mouth or nose. As you exhale, send a thought and feeling toward someone whom you feel has become toxic to your emotional environment.
If it helps, imagine a rainbow from your heart to their heart. Photo for the Day: While hiking the Inca trail last year, I took this photo of a man looking down over the valley to the next range of mountains. Athletes, movie stars, debutantes, politicians. We live in a celebrity culture where names and faces repeatedly grab the headlines, often as a distraction from more important news.
An interesting poll was taken recently of young people who were asked what profession they would love to have. They might want to aim their sights a littler higher, in fact, much higher. Giving your power away goes well beyond celebrities. Empowerment is the cultivation of your inner resources to accomplish personal goals and reach for the stars rather than reading about others who did themselves. Empowerment, as a stress management skill, is in short supply these days because people eagerly give it away.
Stress Tip of the Day: Are you someone who gives your power away? How many of your conversations center around the lifestyles of celebrities?
How much of your time and energy is focused on professional sports or the Hollywood elite? Polititicans even.? Spending time with tabloids and talk shows might be entertaining, but are you giving your power away to the celebrity culture? Does your self-esteem need a booster shot? Time to take stock of your life and redirect your energies inward. The world needs heroes, not celebrities. It is the moment of euphoria when a goal is achieved.
This truly is empowerment. I caught this moment while doing some winter hiking with a friend recently …. Calamta Olives on pesto cover pasta. Sharing a great conversation with close friends. Walking the beach at Hanalei bay, Kauai. The scent of balsam pine needles. An early morning cup of Earl Grey tea.
Downhill skiing at Copper Mountain. The Big Dipper. Discovering a new piece of great classical music. The best definition of emotional well-being suggests that it is the ability to feel and express the full range of human emotions, and to control them, not be controlled by them.
Today many people ARE controlled by their emotions, primarily the stress emotions of anger and fear. This is not good! Name your joy! Stress Tip for the Day: OK, so… start naming your joy. Begin by making a list of all those things that bring a smile to your face and a glow to your heart. Include one from of each of the five senses and be as specific as possible. When you get done be sure to include at least 10 things , post this list somewhere where you can see it regularly e.
Naming your joy is the first step to living your joy! And… its funny. I had the pleasure to see the movie, The Return Home , over the weekend. Photo for the Day: One of my many joys is surfing in Hawaii. The cover story of the National Geographic magazine several months ago was cause for alarm. Not only does cit night light block our view from the stars and cause havoc with migrating birds, it affects humans as well. City lights that illuminate the night skies for miles on end are thought to be related to disrupting our circadian rhythms and the growing epidemic of insomnia across the country.
Perhaps equally at fault is the amount of time spent in front of computer screens be it laptops or smart phones. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, a pea sized part of the brain, located in the center of the head. For eons, the pineal gland often called the third eye has been associated with sleep.
Although as of yet, no formal research has been done, there is speculation that abundant computer screen time in the night hours also throws off the delicate balance needed for the pineal gland to do it job properly. Also consider not using your computer hours before bedtime same with the cell phone. These and other factors such as removing the TV from the bedroom, not using your smart phone to bed, etc.
Photo of the Day: While I was looking for images for this bog entry a picture I took of the Milkyway was runner up this photo off the web seemed to really drive home the point of night sky brightness. Did you ever hear about the numbers of policemen who contracted testicular cancer from the use of radar guns to catch speeders? Years ago, Dr. Robert Becker came out with a landmark book called Cross Currents , where he espoused the dangers of power lines and their connection to cancer.
Since the advent of cell phone technology many experts have noted the possible dangers of cell phone use with brain cancers and other health-related problems. Here are the facts: Cell phones emit an ELF micro wave that is incompatible with the harmonics of human physiology. Initial symptoms include headaches, insomnia and general fatigue. There is a HUGE experiment going on with cell phone use, and sadly there is no control group for this data collection.
While cell phones surely promote convenience, the real question is at what cost? Specifically at what cost to your health. The biggest concer is the number of children who use cell phones. One cannot ignore the danges of micro wave energies at close range to the human brain! Use your landline phone for all other calls. Cordless phones are considered equally bad. Texting may be better than cell phone calls, but radiation is radiation.
Do your best to minimize your exposure to cell phone radiation. Become educated on this matter see links and book list below. Cross Currents , by Robert Becker 2. Disconnected , by Devra Davis 3. It is very easy to dwell on the negative. The ego loves to find fault within and without. Negativism abounds everywhere in the form of complaining and whining these days.
Perpetual negativism quickly becomes a label you wear on your forehead: I am a victim! Victim consciousness is rampant in our society, but for every complaint there is a bright side to look at. There is a silver lining to every grey cloud. Yes, there is much in the world that is positive, much in the world to celebrate!
All it takes is looking at the world through a different pair of lenses. One of my colleagues, Ilan Shamir, has turned his advertising executive skills toward making the world a better place. We have much to be grateful for, much to be appreciate of. Gratitude is a perception that is easy to adopt. Give it a try. Can you thing of ten things that went right? Sure you can. Make a list— start with 10 things. Start with the obvious: breathing some people cannot do this easily , walking with two legs, having three meals to eat, having a roof over your head.
Add to this list things you ARE grateful for. At the end of each day before you lay your head on the pillow, come up with ten more things that went right today. Take nothing for granted. Let this be the lens in which you choose to see the world. Here is a link to his site. Photo of the Day: I was in New England last weekend, clear up through yesterday speaking at several conferences.
Despite the cold, I went out with my camera on day because I saw these beautiful red berries on a tree and just had to get a better look. Once again, we will skip the theory and move straight to the application for today. If you qualify for Senior Discounts this is the code for you. Sorry — Gas! Remember the quota of optimal laughs per days is 15, so once you find something funny, keep looking for the other The Mafia gets points for having the best restaurants.
Ireland is a country rich in culture, history and music, yet there is a mystical essence that cannot be described in words. It must be felt in the heart through the landscape, the music, the stories and the land itself. It is this essence that we will capture on the Spirit of Ireland Journey. We will visit and hold healing ceremonies at the Drombeg stone circle County Cork to the Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren region of County Clare and a great many sacred sites in between. We will also enjoy the beauty of the Irish culture and the spirit of Celtic traditions found in the music—LOTS of great music!
The southwest region of Ireland is renowned the world over for its stunning beauty and Celtic charm. People often say that traveling to Ireland is like stepping back in time to a land steeped in rich culture, history and spirituality; a less rushed lifestyle in a magical setting, where people meet you with a smile and a twinkle in their eye. Who Should Come? Any and all people interested in a spiritual adventure to the Emerald Isle, specifically those who wish to travel with like-minded companions and healers interested in participating in a magical journey of Celtic spirituality, Celtic music and Celtic history.
Our local tour guides are the best in Ireland and know exactly how to create the magical alchemy we desire for a most memorable experience. Space is limited to 22 beautiful like-minded souls. Consider joining us…. And…here is a partial list of recommended movies to get you in the Irish mood: 1. Waking Ned Divine 2. Into the West 4. The Secret of Roan Inis 5.
My Left Foot. May the sun always shine on your window pane, May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain, May the hand of a friend always be near you, May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you, May your blessings be many to the sunshine above you May your life bring you gladness and always, God love you. Photo of the Day: One stop on our tour is to St.
Celtic lore recognizes the sacred feminine, and St. Brigit symbolizes this, just one aspect of our healing journey. Have you noticed how easy it is to forget things these days? People who use GPS devices often become too reliant on them for second and third trips to the same place, rather than committing the route to memory. Google, the bottomless pit of information, makes retrieval so easy that people often fail to remember what they looked up knowing they can return to look it up again.
Spell check is has made everybody lazy spellers. And…anyone who has lost their cell phone call tell you the horrors of not committing phone numbers to memory. As it turns out, memory, particularly short-term memory, is one of the first casualties of stress. Everything else is deemed useless. This in turn, can create more stress, and the cycle just keeps turning. Memory, more specifically, memorization, is just one facet of mental well-being: The ability to gather, process, recall and communication information. Is your youg life filled with senior moments?
Time for some mental gymnastics! Memorize your credit card number. Memorize lyrics to a new song or a favorite poem. There are stories of people in survival situations who tapped into the power of memorization e.