It seems to me that my mind has texture, like the air I breathe has texture. With texture comes a certain solidity, something tangible, something that may be perceived or experienced, and shaped. From encounters with Reality, I'm left with impressions.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Growing up (part 1)

There are several metaphors for the project that is the spiritual life. The two most common variations are, I think, the path and the unfolding of the plant.There are limitations to both of these.

The metaphor of the path likens the spiritual quest to a journey; one sets out on the path and sooner or later one arrives at the goal. This metaphor is good for clearly defining the goal, the path, and the various stages on the path leading up to the goal. The problem with it is that it's easy to overlook the fact that the traveller is constantly undergoing transformation, and that the person who initially set out on the path will not be the same as the person arriving at the goal.

The metaphor of the unfolding plant, or growth, corrects for the missing transformation in the path metaphor, but suffers from not having a well defined goal and even less defined stages. One could argue back and forth between these, but ultimately they are complementary. In fact, both are "true".

However, I'm not interested in writing about this right now. A few weeks ago, on a Thursday evening, a friend of mine was giving an informal talk on the topic of the Spiral Path, a progressive path of positive states of being that spirals out of the twelve links of conditioned existence depicted in the outer ring of the Wheel of Life.

The Spiral Path starts of between the links of Feeling and Craving, a place in the twelve links sometimes referred to as "the gap". This is the only place in the cyclic round of conditioned existence where we have the opportunity to change our habitual response to our experience. With the manifestation of Feeling (which is the hedonic tone, the immediate positive/negative/neutral response not affected by cognition, that arises on Contact, the preceding link), we habitually respond with Craving. Craving in this sense covers both attraction and aversion, so we respond habitually by either moving away from or towards whatever caused the contact (or whatever we associate with the contact).

Habits, though, may be changed, and with awareness we may be able to recognise the futility of the habitual reaction and to avoid going around the endless wheel of re-becoming. This is the start of the Spiral Path.

This train of thought continues in another article which I'll write another time, and then I'll connect it with the title of this two-part article series.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Silly Putty

The mind, it occurs to me, has some of the quality of silly putty (a silicone polymer-based toy); if I push at it too forcefully, it stiffness, but if I move it gently, it moves without resistance. Most peculiar...

This is most obvious in the Mindfulness of Breathing meditation (a.k.a. Anapanasati) where if I force the mind onto the breath or any other sensation of the body, there is a sort of hardening of the perception which, if ongoing, might even give rise to physical stiffness or head-ache. On the other hand, if allowing myself to just be present with all sensations of the body, including the breath, in a more receptive way, then the quality of the experience is much softer and fluid.

This is not really a surprise to me, it just that I haven't put it into words before. It seems obvious to me that forcing one's focus onto an object will somehow create a stiffer experience which more often than not is counter-productive to reaching deeper stages of absorption, whereas a more relaxed approach allows me to reach further, but I hadn't really thought to give mind itself this quality of a viscoelastic liquid. Of course, mind is not a liquid, but my mental perception of it runs parallel with the physical perception of working with such a liquid.

In the Metta Bhavana practice (the developing of Loving Kindness), the difference is most pronounced for me when, on one hand, I work with well wishing (which is "active" and requires more input into the practice, which is more like forcing the mind to focus in the Anapanasati practice), and on the other, when I work with something like patience or allowing (both are Metta-ful intentions but less active and allows for a more receptive practice).

Anyway... this just occurred to me as I was leading a meditation drop-in session at the Cambridge Buddhist Centre.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Returning to this

So, I'm back after two years of silence. I'm preparing some posts to try to bridge the years. Patience.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Śraddhā (faith)

Three types of faith, or three aspects of faith, covering three aspects of being, and three types of responses:
  1. Trusting faith (emotional), "it is important"
  2. Lucid faith (cognitive), "it is meaningful"
  3. Longing faith (volitional), "it is worthwhile"
The three types of faith are (I believe, but my memory might be wrong) traditional, but the connection to the emotional, cognitive, and volitional is that of Sangharakshita's.

The things in quotes are what I have distilled as my own response to each of the types (or aspects) of faith. I was using these three phrases, that is, this is important, this is meaningful, and this is worthwhile, to describe that which I experienced as my response to faith long before I ever knew about the division of Śraddhā into these three particular categories.

Making these connections felt almost like assembling many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Friday, 6 August 2010

State of mind

Freedom is a very abstract thing.

I read somewhere in one of the many books on ideology, political philosophy and democracy that I've been reading during this holiday, that freedom (or it might have been democracy, they seem to mean the same thing to many, and most of the authors were liberals) is a state of mind.

It seems like a reasonable thing to say. Likewise, going for refuge is a state of mind, not merely an intensity of external practice.

It's too late in the night to continue thinking...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Holiday in France

I'm getting back to writing after three months of not writing very much at all. In fact, I haven't even had decent time or space for reflection at all, and it's only due to this one-week holiday in France (with my partner and her sisters, mother, and a friend) that I've been able to stop and think for any substantial length of time (while the girls have been exploring the countryside).

It's interesting (scary) to notice how easily my energies are diverted. Extra responsibilities at work uses both time and mind-space previously available for reflection, study and other Dharma practices. Fortunately, the pressure from work is slowly decreasing, and this together with a planned solitary retreat in early September are the reasons I don't worry, at the moment. I hope to be back with my ordinary work load towards the end of the year.

It seems as if solitude and retreat are necessary conditions for intensification of practice, at least for me. For the future, I will need to make sure that I give planning for times of solitude the same weight as planning for other retreats or holiday.

Without the depth of practice that I know I can have during and after a time of solitude, my time feels wasted, which in turn makes me feel frustrated and agitated. It is enough to know that I've wasted much of my life wandering aimlessly, without any purpose, from one thing to the next. To know what needs to be done, and to not have the time, space, or energy to pursue it, is far worse.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The dream of the mobile phone

Another dream that I had during the Anapanasati retreat (on the night between the 5th and 6th of April):
I dreamt that for some reason or other had to turn on my mobile phone. I might have had to send someone an important SMS or something. In turning it on, it proceeds to receive all queued-up text messages and emails.

With a sense of frustration I realise that every message is being presented to me at once. I cannot see which ones of them might be important and which ones are not. In fact, can't even tell one message from the other,it just a blur of letters and graphics.

I woke up and spent a good 10 minutes feverishly thinking about how to go about sorting it all out, until I realised it had been a dream.

Be well!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Notes for meditation interview 5/4-2010

On the Anapanasati retreat, we had meditation interviews. These were opportunities to talk to an experienced meditator for 10 minutes every evening as a way of asking questions related to the practice, and to have the opportunity to verbalise experience, concerns, and other things that arose during the day. This was the only talking that we did during the silence of the retreat.

I usually took notes during the day. These would serve as the starting point for the interview in the evening. These are notes for the interview on the 5th of April that I jotted down in my notebook:
Dull in the morning.
Possibly too much sleep.
Cold and uncomfortable, sinking.
Restless shrine room.

Dullness leaves, replaced with alertness.
Happy and content.
Full of energy, but still settled.

Starting to feel the flow of the practice, how one stage leads into the next stage.
Finding the contemplation of vedana liberating.

The practice is so much simpler than what I thought!
Need to build on Just Sitting.

That is all.
Be well!

Monday, 3 May 2010


Ok, so I can't properly recall the story behind this one, but I found it most useful in meditation. It was mentioned during the Anapanasati retreat in early April. The thinking around this is my own, but the initial story was similar.

When meditating, try to meditate with grandpa-mind (or, as it may be, grandma-mind).

We usually meditate with mind of a worried parent, watching our children run around and cause all sorts of havoc, anxiously on the tips of our toes ready to intervene if the play starts to go badly. The children are our thoughts, and our thoughts come, go, and run around, just like small kids sometimes do.

Think of how grandpa would watch the children play and run around. He would not care too much about what they got up to. He knows that he doesn't need to watch every turn of their play and that they won't hurt themselves too badly, if at all. He can sit contently in his chair (smoking his pipe, as mine used to do), possibly just aware that when the kids are picked up to go home, or to be taken to bed, as they eventually will be, it will once more be quiet.

So, don't worry about your thought and worries, planning and memories. In meditation you can sit safely knowing that they will come, go, and maybe stay with you for some time. It's all right.

It's not only about you

On the Anapanasati retreat a month ago, on the 4th of April, our teacher (Satyaraja) related a story about someone going to Bhante Sangharakshita with either a question or an experience, I can't remember which or any details about the exchange of words, but it doesn't matter. The crux of the story was the response from Bhante: It's not only about you.

Now, it's not only about me just happened to be one of the attitudes to Dharma practice that I have found most helpful. As someone who struggles with being too wilful, keeping this phrase in mind focuses me on the real purpose of Dharma practice, which is to work towards the liberation of all beings. I found that constantly reminding myself about this simple fact gave rise to śraddhā, and with śraddhā there is no hindrances whatsoever in Dharma practice.

This is from my notebook:
Practicing the Dharma is not only about me. The Dharma is bigger then me. It existed before me. It is more profound than I can imagine.

Therefore, I should reverence the Dharma. I should make myself available to it so that it may work itself out through me.

Is this what is meant by going for refuge to the Dharma?