Thursday, May 26, 2022

Life is good

Photo by Braxton Stuntz on Unsplash

"Try to be mindful.  And let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings -- Like a clear forest pool." ~ Ajahn Chah

Life Is Good. 

I feel very calm and contented this morning. Like a still forest pool, as the man said.

The mind is such a funny thing.  I noticed my mind casting about today, looking for something to be agitated by.  The mind is sometimes like a canoe, on a lake, that wants to be a waverunner. After several weeks of crazy busy schedule, things are finally settling back down to normal. At least for a week or two. 

I have a full time "day job" that is wonderful.  A great company, and a great wise livelihood career, which keeps me busy all day.  But of course I also teach the dharma and lead meditations in many different communities, plus pursue my own dharma education, study, and practice in the evenings and on weekends. These feed me in all the moments I'm not spending with family or work, so that I can show up and do my best for both of those. The last few weeks has been busy in all of these areas.

I had a ton of wonderful opportunities the last several weeks to lead other Sangha's, lead mediations for other groups and projects, do guest blogs, and even a fun interview with an author/photographer for a book.  These things were all exciting and fun, and created big waves in my calm lake, so to speak.

My canoe-mind could be forgiven, then, for getting accustomed to them and thinking that it's normal. It happens so fast, that change.  The mind gets a taste of new and exciting things and next thing you know it's trying to live its best life as a waverunner.

But now that things have settled down, I was relaxing with a cup of coffee, just enjoying the morning weather on my front porch, when I noticed a different tone or flavor of my mind than I would have expected. Or, I guess I should say, I noticed that my lake was calm but my canoe-mind was looking for the next big wave, and the tiny ripples of it's disappointment in finding only calm pleasant waters was the subtle tone I picked up on.

I've been offering the "Right Now, It's Like This" phrase a lot with some meditations lately and perhaps with it so fresh on my mind I noticed this Canoe/Waverunner thing a little easier today, and let it settle on its own.  I found myself smiling at the mind with the same smile I had for the mischeivous squirrels eating the birds seed from our feeder, and being equally contented with the internal mischief as I was with the yard shenanigans. Feeling very grateful for both wild waves and calm waters this morning.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Guest Blog Post - The Unusual Buddha

I'm so pleased that I got to write about some of my favorite passions in a guest post for The Unusual Buddha!  Here's a link if you'd like to read (just a few of my many) thoughts on the intersection of technology and spirituality!

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Mindful Snacking

Working from home has a lot of benefits.  One of the challenges I hear from a lot of people is the constant access and ability to easily snack non-stop.  This is a way in which mindfulness can be so basic yet so incredibly helpful.  Once you have even the most basic mindfulness practice - Just enough to pause before doing something and check in to the body - you can use that to really help in a lot of ways.

You can set the intention to pause before you get up from your desk or, if - like me - you prefer to stand regularly, you can take a pause before you walk.  For me I set a few mindfulness rules that cover a lot of situations.  

  1. Whenever I walk during the workday, I walk mindfully.
  2. Before I walk, I set the intention of where I'm going and what I will do.
  3. If I eat, I check in with my body to see if I'm actually hungry.
With my Apple Watch reminding me to stand every hour, I have everything I need to keep me from eating too much during the day. 

At 10 minutes to the hour, each hour, my watch tells me I need to stand.  I treat it like a mindfulness bell and I push back from the desk, take a deep in and out breath, and stand up. Not only does this serve my health as intended but it's also an opportunity to practice a couple of minutes of mindfulness routinely which is great for rewiring the brain to do so naturally. 

Before I move I decide what I am going to do.  Bathroom? Kitchen? Step outside for fresh air?  A Combo? And once I've decided, I walk as mindfully as possible not thinking about the thing I'm headed to do, only about the steps to get me there. I don't do full zombie-walk, but I walk with deliberate intention and my mindfulness on my steps and body.

If I'm going for a snack, I do two things that help tremendously.  When I arrive in the kitchen I check in with my stomach/body and see if I'm truly hungry or just eating because I can.  If I'm truly hungry, then I check in with my mind on what snacks it wants, and then I choose an alternative that's healthier unless I really really want that first thought. I do these things because so often my body is not actually craving food but my mind is.  When we are not mindful, these two things can seem like they come from the same place. And I "test" the idea of a healthier snack because so often I actually find that I prefer the healthier option if I bother to truly ask myself what I want.  

Am I really hungry right now?
For what?
"Chips and dip."
How about red grapes instead?
"Ooh, that sounds even better!"

More often than not, I'm either not hungry or I am perfectly happy - if not happier! - with the outcome and I've integrated mindfulness several times in a short period into my day! I do have one other little trick, however.  If my body really does want food and it really does want the less healthy choice, I go for it.  I don't deny myself that choice if it was made with wisdom and discernment.  But my last little trick to help myself out is I take the smallest amount of whatever snack it is and will simply come back if I need more. This discourages eating more than I need and also what you'll find is that most often one last of something (especially when snacking) is enough.  A single piece of dark chocolate instead of three. 5-7 mixed nuts instead of a handful.  2 grapes instead of 6.  

It sounds like a lot of work, but it's all a matter of seconds and a few thoughts.  You might be amazed at how effective this all is.  Give it a shot and let me know.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

I had a timely reminder this morning that the intention, for me anyhow, is not to "lose weight" but to live a longer and healthier life. As soon as we focus on losing weight we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment any time we are "not losing weight".  "Losing weight" is diet culture - and this next part is absolutely critical - which implies a beginning and an end.  Living a longer and healthier life is a journey instead of a destination. It's not about the finish line, it's about the crossing.

If we weigh ourselves daily and those numbers inexplicably go up a bit at a time when we feel we're working harder than ever it can hit us hard in the motivation feels. We can get discouraged and science has shown us that that one negative feeling carries a lot more power than a great many positive feelings. If that sounds specific it's because it is! I weighed in several days ago (I try to only weigh myself once per week) and I had lost 6 pounds.  Fifty percent more than my estimated amount.  Since then, I've worked even harder in Supernatural as I learn to love this whole new exercise option. So today when I stepped on the scale I expected (...there's that word...) some amount of loss and instead was actually up one pound!

I immediately felt that rush of disappointment, the internal dialogue "How is that possible?! I've been working hard, eating right on target, sweating twice as much!" and because of my practice I also saw the next part arise and clearly saw it had no foundation whatsoever other than that dialogue...the doubt. I would tell you what the doubt said to me, but I let it go the moment I saw it never quite got off the ground. 

Instead I reflected on my previous 2010 success, and how that looked.  I remembered weighing myself every day and noticing the ups and downs, and that weighing daily is often very skewed.  I recalled that I focused on living a better life, not on losing weight.  I focused on how I felt each day instead of how I looked or the statistics that I saw on the scale.

Today, one pound in the wrong direction apparently, I feel fantastic! I am sore in that great "I'm working out" way. I am motivated and happy. The rest will be the fruit of that!

Cliche's are cliche for a may sound cliche to say that "it's about the journey not the destination" but it's the absolute truth and may even be the key to the whole thing, so instead of worrying about the scale every day, focus on how you feel about your efforts!

Keep it up!

Monday, January 31, 2022

There it is.

 There's an experience one can have when meditating where, as best as I can describe it, you sort of drop into the body.  This sounds a bit strange because obviously you ARE in your body, right?  Well if you've experienced this you already know what I'm talking about and if you haven't yet, and you meditate with regularity, you likely will. 

I think everyone tends to experience it differently, and different practitioners will likely try to tell you what they think it is and which practice it is a part of, or a step within.  I'll leave that to you to determine (you're really the only one who can!).  But for me I experience this shortly after the beginning of most of my meditations, when I've already settled in to my posture, spent some time with an anchor point (I use the tip of the nose), and followed my breathing for a bit. At some point I experience this "dropping in" or what I would call embodiment. There's a rush of energy through the body from top to bottom, which if it were accompanied by a sound, would sound like "WHOOOMP!".  And the peaceful feeling "There it is."

Suddenly I find myself truly in my body.  Not a bunch of slightly uncomfortable individual parts and experiences but one big whole experience together with no discernible boundaries, and then I notice a small round bright spot in the center of my closed-eye field of vision.  Before this moment, that would be a sort of liquid movement of dark shades of blue and black like when your eyes are just closed but you still see amorphous shapes of different shades of dark.  That spot stays in the center and steady and is bright instead of dark. Again, this is my experience and yours may differ. But I would suggest that the "embodiment" feeling, regardless of the specifics, is roughly similar.

I experience it as a sense of joyful homecoming.

Now...the reason for today's post is that I've now been back on the Mindful Eating and Mindful Living path that brought me to Buddhism for about 17 days (the exercise portion has been sporadic until recently) and today feels like that moment in meditation I described above, but with regard to the EvolVR implementation of my M.E.A.L.S. program.  What I mean by that is that I've been getting more and more excited about it with each day I've been back at it. Today, at day 17, I suddenly no longer feel like this is a thing that might happen...I feel like I've dropped in ("WHOOOMP!") and it's here and happening now and there's no boundaries between the ideas and parts and people involved, but rather one big unified community in it together. "There it is."

I don't have a clue if anyone else in the community we're building feels it or will just think this is super weird, but this is where I am with it today and it feels great.  I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, but I figured I'd chronicle it here.

As always, if anyone has questions or comments hit me up.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Don't Expect Applause

Really when we meditate, what is it we are doing? Much of what we are doing is training the mind. Perhaps all of what we are doing. It is said that there are 84,000 Dharma Doors or ways into the dharma, and one way is the Tibetan Practice of Lojong.

I was only introduced to it myself just this month so it’s new for me in formal introduction. But once I started studying it, it felt like an old friend. My very first thought was that it was a Tibetan version of a koan, which isn’t exactly true, but that’s the most obvious connection you might make when you start learning about it. So many of the slogans were already very familiar territory for me. I’ll come back to slogans in a moment.

So, this is just one more way to practice the dharma, and it’s a way that is supposed to be particularly effective at training the mind, hence the name “Mind Training!” It utilizes aphorisms, known as slogans, which as I said makes me think of Koans.

A teacher named Atisa is credited with its creation but he developed it after studying with a sumatran teacher for 12 years and then cultivated it beyond.  I think I read that it was developed fully over the course of 300 years. Think about that for a second…a training for the mind that was established and then honed for three centuries before being considered ready for prime time! That, to me, puts some serious weight behind it.

These 59 slogans are kind of grouped into 7 areas. And of course there’s been many commentaries done on them over the years. The ones I’m using for my practice this month are the book “Training in Compassion: Zen teachings on the Practice of Lojong by Norman Fischerand the Tricycle articles by Judy Lief, as well as the practical daily usage of Pema Chodron’s Compassion Cards, the latter of which solidified my love of this practice.

The seven points or groupings are:

  1. The preliminaries which are the basis for dhamma practice

    1. Slogan 1

  2. The main practice of training in Bodhicitta

    1. Slogan 2-6

    2. Slogan 7-10

  3. Transformation of bad circumstances in to the way of enlightenment 

    1. Slogan 11-16

  4. Showing the utilization of practice in one’s whole life

    1. Slogan 17-18

  5. Evaluation of Mind Training

    1. Slogan 19-22

  6. Discipline of Mind Training

    1. Slogan 23-38

  7. Guidelines of Mind Training

    1. Slogan 39-59

My assignment this month in my Dharmacharya program is to choose one to write about. It was a tough call because there were many that I enjoyed, and several I found challenging for different reasons. Some are difficult because the practice isn’t one I normally do (Tonglen).  Some are challenging because they’re very, very in depth. But the slogan that jumped out for me first was the last, and after reading them all and working with about half of them this month (I’m taking them one per day so it will be another month before I work through them all) I’ve chosen to write a bit about:

59. DON’T EXPECT APPLAUSE (Don’t expect to receive credit for your good deeds, just do them anyway!)

I knew when I read this one that I’ve made a lot of progress in my lifetime on this, and most of that during my buddhist practice.  But I also knew that I have a “long way to go and a short time to get there”, in the immortal words of the great sage Jerry Reed. I’ve come a long way with this slogan’s practice and I largely feel I’ve got it fairly well in hand, but I also know I have to pay close attention to it and always question not only what I’m doing but also (and most especially) why.  

It’s an ongoing practice – a mindfulness practice, really – that I must be prepared to stay with always, lest I slip into old habits of the ego. It’s a challenge I’m prepared to face for the long term, which is why I consider it the most difficult. To further quote The Snowman’s song “East Bound and Down”... I’m “gonna do what they say can’t be done!” 

Those old habits of the ego are not so far in my rear view mirror that I don’t still feel the suffering they can cause, and these days I’m watching the road ahead much more attentively than I did in the past. In my younger days, and even now when I’m not mindful, I can often fall into the trap of doing good for the sake of being seen doing good. A low form of generosity, to be sure. The highest form of giving then, is said to be that of the bodhisattva giving with an utter disregard for the benefit to oneself, only out of compassion.

The other aspect of this slogan is that it’s not limited to just good deeds and generosity, but anything at all that one does and then seeks praise or applause for.  It could be an accomplishment in one’s own life such as a promotion at work, or washing the dishes at home.  And take it from me, spouses don’t generally find it all that impressive when we do the same chores they do and wish to be congratulated for it! 

Even as I write this blog post, a portion of which will serve as my homework for the month, the irony of that is not lost on me.  Blogging is in some way a fame seeking endeavor.  Assuming you have followers or want them.  Luckily I blog solely out of the hope that it will be of some use to someone who might see it. It’s essentially a journal that I hope others may find useful. But, I must be mindful of what’s going on “behind the scenes” as I write and what my intentions are.  So it’s the intention of the blogging, not the blogging itself, that I look for.  

Do I just want to be seen as being knowledgeable about Lojong or Buddhism?  Am I trying to come off as a great and wise teacher or gain notoriety as one?  Am I sharing the dharma out of compassion for other beings in the hopes that they will find something useful in these words? Is it a mixture of all of these things?  If I’m sharing for fame and glory…why?  

Anyone who knows me would likely say that I am enthusiastic, to say the least.  And that’s the main effort for me.  I have to pay close attention to the difference between enthusiasm and bragging. I guess really it just comes down to the fact that when you do anything, be it acts of generosity or awesome feats, if you do it with the expectation of being lauded for it, you’re more firmly establishing a false sense of “I, Me, Mine” and thus missing the mark of the dharma entirely, not to mention devaluing the good deed you may have done.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Timing Is Everything

As anyone who's been here before knows...I lost 110 pounds in 2010 and managed to keep all of that off for years.  After a while I gained about half back and have been there for years.  Manytimes over those years, I have tried to get back to "Full Savor" as a regular routine. By "Full Savor" I mean back to the routine of activities that enabled that loss and maintenance. With the benefit of hindsight it is crystal clear what worked, what didn't, and what must be done.

Shoes, Phone, "Savor" book

What worked:
  • Tracking calories with the LoseIt! app.
  • Mindful Eating
  • Mindful Living (exercise)
  • Consistency (all the ways in which I supported routine maintenance of the above)
What didn't work:
  • Any combination of the above that wasn't all of the above.
When I lost weight, it was because of applying the "what worked" section above consistently for 11 months.  

When I kept the weight off for several years it was also due to consistently applying the above. 

When I gained weight back a tiny bit after several years it was because I stopped tracking calories. I gained a little bit, I stabilized, and I was totally ok with that. I was having to eat less and exercise more than I felt suited my life.  The weight I was at wasn't my goal weight but it was a great weight.  I was happy, felt great, and all was well.

When I later gained more weight it was because my exercise routine at the time involved driving to a park where I walked, but my vehicle broke down and was totaled.  It took a long time, perhaps a year, to get another vehicle.  During that time I wasn't able to reliably maintain my normal routine.  It became sporadic. It wasn't the park, but the time of day that made that work so well for me.  Eventually I was working twice as hard to get half the exercise, and weight started coming on.  Over time I got another vehicle, but had lost the diligent routine of "Full Savor" mode.

For several years now I could have gotten back in the routine but I stabilized once again at around half the weight I originally lost.  What I mean by "stabilized" is that my current healthy eating and no exercise landed me at about the halfway point and leveled off. So I got comfortable with that.  Big, but not so big that I felt unhealthy.  Don't get me wrong...I'm definitely not healthy, but I'm still significantly more healthy than I was in 2010.

Over the years I've tried to reboot the "Savor" life, that helped me so much, many times. And I've been chagrined at the lack of easy success I enjoyed the first time around.  WHY?  This is the question. As I said at the beginning, it's crystal clear now.  For the seemingly easy weight loss and maintenance that I enjoyed to occur all of the items in my "What worked" list must be present.

The thing that's not on that list is the invaluable, intangible joy and cold fusion style fuel that comes from those things all firing in sync with one another.  When that routine is in motion, a sense of pride and joy that feeds back in to that list and makes the "Consistency" part happen. And it becomes a sort of perpetual motion machine.  

But it is oh so fragile.  A delicate machine that will run in perpetuity so long as that balance is in place.  When one of those things gets a little out of whack and (this is the key) stays that way for too long, the whole things grinds to a halt.  And it is exceedingly difficult to get it running again. This doesn't mean you can't means that timing is everything.  You have to be mindful not only of your food and exercise, but of your routine.  If that routine is interrupted, you have to be mindful to get it back in order ASAP.

I've tried and failed many times over the last few years to rekindle that perpetual motion machine.  Typically it runs for a week or three, and then rambles to a halt.  I've also noticed that the time you can allow it to be down is longer the longer it's been in motion but it's still a matter of days.  For me.  Three days seems to be the norm, but when I was at my peak I could survive two weeks of interruption and still dive back in and keep it running.  Your experience might differ, but this has been mine.

So remember that it's not "Mindful Eating, Mindful Walking"'s "Mindful Eating, Mindful LIVING". All of life.  

Life is good

Photo by  Braxton Stuntz  on  Unsplash "Try to be mindful.  And let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still ...