Thursday, July 18, 2019

Three Wonderful Books

     Short quotes from 3 exceptionally useful books:

     “When nothing is needed from the object* to fill up my lack, it can be just what it is … no longer frustrating because there is no longer anything lacking in me that I need to project as something lacking in my world.” 
        David R. Loy. “Lack & Transcendence. The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism." Wisdom Publications, 2018.

     Loy's book is a detailed, slightly scholarly examination of our universal gnawing sense of "lack" - not being enough in some irritatingly impossible-to-resolve way: not good enough, not smart enough, not rich enough, not attractive enough, not happy enough, not secure enough, etc, etc. BUT Loy explains what, from a Buddhist perspective, we can effectively do about this.
     *"Object" can refer to people, animals, things, activities etc. we crave for, try to possess, try to hang onto, etc. in a futile (materialistic) attempt to resolve this sense of lack.

     A series of simple exercises presented in the next book, by Weber, show us how:
“a) thoughts are about the past and future,
b) thoughts are unpredictable and beyond your control,
c) most thoughts contain the I,
d) trying to not think is difficult,
e) thoughts are continuous,
f) you can’t predict your thoughts,
g) you have thousands of random thoughts,
h) your thoughts come from and go to emptiness,
i) your 'I' is a changing cast of ad-hoc characters.
     These insights are critical to having the mind see its nature and, amazingly, and fortunately, begin to unravel itself from its craziness.”

       Gary Weber. “Happiness Beyond Thought. A Practical Guide to Awakening.” iUniverse Inc, 2007.

     Weber's book is super-concise, straight-to-the-point. It's especially useful if you've already done a fair bit of reading about awakening, yet remain identified with your thoughts ("self-talk"). There are useful, beneficial types of thinking: such as for problem-solving, planning (vs catastrophizing), etc. The type Weber advises we learn to release is by far the most common form: self-referential internal narrative (SRIN) - obsessive, excessive self-concern - all about "me" "myself" & "I".

      “To recognize an emotion as an emotion is itself a wise response. This awareness of the truth of things, that an emotion is a mental state, offers a little bit of light. This light allows us to view the emotion wisely instead of through the eyes of delusion and ignorance. Awareness offers a pause. When we observe and accept, ‘Ah, anxiety is like this,’ for instance, we can experience an intimacy with the raw actuality of the experience instead of papering it over with thought.
     Because all conditioned things are impermanent, painful emotions are subject to change. We practice sustaining the awareness that an emotion is happening here and now. There is the object – the painful emotion – and there is the knowing of the object. Because the pain is happening here and now, it is workable here and now. The story of self begins to ease and dissolve: how I was in the past, what happened when I previously experienced this, why it is this way now, given it is this way now it will be this way into the future … all of this is just the arising of thoughts that are inherently empty and occurring here and now.” 
        Narayan Helen Liebenson. “The Magnanimous Heart. Compassion and Love, Loss and Grief, Joy and Liberation.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.

     Liebenson's book is warm, gentle AND wise. Emotional reactivity reminds us when our behavior is not quite as psychosociospiritually-evolved as we would like it to be. Maturation is a life-long journey - one step at a time ...

Fogo Island, Newfoundland

Friday, July 5, 2019

Why Cling to Bubbles in a Stream?

     It's very common, especially in our youth, not to acknowledge our limited & uncertain lifespan, and instead pretend we all live forever. Then, as acquaintances, friends & loved ones become ill & die, each one is a shock - as if death were a huge, tragic mistake, a grossly unnatural surprise. But the Buddha advised:

Thus shall you think of this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.          Buddha, Diamond Sutra

     The Buddha also advised regularly reciting and contemplating "The Five Recollections":

I am of the nature to age.
Aging is unavoidable.

I am of the nature to get ill.

Illness is unavoidable.

I am of the nature to die.

Death is unavoidable.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are of the nature to change.
There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot avoid the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground on which I stand.

     "Contemplating these recollections encourages us to awaken from denial and avoidance. The recollections offer a pathway of nonattachment and equanimity and a deeper, more sustained appreciation of this moment, now. A lightness of being emerges when we face what is undeniably so. If we take these recollections up as a practice, we are deliberately calling these realities forth instead of simply being at their mercy, overwhelmed by the thoughts and emotions they activate. 
     ... it is not a fault to get sick and to age. We are not separate from nature.
     All sentient beings, without exception, are subject to these natural laws. This body is not ultimately in our control. This body belongs to nature. Even this mind isn't in our control. We cannot choose what arises. This mind belongs to nature. What happens when a deeper understanding of how little control we really do have leads to a diminishing or dropping out of the sense of self? Old age, sickness, and death are not dukkha {stressful / unsatisfactory / suffering} if they are not clung to as I or me or mine. When we see clearly that illness and death are not I, me, or mine, the dukkha that they ordinarily cause may lessen a great deal or even cease altogether."

       Narayan Helen Liebenson. “The Magnanimous Heart. Compassion and Love, Loss and Grief, Joy and Liberation.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.

Jetty - photo by P. Michael Lovas