Low self esteem

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London palm. Wisdom radiates and pulses throughout the cosmos, straight into my heart. 

Sometimes during contemplative reflection I become utterly disgusted with myself. I amaze myself that I allow myself to think and do certain things, that, when I look back objectively, I am stunned at myself.

Having low self-esteem is not healthy, of course, and meditation is usually not thought of as something to make you feel worse about yourself! lol.

Confronting our true selves can be hard. It is painful to accept we may not be the person we want to believe we are.

Ultimately, our true self is not ourself, and although we must have individual responsibility, we can never bear the load alone, no matter how isolated that burden may feel.

(I must say that sometimes during meditation I become utterly elated with myself… and although this may feel super awesome, it has its own dangers… mainly of reinforcing the illusion of my own self ego, but that’s a whole other story!)

Seeking

leaves, green, photosynthesis, growth... what thoughts arise in an attempt to seek meaning of  experiencing 'leaves'. What remains when we let go of our seeking thoughts?

Leaves, green, photosynthesis, growth… what thoughts arise in an attempt to seek meaning of experiencing ‘leaves’. What remains when we let go of our seeking thoughts?

Our ears react to vibrations in the air and our eyes react to photons. Our nose reacts to chemicals as do our tongues….They do not seek these things, they simply experience them as they come and go. What is there for them to seek beyond this?

Only the illusion of our mind seeks meaning. The eyes see light, the ears hear sound, the mind … does it covet this information or does it let it go?

You know, it will come back if we need it… our minds build cages and build foundations and towers from the coveted information, transforming them into a grand illusions.

In Zen, we say, when we see a green light, we go, and a red light we stop. When the dishes are dirty, we wash them and when we are hungry, we eat. What about our minds? When we think deeply, we think deeply, when we don’t think deeply, we don’t. It doesn’t matter if we are smart or dumb…but are we wise?

Let us let the brain do what it does without the cages we have built up over the years. Zazen meditation… it isn’t to better oneself, to gain insights, or even to experience Enlightenment. It can be see as a tool, a diamond tipped tool with the finest blade. It cuts to the core of our house of cards in our minds. When we cut out the illusion we created of our own selves, who remains? what remains?

Our cages can be built as quickly as we tear them down. It is like land in New York City… you tear down an out-of-date building but it is replaced, with something you assume is better. The real estate in our brains is too valuable to not rebuild on! lol. Buy hey, what happens if we don’t rebuild? Can we focus on that moment? Do we see the rebuilding occurring? We can! We Can! So, WHO is rebuilding it! I didn’t authorize that! What is going on?

Practice? Sure.. But When?!

Don't wait for the pile to go down before you Practice... The pile is your Practice!

Don’t wait for the pile to go down before you Practice… The pile is your Practice!

Sometimes life gets so busy that we may feel as if we need to ‘clear our plate’ before we can begin to focus on our spiritual development.. or any other development for that matter. ‘How can I have a clear, single-mind when I have 8 different things I need to keep in the forefront of my mind… I have to pick up that prescription, buy groceries, book the car in for a tune-up, sort the kids clothes that no longer fit, fold and put away the laundry, and on and on and on…..’

And if and when we get to those times when our plate is actually clear, we may tend to want to just chill-out, put our feet up and read a good book or watch some tv..

So, our Practice, our development, goes stagnant.

We can brush this off with reassuring thoughts… ‘well, I have been too busy and I deserve to simply rest’..

I remember reading a long time ago about a story of a Zen center in the Far East. It was in a busy city, I believe, and there were lots of car horns, traffic, sirens and the rest making lots and lots of noise outside. And in the evenings when it got a bit quieter, feral cats who had made a home under the monastery would make a huge racket themselves, with fighting, playing, mating and the rest.

So, thinking we need a quiet environment, a quiet place with no responsibilities looming over us, to meditate properly is, well, something we need to overcome. There will never be a perfect time to practice, never be a perfect place to practice. And if there was a perfect place and time, then great, but our minds just might think too much about how perfect it is! Lol.

So, our lives may be hectic, but it is in those hectic moments that our practice may mean the most… and also those moments may in fact be the best time and place to actual do our practice.

Hair grows naturally on your head…

Blossoming

Blossoming

…Unless, of course, you are bald. 🙂

Now,

Flowers blossom without trying. They already know what to do. When the circumstances are correct, the unfolding of events which is a blossom, occurs without effort.

What actually takes effort?

Only our thinking minds require effort.

If we let go, effort disappears. Then even the most impossible situation is effortless to approach.

Prostrations

Love, gratitude and faith.

Love, gratitude and faith.

The other night, after meditating in my living room, i looked up and my eyes caught the sight of a buddha statue I have on my fireplace mantle. I felt deep gratitude for his teachings, his love, his compassion for all beings, that I prostrated* before him, his image as a sign of my thanks, my love and my devotion. I realized it has been quite some time since I have prostrated last and I felt a sadness for this….as if I had been ungrateful to an old friend.

My cat took this action as some sort of bizarre unknown act and promptly started attacking my hands during each prostration! I simply let her do this, as it was not a real attack as her claws were retracted and her teeth didn’t dig into my flesh. It was if she was trying to figure out if I was having a seizure or something!

*Prostration is the placement of the body in a reverentially or submissively prone position as a gesture. Typically prostration is distinguished from the lesser acts of bowing or kneeling by involving a part of the body above the knee touching the ground, especially the hands. (from Wikipedia)

Mindful Yoga

What is our natural state? Is such a question unnatural to ask?

What is our natural state? Is such a question unnatural to ask?

What is our natural state? Is there even an unnatural state to discuss?

Humans increasingly are becoming more sedentary in the modern world. We evolved to be active beings, and this ‘natural’ activity keeps us functioning properly. We are not sloths after all! No matter how cool sloths are, our bodies don’t thrive this way.

Yesterday I did some yoga meditation, and was mindful of each movement and tried hard to focus my mind within each movement and also how my body felt in response to each movement. I felt my body feeling a deep gratitude, for lack of a better word, for my actions. It felt as though my body was weeping with joy with being treated with such correct function. An unexpected side effect of my movements was that in each position I would get a flood of vibrant intense colors within my eyelids. (I had my eyes closed the whole time). Each position produced a different color! It was like I was on some kind of drug! lol. When stretching upwards, deep burnt oranges and reds, when facing down, fully down, deep cosmic midnight blue, when my head was down but neck facing up, tropical neon greens. I found it very beautiful yet also distracting from keeping my focus on my movements… However, I also simply,for the most part, incorporated the realising of the colors into the meditation. I was mindful of them.

I was re-reminded how important it is to treat our bodies, not just our minds, with deep love and kindness. I hope to continue to further deepen my practicing, whether it is yoga or zazen. I am buddhist, but sometimes I am not a good buddhist, so I must continue to practice, practice and practice, building to the same intensity as if my hair was on fire. Thank you Dogen.

How important is sitting meditation?

Do we need a raft, a boat, a catapult? What is your Way?

Do we need a raft, a boat, a catapult? What is your Way?

Many Buddhists feel compelled to sit and meditate. If they belong to a particular group, meditation may be the cornerstone of the functioning of that group. Sitting is paramount. It is explained as being part of ‘The Way’ to enlightenment, if not the Way all by itself.

Yes, sitting meditation is highly regarded and encouraged and even demanded by some Buddhist teachers, and the reasoning behind this is obvious to most Buddhists, and even non-Buddhists….. Simply, the Buddha himself sat and meditated and came to realize his Enlightened nature and he kept on sitting throughout the rest of his life.

However, the Buddha never demanded that people sit, never said that sitting is the Way and never said Enlightenment is not possible without sitting. The reason to sit and meditate is to question and be attentive to this… to discover one’s true self. Sitting is the raft to the ‘other shore’, but it is not the other shore itself, and there are always more than one way to build a raft! And not even just different rafts, but sometimes there are planes and catapults!!

I think Toni Packer, founder of the Springwater Center, explained this very clearly. To quote her from her book, The Work of This Moment,:

“This work of deeply wondering about everything that is going on-wondering who and what one actually is, and whether there may actually be something beyond the endless struggles of daily life-can never be the result of any imposed outward pressure. Pressure only results in more pressure. A free spirit of inquiry isn’t the result of anything. It is there, spontaneously, when we are not dominated by systems of inner and outer control. Let me give you an example. When one needs to listen to a strange sound, doesn’t one naturally stop making noise? One cannot listen carefully as long as one is talking, thinking, or moving about inattentively. The need to listen carefully creates its own stillness. When one actually realizes how inattentive one is and begins to wonder about what is actually going on inside and out, doesn’t one have to look and listen quietly?

If one needs quiet times for questioning and attending, just as one needs food to eat and air to breathe, no outer discipline is necessary to make one do it. One simply does it. That is the beauty of it.”

So, if you struggle to meditate, find it difficult, and feel little progress is being achieved, or even if you find it easy and very beneficial… it may be wise to think about what you are trying to achieve.

Our true selves are beautiful and whole and full of wonder. This ‘true self’ may feel hidden beneath layers and layers of conditioning and barrier-ed off by walls we built to cover previous pains we have felt.. it may feel like we must experience deep hurt, perhaps, to get back to our true selves… But this is simply thoughts. Our true self is always with us, never buried, never revealed through reliving pain. Let it all go…. let it fall away and see what remains… No sitting is needed, no meditation technique is required…. Enlightenment is here now, not after you log 10,000 hours of Zazen meditation! The 6th Patriarch of Zen realized his true nature not after years of sitting, but simply hearing the words of the Diamond Sutra.

We must let go and see what remains. Sitting is just sitting, not good, not bad. Is it part of your true nature? What is that nature? Put your thoughts down and see what happens. Will you drown? What do you grasp for? Will it really help you? Just as if we are in the Ocean, our bodies naturally float, no raft is needed to be found, to be built, as we are the raft already. Only we ourselves know if we must build a raft, if we must doggie-paddle, or if we must simply float across with the current. As the Buddha said, be a lamp unto yourself. You already know the Way.

Overwhelmed.

Dragonfly, dragonfly, fly me up to the sky, drag down the Moon, bring her to me, in our hearts we shall sing.

Its been a stressful time in my life, on many fronts. Some very positive, some not so positive. I am moving house soon, and this is a welcome event, though wrapped with stress and complexities. My health has been sub-par recently and I find my brain sputtering, like a car engine with bad spark plugs. My glands are painful and I am very run down.

I am an American living in the UK and I am recently experiencing feelings of being a foreigner due to some restructuring at my employment. Although I have permanent residency here, I am still technically an alien and this might cause some issues in keeping my job. I have verbal assurances it wont but nothing in writing yet.

So, in times like these, where I have to be very focused and attentive and keep track of multiple highly important things going on, I have been keeping a quote from Pema Chodron in my mind: “Start where you are”.

I love this saying. It is so obvious, so simple, yet so full of wisdom. I am frequently feeling overwhelmed and lacking the necessary cognitive tools to navigate through this phase of complexity; however, keeping this phrase in my mind’s eye has proved very helpful and calming. Centering.

This, and also lists, many many lists!!!

Most people have times in their lives like this… very complex, very busy and feeling more than just a bit under the weather… During these times, meditation is very interesting to say the least. We see how fast our minds are racing, for me, my thoughts seem to be a collection of many many dogs, all of whom are chasing their tails…. All these thoughts going circular, never settling and just creating more stress . Clearly seeing our situation, whether calm or chaotic, is very important. My ‘vision’ is very hazy right now, due to my brain’s sparkplugs needing cleaning, so to speak, but I can see clearly that I am foggy, and that’s ok. I still know the moon is up there, behind those clouds, beyond my foggy ground and its pull, its gravity, can always be felt and I can never be separate from it, even if I tried!

My deep faith in the Universe’s love makes me smile, that, as well as coming home to my wonderful wife and my little boy, 2 years old, who now regularly is calling me ‘papa’. How wonderful!

Oxherding VII – Arriving Home

Attributed to Shubun. Photo taken from Zen Ink Paintings by Barnet and Burto.

Our flute finishes its song and our Ox finishes his dance. We have arrived Home. Our Ox’s journey is complete. We sit alone as our Ox slowly grazes lush grass nearby. Soon, our Ox wanders where the grass grows, naturally, and is no longer in our sight. We do not look for him and he is no longer in our minds.

The Earth is still and quiet. We smile at the full moon and know if we tap the ground with our finger, the whole Earth will vibrate and the icy moons of Jupiter will shatter.

Our finger stays put and is folded in our other hand as we sit in deep samadhi. Each breath we breathes creates and sustains the entire Universe. We are now home.