Posted in events

Paper Airplane

Last night I took my seven year old stepson to meditation with me. I don’t take kids to meditation unless they ask to go. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that would NEVER take a child to a meditation event and I do understand that. But I believe that, as mindful parents, we should share the practice with them if they’re interested. Some people believe kids can’t really get much benefit from meditation practice and I really disagree with that. A long time ago I used to teach meditation to kids. Sometimes I think about doing that again.

Anyway, he was determined to attend. I don’t know why. There are four children in our house and he’s the only one that seems interested. He has gone in the past and (to my surprise) participated in the whole meditation. An hour of sitting still is a long time for anyone, if we’re honest.

But, although he really wanted to go, he also brought some activities. He said, “Just in case I get bored.” He brought some Dogman books and a notebook for writing and drawing.

I wasn’t leading the practice. I had invited a zen monk named Thich Tam Cu to come lead for the night. He did a great job, by the way. So, I had the opportunity to just be a participant in the meditation practice, instead of leading.

Thich Tam Cu is someone I don’t know very well. He’s from the American South and many years ago he was in the United States Navy. He’s a Zen monk and hospital chaplain now. He’s student of Sunyananda Dharma who, a long time ago, was once my teacher. He’s been studying with him way longer than I did and is still studying with him today.

Whereas I decided a long time ago to take my teaching in a non-traditional direction, Thich Tam Cu did the opposite. He wore a yellow robe when he led meditation, because he wears robes when he teaches. He’s actually not as traditional as I thought he would be, but more traditional than I am. He uses humor just like I do, which I didn’t expect.

It seems like I swear and talk about memes, drinking, and how fucking hard it is to start and maintain a consistent meditation practice in all my dharma talks. Not traditional, a little different. I’d rather be your friend and inspire you than be your teacher.

Anyway, what I discovered was that his style is similar to mine. That time I spent training with his teacher may have had more influence on me than I realize. Who knows.

Maybe ‘traditional’ is just a word I’m attaching importance to that isn’t there. I’m probably not as different as I think. If I’m honest, for a second there I thought to myself, “Maybe I should get the robes out of the back of my closet…”

Anyway. I was there and we were sitting, doing a very similar practice to the one we do when I lead, presented by this monk in a very similar way to the way I present it. 30 minutes of meditation, just like we do when I lead.

My stepson sat with me a few minutes. Then he left to go across the room where he had his bag full of activities. It’s a big room, he was pretty far away.

We were sitting there doing the practice and I heard this ripping sound. Paper getting slowly pulled out of a notebook. Then, I heard some other sounds. He made a paper airplane and he was throwing it. He was, however, still being quiet, as quiet as one can be when throwing a paper airplane.

At first I thought, “Why the hell is he throwing a paper airplane? He knows what we’re doing here! He’s going to bother everyone.”

I was not mad, but I was irritated.

And I decided, since we were meditating, to bring attention to that irritation.

And I realized two things.

First of all: No one cared but me. No one even noticed.

AND
He’s seven years old. He far exceeded all expectations for a 7 year old boy, as far as not bothering anyone. Between the meditation and the discussion (which was a Q &A) we sat there for an hour. That’s a long time for a kid to be quiet and all he did was make a paper airplane. (!)

 

And that’s when I found equanimity. In truth, I was only irritated for a moment. A moment was all I needed. That’s what meditation really gives us, I think. A little extra space between thoughts, or between stimulus and response, or a chance to reflect mindfully and stop a growing irritation. This is something that happens to all of us often. Some nonsense thing happens and we make it a bigger problem in our minds that it really is. We get bothered by so many things. The poet Charles Bukowski said, “We are flattened by trivialities, eaten up by nothing.” I really like that quote.

Would I have found equanimity if I wasn’t meditating at the time? I don’t know. Everything was quiet so it was really easy for me to hear the crafting of a paper airplane. In a more active day-to-day situation I may not have even noticed, and I wouldn’t have had that expectation that I was putting on him to be quiet. And the expectation I was putting on the room to be a quiet place.

The truth is that in meditation we’re learning how our minds work. We’re learning to see those gaps between thoughts. And when we learn how to do it on the cushion, the hope is that we strengthen those pathways in our minds so we can also do it when things happen off the cushion. The training we get in meditation is supposed to help us when we’re not meditating.

Otherwise, why are we doing it?

So, that’s my story.

A real and personal lesson. The gaps are really important. The space between thoughts. If we can get handle on that, we’ll be a lot happier.

 

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You can listen to me on:  The Kansas City Meditation Podcast

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

 

Posted in videos

What is Equanimity? (video)

Equanimity is our ability to be okay with what’s happening, to keep it together when things are hard.

Further reading:

Equanimity in Adversity

Addiction to Preferences

The Constant Chaos

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Visit my YouTube Channel to hear  Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast The Kansas City Meditation Podcast

Posted in videos

Hakuin and the Accusation (video)

Hakuin was a zen teacher in Japan in the 1700s.

further reading:

Hakuin and the Accusation

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Want to come meditate with me? I’m at Ubuntu Village Monday nights at 7pm. Meditation Practice, Support, and Encouragement. 4327 Troost, Kansas City, MO.

Visit my YouTube Channel to hear  Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast Scharpening the Mind

Posted in mindfulness

Problems

Sometimes we really want to fix things that simply aren’t in our power to fix.

We try to change people that don’t fit our view of how they should be. We try to change things that are none of our business, even when we don’t have any ability to change them. When we make things into our problems, that makes us unhappy. Many things aren’t our problems until we make them so.

I want to suggest that we can look at things another way. We can try to learn how to see problems as opportunities, as chances to make things better. Of course we do have real problems and there are serious problems in the world. I”m not talking about those as much as the problems that we make ourselves.

But, in regard to those real problems. We can make a thing out of it and let them sap our well being. Or we can try to come at the situation from a place of inner peace. We have this within us and if we can direct our energy from this place we can face whatever we have to without making problems worse.

Part of our practice is coming to realize we have this peace, this stillness and silence within us. We just have to learn to see through all the noise that’s in the way.

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Want to come meditate with me? I’m at HDKC Monday nights at 7pm. Meditation Practice, Support, and Encouragement. 4327 Troost, Kansas City, MO.

Visit my YouTube Channel to hear Dharma Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast Scharpening the Mind

Posted in zen

Hakuin and the Accusation

A zen story:

A zen teacher named Hakuin lived in a small hut outside of a village. He had a great reputation and was liked by all.

One day a poor young woman in the village became pregnant and lied to her parents. She told them Hakuin was the father.

After the baby was born this young woman’s parents took the baby to Hakuin’s hut and said, “you got our daughter pregnant! You must take care of this child. We can’t afford it!”

They were very angry.

Hakuin said, “is that so?”

And accepted the baby, raising it as his own in his small hut.

This woman had ruined Hakuin’s reputation. People thought he was a wise and virtuous teacher and suddenly they didn’t think that anymore. They thought he was a creep. No one would be coming to learn from him any time soon, he obviously couldn’t be trusted.

And he just responded with patience. He could have responded with anger. He could have aggressively denied the accusation. He could have called the young woman crazy or evil. Would that have worked? Would they have listened to a denial? Who knows.

Instead his attitude was just, “Okay, I guess I’m raising a child now.”

He took care of that baby for over a year. It’s said that he took really good care of it. He borrowed milk from a neighbor and fed and clothed the baby, caring for all it’s needs, raising it as though it were his own.

A year went by and the young woman confessed. The baby’s father was a fisherman or something.

The parents came back and apologized to Hakuin for ruining his reputation and giving him the baby. They said they’d take the baby back since it wasn’t his responsibility.

And Hakuin said, “Is that so?”

And he let them take the baby he had cared for. This must have been hard on Hakuin. He had plenty of time to bond with this child and then he had to face what a lot of foster parents have to face. He had to just let the child go.

So, Hakuin can teach us something about how to handle drama. He was attacked and he handled it with humility and stoicism. He didn’t even worry about his reputation, he just did what had to be done.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Seven Factors Of Enlightenment

This is one of the oldest Buddhist teachings.

These are the seven things considered most important qualities in helping us on the path.

Buddhism is full of lists because lists are easy to remember. This is one of the most important lists and it’s emphasized in just about every Buddhist tradition. You’ll notice that some of these are related to one another, and that’s okay.

Mindfulness is an awareness to the reality of things. It is considered an antidote to delusion. It’s a clear and relaxed awareness of what’s going on around us. It involves being in the present moment instead of distracted remembering the past or thinking about the future.

Investigation involves investigating the Dharma for ourselves. The Buddha said, “Believe nothing no matter where you read it or who said it unless it agrees with your common sense and observation.” He was suggesting that we aren’t practicing the Dharma because he said so, but to see if it works for ourselves. The Buddha really wanted us to think.

Diligence represents not giving up. I tell people that the easiest thing in the world is not meditating. I’m at home early in the morning and no one is around and I have to make the choice to meditate. I could easily not do it and watch Netflix. In the modern world, we have millions of ways to distract and entertain ourselves. But I cultivate the quality of diligence. It means not giving up, pursuing the path with determination. When I was a kid I remember teachers talking about a quality called stick-to-it-iveness. I didn’t believe that was a word and I still don’t. But, that is the same thing as diligence.

Joy represents positive thinking. If you are excited about chanting a mantra or meditating, you are using the factor of joy. We aren’t practicing Buddhism because we think we are supposed to. We are practicing to transform ourselves, to transform our suffering and to bring some contentment to our lives. That is something to get excited about.

Tranquility refers to our ability to relax. This is important on the Buddhist path because if we have a lot of anxiety about the path, that can cause problems too. So, the cultivation of Tranquility represents our ability to manage our stress and anxiety. When we take a deep breath when we are upset or angry or nervous, we are engaging Tranquility.

Concentration is our ability to focus. When we count our breaths during meditation, that is Concentration. We are trying to keep our minds on our breathing. When we really strengthen our ability to concentrate, it gives us real insights into our lives. But, it is something we have to strengthen over time. Improving our concentration obviously helps us in a lot of other ways such as focusing on something we have to study for school or some new project at work.

Equanimity is probably the deepest one of the seven factors. It represents facing the difficulties of life without getting needlessly attached to them. When something bad happens and I get stressed out or angry about it, I am often making the situation a lot worse. If I face a problem with Equanimity, then I am not letting the problem be bigger than it is. We have a tendency in our lives to make things bigger than they are. Equanimity is our ability to resist that.

So, these are the Seven Factors of Awakening. My favorite is diligence. What’s yours?

Posted in Uncategorized

Cultivating Joy

How do we transform our lives to bring us closer to equanimity and contentment?

Sometimes it’s hard to be joyful. We can’t be happy all the time. Life is full of suffering. But, real joy comes from a sense of contentment, from accepting our lives as they are in each moment.

When bad things happen, we sometimes stick to them like glue. One bad thing can happen during our day and we can hold onto it all day, even for several days. It can continue to affect us for a long time after the situation is over.

How do we commit to a joy practice?

We should set a daily intention and remind ourselves to be open to it.

We can start with a daily affirmation: “May I be filled with joy today.”

And then we can extend it to: “May all beings be filled with joy today.”

We talk a lot about compassion in Buddhist practice, but we may sometimes forget that in a Buddhist context compassion applies to how we view ourselves and our suffering too.

It’s not about creating feelings that aren’t there. It’s about appreciating the little things in our lives that are good and becoming content. It’s about accepting things as they are instead of attaching too strongly to our wish for them to be different. It is so easy in life to focus on the negative.

Sympathetic joy also helps.

It’s a feeling of joy we can experience when something good happens to another person. We have to set our intentions to do this as well. We can tend to be full of jealousy sometimes and this doesn’t serve us. If we can be joyful about good things happening to others, that increases our joy a great deal.

We can also cultivate gratitude. Spend some time thinking about what you’re grateful for each day. So much of our sadness is simply from not appreciating what we have already.

Posted in lists

The Four Immeasurables

The Four Brahmaviharas, or Divine Abodes, are often translated as ‘the immeasurables’ or ‘the ‘immeasurable minds’.

When these four qualities are cultivated they are said be a powerful antidote to negative mind states.

These teachings are found in several different Buddhist texts, including the Metta Sutra.

A very similar list is found in the non-Buddhist spiritual text “The Yoga Sutras” by Patanjali, which was written a few centuries after the rise of Buddhism.

The Brahmaviharas represent a method for engaging life in a positive and enlightened way, a way that helps us avoid suffering and encourages peace and happiness. They represent a way to overcome our ego.

They are:

Metta (lovingkindness): this is benevolence and kindness. It signifies wanting others to be happy and succeed. It’s often easy to wish for success for our friends and relatives, not to mention ourselves. But, in this case we’re trying to extend this to all beings.

Karuna (compassion): this is wanting others to be free from suffering. It’s easy to say we don’t want others to suffer, but it must be mentioned that this includes people we don’t like as well.

Mudita (empathetic joy): this is celebrating and being happy when others are successful. Congratulating people and telling them we’re happy for them is normal. It’s something we’re taught to do, I think.

Upekkha (equanimity): this is learning to weather the storm of life, learning how to accept loss and gain, success and failure. This might be the most difficult one. It’s certainly hard to keep an even mind when things aren’t going well. It can be so easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged.

In the Metta Sutra they’re listed this way:

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes;
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes;
May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss;
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

In the Visuddhimagga (path of purification) written in the 5th century by Buddhaghosa, he explains the Brahmaviharas as things you take on for yourselves and then cultivate for others around and then spread out your view to encompass all beings.

you can listen to a guided meditation based on the four immeasurables here:

 


 

 

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*another version of this article appeared on Patheos