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Five and Seven

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 25 Aug 2023, 20:19


Craving
Ill-will
Sloth
Agitation
Doubt

These are the five hindrances. The enemies of rapture.
When these five are dissolved, there is an upwelling of relief. 
This relief produces joy and pleasure in the mind.

The Buddha then advises one to spread that joy and pleasure throughout the entire body. Till it is saturated with it.

But this is hard to do when the hindrances are present. So one needs the seven enlightenment factors: 

Mindfulness --> Investigation --> Energy (aka effort) --> Joy --> Calmness --> Samhadi --> Equanimity.

These seven are the nemesis of the five, working together to seclude the mind from their influence.

The five hindrances and the seven factors of enlightenment are mutually exclusive. 
Only one of them can occupy a single mind moment at a time. 

We don't actually multi-task, we just have very fast discrete moments of consciousness. 

Each mind moment is a bit like an old fashioned movie projector, that reads one slide at a time, but goes so fast as to seem like it is all happening at once. 

Each slide of the movie projecter is like a single mind moment. A mind state.

With perseverance and effort, one keeps bringing mindfulness back to the meditation object and sustaining attention to it. This recreates the same mind moments over and over. Which steadies the mind and creates a perception of stillness. This isolates consciousness from the five hindrances. Which brings relief from the emotional stress that comes from those states of mind. 

Joy is an important ally, it uplifts us. Joy brings good energy which can help stop one getting drowsy in meditation. 

We naturally generate joy when we become interested in something. When we find something interesting, we get absorbed in it. How does one generate interest in something as simple as the breath, so that the mind wants to stay with it contentedly and doesn't wander off anyplace else?

Joy naturally leads to serenity (calmness), which is still joy but a calmer more refined joy. The excitement has settled but everything still feels very pleasant. 

Samhadi is when the mind becomes unified, all of it gathered together, collected, composed, centred. It is whole-hearted. All of you is present. The mind is happy to be meditating, and doesn't want to be anywhere else. 

The unification of samhadi naturally leads to the different energies of the mind becoming balanced in a state of equanimity. Which is an exquisite expansive state of mind. A wonderful coolness, spaciousness, emptiness, freedom, clarity. It is not dull and unemotional, far from it, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful states of mind one can experience in this life. Hard to get to though, which is a shame, because it is so useful for us. It is the mind tuned into beautiful harmony, no longer clinging. Non-attachment feels like freedom.

This state of equanimity persists for a time after meditation. Whereupon one can direct the mind towards anything and the mind will see it all clearly. 

One simile the Buddha uses is of someone looking at their reflection in a pool of water. The water symbolises the mind. Desire is like dye on the water which distorts the reflection; ill-will is like boiling water; sloth is like stagnant water; restlessness is like water agitated by the wind; and doubt is like water that is clouded with mud making it hard to see anything. Each of these stop the person being able to see their face clearly in the water. When the five hindrances are no longer present, the water becomes clear and still, and then the person is able to see themselves clearly. 

One thing I have found helpful to do sometimes after meditation, or sometimes before is to listen to a dhamma talk.This can bring insight and also rouse up the desire to practise when the inclination isn't there.

Meditation for me is a mix of walking, sitting, standing, and lying down. It is good to remember that one can meditate in any of those four postures, because it can become uncomfortable to stay in the same posture for too long. Changing postures is helpful.


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Asoka

Summary of stages in Mindfulness of breathing, anapanasati (ultra-concise version)

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Sunday, 30 Jul 2023, 16:16


This is a gradual training. 

Find somewhere secluded where one won't be disturbed.

Putting aside longing and dejection in regard to the world.
Setting aside all worldly concerns. 

One trains thus:

Mindfulness of the body

1. To begin just simply notice if the breath is long or short.

2. Then pay attention to the whole of the breath from start to finish.

3. Become sensitive to the body as you breathe in and out. 

4. Breathe calming the body. 

Mindfulness of Feelings

5. Breathe sensitive to joy.

6. Breathe experiencing pleasure. 

7. Breathe sensitive to thoughts.

8. Breathe calming thoughts.

Mindfulness of mind states:

9. Breathe sensitive to one's state of mind.

10. Breathe satisfying and gladdening the mind.

11. Breathe steadying the mind.

12. Breathe releasing the mind.

Mindfulness of dhammas:

13. Breathe contemplating change. (impermanence, anicca, dependent origination). 

14. Breathe contemplating the fading of craving. (Dispassion)

16. Breathe contemplating cessation. (of suffering).

17. Breathe abandoning greed, hate, and delusion. (renunciation).

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Asoka

Psychic weather front

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Sometimes I feel alive, enthusiastic, full of excitement and wonder. Other times I am like a flat battery that can't seem to hold its charge or see much hope in anything. Other times there's an odd mix of brain chemistry that is so horrible I can't put it into words. 

It is helpful for me to remember the brain is the body. It is dependent on conditions largely outside my control, meaning it will change. It won't always function in the way I wish it would, and eventually it will cease when the conditions it depends on cease.

That is the way of things with dependent origination. Conditioned phenomena is impermanent. It isn't gloomy to think this way. It can be a helpful tool to bring some equanimity to the mind. It helps me let go of the clinging and aversion towards things, and to stop taking it personally. Which decreases the suffering somewhat.

Sometimes difficult things happen that are outside our control. And sometimes it’s our own fault, we behave in unskilful ways and reap the kamma for it. Whatever it is, we then go and add more suffering to the situation with the longing, aversion, and taking it personally. This is the mental pain we add to physical and worldly difficulties. This is what makes us suffer.

I remember one night I got stranded on the mainland after missing the last boat back to the island. I had just completed a lengthy 10-hour journey coming back from my dad’s funeral. And I arrived at the ferry terminal late due to a delay with the coach. I felt exhausted and a bit unwell. There was nowhere to stay, and a long wait till the next ferry in the morning. So I went to sit on the beach, tried to roll a joint to make myself feel better. And I'd almost finished rolling it, when there was a huge gust of wind that blew it all away, and then it started raining. I felt like the person off the Hamlet advert, but without the cigar.

Then the day of the funeral all came back to me, and I burst into tears. It all just gushed out. I felt so lonely.

Then I saw my dad’s face in the sea. And I said I was sorry for not getting chance to speak to him before he died. I wished him well and told him he was loved.

Then the wind and rain became unbearable, so I went to find some shelter. I spent the rest of the night alternating between walking, standing, and sitting meditation.

I went through so many mood swings in that one night. Like the mind was changing, morphing into all sorts of different shapes and patterns. I was even seeing things that weren't there. It was challenging.

Through it all I tried to remain still and not get disturbed by the changing psychic weather. I just kept bringing my attention back to the breath and body to calm and centre the mind. Not engaging with anything else. Meditation felt like a refuge. There were strange eerie sounds at times like banshees wailing. (They turned out to be seabirds, the tunnel making their calls echo in ghostly ways).

 Eventually after many hours of this, the mind converged into a oneness, and it all disappeared. The psychic weather passed. Leaving behind a stillness and beautiful emptiness that I can't put into words. 

I was greeted at sunrise by a friendly pigeon watching me intently with smiley eyes. Then it vocalised a set of patterns, and some moments later another pigeon responded in the distance with a different set of vocal patterns.

The pigeon flew away. 

The wind and rain outside had stopped. It also dependent on conditions.

I went to get a coffee and my card was declined by the reader. I laughed, and the cashier laughed as well. She said that happens to her all the time, and that she keeps a supply of cash with her just in case.

Luckily, I had a few coins on me and managed to buy the coffee.

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Abandoning Tanha

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Something I find helpful as I go about my day. Is to just suddenly stop and notice how I am feeling. The mind, the emotions, the body. Whatever it feels like in this moment.

It feels like this.

It can be helpful to stop sometimes and do that. It creates a bit of space. A pause in the story. The thoughts are still present but I am not absorbed in them anymore. I am centred in emptiness. Sounds strange, and difficult to put into words. The emptiness is not a negative thing, it feels freeing and expansive. It contains everything that is happening in the moment, yet it isn't the things it contains. It is not a dry, detached emptiness. It just feels safe. If that makes any sense...

I have been reflecting a lot on the four noble truths, thinking about craving (tanha).

Craving for sense pleasure (kāma-tanhā);
Craving for existence (bhava-tanhā),
and craving for non-existence (vibhava-tanhā).

The second noble truth says that craving is the cause of suffering and gives the instruction for it to be abandoned. But that sounds a bit harsh, so I am trying to find a better word than 'abandonment'.

One way I do it is. When I notice my mood is a bit off and there is a lack of peace. I stop and inquire. I notice craving in its three aspects. Note how the craving creates a feeling of unease in the mind, a restless anxiety, fear, discomfort, yearning, and discontent. Craving is stressful.

Thoughts to do with longing, resentment and conceit are unpleasant. They don't feel good. They feel toxic and make the mind an unhappy place. I notice how craving creates tension in the mind. How it creates a feeling of lack and dissatisfaction. A feeling of compulsion. How it divides the mind against itself. How all the wanting becomes delusion. The mind gets absorbed in the stories it tells itself about the world and the things it wants, and the things it doesn't want, takes it all personally. The self-centred dream.

I notice this and stop following it. I don't judge it, or identify with it. I feel compassion for it, understand it for what it is. let it be there, and notice how it all feels without the story. How the body feels in this moment. How the mood feels. How this present moment feels. Accept it all for what it is, as it is. And just breathe in, breathe out.

Not pushing anything away, nor chasing after it. Not seeing anything as self or other. Just breathing through it. The whole body absorbed in the feeling of the cool air going into the nostrils and the warm air going out. Like when one steps out onto a balcony and breathes the fresh air, and it feels soothing. That feeling of invigoration. The body still, calm, open, and at ease. The breath energy filling every part of it. Uplifting the mind, freeing it from concerns, bringing relief.

The craving settles. The involuntary movements of the mind cease and there is peace for a time.

Then the craving comes back again.

Rinse and repeat.

But do the work gently, with good humour. With kindness. Don't take it all too seriously. Joy is part of the path too.

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Asoka

Thought herding and samhadi

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 14 Jul 2023, 13:37


I have been noticing when the mind gets absorbed in anger, greed, conceit, and delusion, how difficult it can be to let go of these negative states. They can be sticky and it takes real effort and determination to come out of them and become absorbed in something wholesome instead. 

Training the mind is not easy.

In Buddhism, mindfulness is the first of the seven factors of enlightenment: 

1. mindfulness  ->  2. investigation of phenomena  ->  3. energy (effort)  ->  4. joy  ->  5. calmness  ->  6. samhadi  ->  7. equanimity. 

Mindfulness is a wholesome state of mind, and the beginning, the first step. Even in the deepest states of samhadi, mindfulness is still present. And it is sustained mindfulness to a meditation object that leads to samhadi. 

Samhadi is unification of mind, where all the mind is brought together into convergence. A lucid stillness. Wholeness, oneness. There are different levels of depth to samhadi, known in Buddhism as the four jhanas. I won't go into the jhanas in any depth here, but there's loads of resources online about them for interested readers.

Sometimes with negative thoughts, one can simply dismiss and replace them with wholesome thoughts. Such as replacing thoughts of ill-will to ones of friendliness, compassion for example. Or one can reflect on the Buddha, dharma, sangha. Contemplate the Buddha's teachings. Recite a poem, a chant, a mantra, something that reminds one of beautiful states of mind and emotions, reminds one of the way of peace.

Then one tries to sustain the wholesome thoughts, so they grow in strength, become more habitual and deepen. In time with persistent practise, the wholesome thoughts will take up a momentum of their own and become automatic, then the mind will incline towards those rather than the negative thoughts. 

Sometimes though there are difficult thoughts that are hard to work with and dismiss. Racing thoughts, or obssesive thoughts that just won't stop. It can be hard to let go of these. In this situation it can be helpful to gradually calm the thought processes down. It is easier to generate wholesome thoughts then. Mindfulness of the breath can help with this. When the mind is calm and centred, it is easier to work with, more malleable and yieldy. And one can then direct it better and get results, bring into being a wholesome state of mind.

The way I practise breath meditation is I don't worry too much about where I watch the breath. I focus the centre of attention wherever in the body the breath feels comfortable and soothing. Sometimes it is at the nostrils, the mouth, the chest, the abdomen, lower belly, the hands, the feet, even the neck. Sometimes I can be aware of the breath, or air element in the space around the body and that feels pleasant. I keep the attention fixed there, but it is not a tunnel vision focus, like a laser beam. Everything else is still going on in peripheral awareness. Nothing in awareness is pushed away or blocked out. I simply let it all be there, and breathe through it. Sometimes it can feel like the whole field of awareness is breathing with me which calms the mind.

We have two different types of awareness that correspond to the different hemispheres of the brain. One is holistic and open, providing context to a situation, and the other is more focused and attentive to detail. They both work together. 

The attention to detail is neither too tight nor too lose, it is a bit like focusing a pair of binoculars. 

Or like holding a little bird in your hand. If you hold it too tight you will hurt the bird, i.e. give yourself a headache. But if you hold it too loose, the bird will fly away. I.e. the mind will wander, daydream or drift off into sleep.

The attention becomes more whole-hearted and more stable as one keeps engaging with the meditation object, and sustaining attention to it. Eventually the difficult parts of the mind begin to settle down, and the whole of the mind (which includes the body) gathers together around the meditation object. One feels relief and a lightness in the body and the mind, a feeling of contentment and not wanting to be anywhere else. One is absorbed then and in a flow. 

When one has mastered this, one can let go of applied and sustained attention to the meditation object. Take one's hands off the steering wheel, remove the stabilizers. And just glide on the energetic momentum, that has been built up from the repeated effort to sustain attention to the meditation object. The ego can now take a backseat and be a passenger. The mind is unified at this point and goes deeper into stillness and samhadi. Words and thoughts subside, but mindfulness is still present. It is a whole body experience, and the body will feel very comfortable and at ease.

It is not a hypnotic trance though, one knows what is happening, one is lucid and aware. A helpful guide to use to see whether you are going in the right direction. Is to notice if the five hindrances: longing, aversion, sloth, restlessness, doubt and delusion are getting weaker or are no longer present in the mind. When this happens, the mind stops feeling harrassed, and there is relief and happiness. The mind becomes still and centred, energised, calm and lucid.

There are many different meditation objects one can use to get into samhadi. But for simplicities sake I am writing about the breath. But there are times when other meditation objects are useful for me. It depends on the situation and circumstance, what feels good in a particular moment. It is all learning and experimentation.

I use the brahma viharas a lot as well. These are emotional states that can be used as meditation objects. With these, one can use phrases to bring up the feelings of loving-kindness, compassion, joy when other's are happy, or equanimity. Praying can also do it, praying is a way one can centre the mind and bring up wholesome states.

 As one becomes absorbed in the words and phrases, it will have an effect on the body. For me the sign that it is working is a warm feeling that centres around the area of the heart. The words and phrases will bring up that warm feeling of goodwill. When it is strong enough, I then drop the words and phrases and focus exclusively on the feeling of warmth in the heart area and spread that pleasant feeling throughout the whole body and radiate it outwards, fill the whole field of awareness with feelings of goodwill.

Sometimes the natural elements feel good as meditation objects, such as the earth element, water, fire, air, space, consciousness, interdependence. The perception of light can sometimes be helpful, or the primary colours: blue, yellow, red. The feeling of the inner body, the subtle body, the life force can be interesting as well. Being mindful of any of these and sustaining attention to them can lead to different kinds of samhadi. 

 One should experiment and see what works in a given moment. Take what comes natural and turn it into something supernatural. 

Everyone has to find their own way in. Samhadi is what happens when the mind is gathered together, unified, in flow. 

Use meditation instructions as a guide, they are not rules. They are flexible and it is okay to tweak meditation instructions to suit your own individual preference, one should investigate and explore what works, we are all unique, and we have all been conditioned differently, there isn't a universal one size fits all when it comes to meditation techniques. It is a bit like learning a musical instrument. You learn lots of repetitive stuff: notes, chords, scales, timing, songs, before it finally clicks. Then one is able to start making music, and create their own songs.

Also like learning a musical instrument. It is helpful to find a good teacher, if you can. Not always easy, thankfully there's tonnes of videos, talks and articles out there to help you teach yourself. 

But one on one instruction will save you a lot of time and frustration. A good teacher will work with you, adapt their instructions to suit your personality. And their wisdom and experience can steer you away from dead-ends and cul-de-sacs, as well as away from the dangers.

I am not a teacher. This blog is a diary that I decided to make public. I am a lay follower of the noble eightfold path. I like the eightfold path because it is simple and practical, and suits me well.

Whatever I write here is just my perspective and experience.

This is just how I practise dharma in my daily life. I decided to share it in case it may help or inspire someone else out there, either presently or one day in the future. 

There is currently a huge mental health crisis in society and it is going to get worse. As someone who suffers with mental illness, I want to share what helps me. One does not have to be a prisoner of mental illness. Getting well again isn't easy, it takes effort and perseverance, practice, patience, kindness and gentleness, but one can break free of negative mind states I am discovering. The practise of the noble eightfold path has helped me a lot.

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Finding the sweet spot

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 22 Jun 2023, 13:54


There's a sweet spot I experience sometimes, where there is a convergence of the mind and it becomes unified and still. It feels like bliss when it happens, but it is not always easy to get into that state and maintain it. My practise edge just now is learning how to bring my mind into that state of convergence and maintain it for longer and longer.

But without straining the mind or taking it all too seriously. Finding a middle way with the effort.

It is hard some days to keep trudging. The dark side of the mind, the kilesas (greed, hatred, and conceit), have been fighting back. They do not want to be transformed into generosity, kindness and clarity, and within my heart there is a conflict. Sometimes the whirlwind within feels like it will kill me. But there is grace I am finding. A kind being always comes to my aid from either the human or the deva realm and their loving energy keeps me steady and brings some warmth and joy to the heart which encourages me to keep going onward on this spiritual journey. The refuge of the sangha.

Buddhist cosmology describes many different worlds, and all of these can be mapped to states of consciousness. Apparently a skilled meditator is able to visit any of these different worlds, i.e. experience these different states of consciousness.  

Awareness can become a refuge from invasive thoughts. When the unpleasant involuntary thoughts appear. I turn my attention away from them and anchor it with some other aspect of awareness. Can be different parts at different times. Sometimes it's my feet, my lower belly, my heart area, my neck, my scalp, my spine, my legs, my hands, the touch of clothing on the skin or the atmosphere, a breeze, a sound, a sight, the breath, the feeling of the whole body together as one, the sense of being embodied. Fluidity, warmth, solidity. The feeling of presence. I can be aware of any of these, whatever feels good at that time. The hard part is keeping the attention anchored there, as it wants to wander and is so easily distracted; before I know it I am back in the head again.

But I know it just takes time and patience, this is the work, and if I keep practising, eventually the mind will be trained to stay centred with the body in the present moment and not get carried off by the thought processes. Then I can think when I want to think, and stop thinking when I want to stop thinking.

Sometimes there are moments when the centre of my attention becomes empty and my consciousness is content to be anchored in that emptiness while everything else continues around me, but I am not making a story about any of it, just watching the arising and ceasing of the present moment. This can happen sometimes when I am in the midst of an activity. I am still aware of the activity, but I am centred in stillness and emptiness. Flowing, while anchored in the inner cave.

Sometimes I will have an inner mind-generated sound, perhaps some musical notes that I can make clearer, and stronger by focusing on them, and this can help to pacify the thought energies. The sound grows louder than them.

Sometimes chanting a poem or a teaching that I have memorised can quieten down the thought energies and bring them into a state of composure.

When the mind is chilled out and calm, it becomes easier to think more about kindness and generosity, and to see things clearly.

Sometimes the mind finds it hard to detach from thoughts. So I have to make effort and practise bursts of single-pointed attention to compose the mind. When it becomes calmer I then reflect on the four noble truths. And insight can arise from this, which brings some joy and gladness to the mind, which in turn makes it easier to settle into meditation. 

Sometimes I have to settle the mood down in stages, gently, gradually, and review each stage, make adjustments if need be. If I am feeling even just a little bit better at each stage, then it is working and I am making progress. One has to be patient and kind to oneself on this journey, and avoid unwise attention to the fault-finding mind. Endure, keep putting in the causes and conditions.

It is a gradual training, it is hard work, can take a while, and it is not always pleasant. Some days it feels impossible. But I know if I keep making effort, keep up the momentum, practise consistently, eventually it will click and the mind will re-wire itself. Old conditioning will fall away, and what I have practised often will become my new automated behaviour and conditioning, then it will get easier. This is something I know from experience, it is true when learning any skill in life.

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Mind web

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Sunday, 18 Jun 2023, 21:40


Some cool air and rain at last. The breeze feels good.

It is pleasant converging the mind on the air around me and the feeling of it going through me. The whole body becoming filled with its cooling energy from head to toe.

The breath has become my favourite meditation object now. I practise breathing with any part of the body. Sometimes I will breathe through the feet, the hands, the spine, the lower belly, the back of the neck, the nostrils, the scalp. it doesn't matter. Whichever area of the body feels good at the time becomes my initial focal point and from there I then spread the breath energy throughout the body, going over each part in turn, till the entire body feels light and at ease. Then there is a feeling of relief, where joy and pleasure seems to naturally arise.

The focal point for the breath is a bit like a spider on a web. The spider is at the centre and sensitive to everything else happening on the web. The body and awareness of the present moment being like the web.

Every time I notice thoughts of longing, anger, or conceit. I immediately label and drop those thoughts and centre with the breath. I label the thoughts, because labelling them as either longing, anger, or conceit helps to put some space between me and them, and also trains the mind to spot them faster, which helps it get better at recognising and knowing when those states are present. 

It is getting easier to abandon unwholesome thoughts now, I can do it quite quickly. Which is amazing when I remember what I used to be like. I struggled so much with my thoughts. I got so absorbed in them and imprisoned by them, they used to cause me so much suffering. It is empowering to be able to just drop them now as soon as I notice them and not be so in the head anymore.

The challenge at the moment is keeping the wholesome states of mind going. It is like a game. I quickly swipe away the longing, aversion, and conceit. And re-converge with the breath. If I am feeling thoughtful and reflective I will incline the mind towards thoughts of love and equanimity, or contemplate the dharma. But if I don't want to think, (sometimes thinking feels tiring and unpleasant). I remain focused on the breath, and the feeling of embodiment, or on the natural elements (earth, water, fire, air, space).

It is a relief to switch thinking off sometimes and to just experience feelings as they arise and cease in the present moment without the internal dialogue about them.

I am trying to train myself to only think when I want to think. And to only use my thought processes when they are at their best. There's no point in thinking otherwise. As thinking when I am mentally fatigued, anxious or stressed is counter-productive and just makes things worse. Thinking isn't necessary to solve every problem. The heart doesn't need to think.

My main practice edge at the moment is maintaining applied and sustained attention to the meditation object for as long as I can. I make a relaxed light-hearted game out of it to keep the mind interested and engaged. Try to see if I can beat my own personal best before the mind wanders off again and starts daydreaming, then the game is how quickly can I notice the mind has wandered and bring it back to the meditation object. It can feel good to get a flow going, and it feels like it is really good for the mind to do this. I notice the difference on days when I don't meditate. Meditation really does help.

A meditation object is used to calm and centre the mind. Once one has got good at converging the mind round a meditation object and can keep it there indefinitely. The next stage is to let go of applied and sustained attention to the meditation object, and remain in the serene state of composure without needing the meditation object. From there one becomes stiller and goes deeper into samhadi. The meditation object is like a key that is needed to unlock and open the door to samhadi, but once inside one can put the key down.

Have been seeing my Dad's face a lot today in my mind's eye. Perhaps because it is Father's day. I keep sending him metta as often as I can, and sharing merit with him. I am fairly sure he is no longer in the ghost realm, which is good to know. I feel certain that he has moved on now. I also have a feeling he hasn't taken a human rebirth and may possibly be a deva now, but I am not sure. I think he might be a deva because it feels like he has gone to a good destination, but I still feel his presence from time to time, and when he visits it feels different than before. He doesn't feel like a ghost anymore, he feels like he is full of light, clear, his presence surrounded by good energy and there is peace.

In any case, my Dad was not someone who liked to procrastinate, he liked to be busy. He would not want to remain stuck in the greyhound station between lifetimes (the ghost realm). He would have been keen to move on to whatever comes next. I think once he saw where the exit was, and after perhaps a farewell to us all, he would have moved on. Bless him.

I miss my Dad. 

May he be safe, well, happy and peaceful. 






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I take up the way of cultivating a clear mind

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 10 Jun 2023, 20:27


I find myself in tears every so often. I just let them fall without trying to resist them.

It is hard to think I will never see Dad again. I talk to him on my walks in the quiet of the woods. Some part of him lives on inside me.

It is a kindness to myself to give the grief space. To hold it all without judging it, or adding any more to it, or taking any of it personally. Just flowing with it, letting it be.

 Life as it is, the only teacher.

I am learning it is okay to not know what to say at times. Sometimes being a silent presence is enough. 

I centre with the breath, and let everything happening around me be as it is. I breathe through it, flood my whole field of awareness with the breath, so it feels like the whole cosmos is breathing with me. 

When the mind is more serene I fill my awareness with love, with compassion, with peace, or equanimity. 

When not in sitting meditation. I take refuge in what is known as sati sampajanna, mindfulness of the present moment. Knowing where I am, what I'm doing. Whatever activity I am engaged in, I try to stay centred with it and with the feeling of embodiment. 

 When I notice I am getting absorbed in thoughts to do with greed, aversion, or conceit. I label them as such and then brush them aside like useless rubbish. Nonsense. Not worth investing in, or wasting psychic energy on. I let them be in the background, but I stop engaging with them, and keep centering the mind with some aspect of mindfulness instead, that feels calming.

It isn't easy. Sometimes I can dismiss thoughts quickly. Other times I have to talk myself into a better state of mind. And sometimes I have to do it gently in stages. 

Mindfulness, effort, samhadi they work together. Both in sitting meditation and in daily life.

It is difficult. But worth it in the end I am assured. Although not liberated yet, I am noticing benefits to dhamma practise, which keep growing steadily. Benefits in terms of increased peace of mind. So I am slowly but surely developing, and seem to be going in the right direction.

 The problem can be narrowed down to just greed, anger, and conceit. These are what harrass the mind. And when those three psychic irritants are absent, there is a feeling of great relief. The mind stops harrassing itself and there is peace.

 It just takes time to get there, perseverance, patience, sometimes endurance. But one day our future selves will be glad we took the time to train the mind - when it all bears fruit.

 What we practise now grows stronger and is who we become.

It is exhausting being someone, being a person. Maintaining an identity. It is a heavy suitcase we carry around. Our moods change, as does the world. And one's ego inevitably falls apart. A fragile house of cards swept up by the worldly winds.

A lot of psychic energy is bound up in the story 'I am'. 

When that psychic energy is released. It becomes unbound, limitless. Free. 

Deathless.

An energy no longer subject to conditions. Something difficult to define and put into words. To define it is to attach conditions to it. 

Anyway that's all I've got just now, and what I am currently working with in my practise.

Here's a poem attributed to the Buddha I have going through my head at the moment:

' Let not a person revive the past   
Or on the future build one's hopes, 
For the past has been left behind 
And the future has not been reached.
Instead with insight let one see 
Each presently arisen state; 
Let one know that and be sure of it, Invincibly, unshakably. 
Today the effort must be made; Tomorrow Death may come, who knows? 
No bargain with Mortality 
Can keep him and his hoards away. 
But one who dwells thus ardently, Relentlessly, by day, by night 
It is those, the Peaceful Sage has said, Who have had one excellent night. '

- the Buddha.

...


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Asoka

Calm mind

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 24 May 2023, 20:44


" What is commonly referred to as a ‘calm mind’ or a ‘mind integrated in samādhi’ is a state of inner stability that is no longer associated with the meditation object, which merely prepared the mind by holding it steady. Once the mind has entered into samādhi, there exists enough momentum for the mind to remain in this state of calm, independent of the preparatory object, whose function is temporarily discontinued while the mind rests peacefully.

Later on, when the mind withdraws from samādhi, one can focus attention on a dhamma theme (Buddhist teachings). When this is practiced consistently with dedication and sustained effort, a mind long steeped in dukkha (stress, suffering, dissatisfaction) will gradually awaken to its own potential and abandon its unskillful ways. The struggle to tame the mind, which one experiences in the beginning stages of training, will be replaced by a keen interest in the task at hand. "

- Ajaan Maha Boowa Ñanasampanno (Acariya Mun - A spiritual biography)


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Earth kasina

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 2 May 2023, 21:21


I feel a strong connection to the earth element at the moment. The feeling of it under my feet when standing or walking, or sitting in a chair, is reassuring. I feel its depth and stability. Its boundlessness in all directions beneath. It absorbs the unwanted energies of the mind without me asking it to, neutralises them, grounds me, earths me. Calms me, cools down the senses. Its ancient solidity making me feel safe, at ease, comfortable, peaceful. Like it is holding me, centring me. I become still like a mountain, unperturbed, unshaken, serene, dignified, composed.

And the breath appears in my awareness and it feels nice to centre with that whilst simultaneously resting in the stillness of the earth element, with the experience of the body from within. A teacher at a dharma talk I listened to tonight, reminded us while we sat in meditation, that the breath is always with us, wherever we are. (At least while we are alive anyway.)

The world goes on around, but I remain almost unnaturally still. Like I am made of rock, the outside of the body like the walls of a cave, my consciousness all snug and warm at the centre of my being. Serenely aware of everything happening around me and within me, holding it all without effort, and not bothered by any of it, the sensations and different energies flicker like white noise, and through it all there is the breath, which is like a tide of air going in and out of the body, entering all the different crevices as it does, filling them up with life energy. 

Sometimes the breath slows and even stops, and it isn't a problem, sometimes the body doesn't seem to need to breathe as much, perhaps because it has become so still, it needs less oxygen, I am not sure why it happens. But I am not the only one who experiences the breath stopping sometimes in meditation, it is quite a common phenomena and I have been reassured by many different meditation teachers that it is nothing to worry about. Just enjoy the stillness, the body will breathe again when it needs to. The body knows what to do.

For a time today I sat on the beach, feeling strongly connected to the Earth. I sat still like a mountain, rock steady, feeling the ground below me and within me, keeping me steady. The cool touch of the air felt pleasant in the nasal cavity and on the skin, constantly changing. The fresh air felt invigorating and refreshing, and the experience of the inner body felt exquisite. I was content to be there and nowhere else. The involuntary movements of the mind ceased and I went into an altered state of consciousness that was very pleasant and different from anything I have experienced before in meditation. I could not seem to move for a while, indeed I wondered at one point if I should move, because I could hear people walking a dog nearby, but I couldn't move at all, I was deeply absorbed. I didn't mind though. I was not bothered about anything. I was in a beautiful tranquil state of mind that wasn't a trance, but very different, hard to define, definitely an altered state of consciousness, there was no doubt about that.

The sense of self was gone. I was one with everything, the Earth, the sky, the people and animals nearby, the universe. Not separate from anything, not apart from it, there was a feeling of wholeness. I felt a great relief from all that had been troubling me before, the anxiety was gone, and I wondered why it had all been such a problem before. 

It felt like a taste of freedom. 

I am learning more and more how important the subjective experience of the inner body is. One can centre with that anywhere, live there all the time. Make it your home, inner peace.


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Meditation and enlightenment

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 28 Apr 2023, 17:20

There's a breath meditation I have been practising lately which I enjoy. It seems to have some health benefits as well, and is effective at flushing out the five hindrances (worldly-desire, ill-will, stagnation, restlessness, and doubt). When those unpleasant states of mind are no longer present, it brings a feeling of relief, and the body feels lighter, freer, and clearer. Joy naturally arises from an unhindered mind and this leads to samhadi. 

I practise this either sitting or standing in a comfortable upright position.

And, to quote the suttas, I: 'Put aside longing and dejection in regard to the world.' I give myself permission to put down that heavy suitcase for a moment. Disengage from the story of self with its longing and angst.

I become mindful of the feeling of the feet on the ground, the Earth below, feel the connection to the Earth, feel it as boundless in all directions. Centre with the perception of Earth. It's stability, strength and solidity. I feel it ground me, and absorb the uncomfortable excess energies of the mind, balancing them out. Earthing myself. I imagine roots going out of my feet into the ground below.

On the in-breath I draw energy up through my feet, legs, the torso, up the length of my spine. The energy illuminating the sensations of the body as it makes its way upwards. When it reaches the top of the head. I feel the connection to boundless sky above, and the air element all around. Then on the out-breath I release that energy and let it fall like rain, like a sprinkler or a fountain down across and through the entire body, all the way back to the feet and down into the Earth again. Lighting up the sensations of the body as it does.

On the next in-breath I rinse and repeat the instructions in the paragraph above.

I do this for as long as feels good. Then when it feels natural to do so, I stop moving the energy up and down the body and feel all the sensations in the body together at once. Feel them get more vivid and stronger with each breath.

The body at this point feels very comfortable and at ease, pleasant, and easy to centre with. The breath starts to slow, and can get very shallow, until it seems like the breath stops altogether and then there is a profound stillness that is hard to put into words, where the sense of self disappears. It is like being in a deep refuge within, a safe inner cave, where the energies of life continue around one, but one is unconcerned by them, there's a feeling of deep contentment and peace and a feeling of not wanting to be anywhere else. The mind feels unified, together, whole, but awareness is still present, one is lucid, it is not a hypnotic trance.

It wears off after a time, and then to get back there one repeats the steps above to build the momentum up again. I find I don't need to spend as long building up the momentum the second time round, and can get back easier to the stillness on subsequent goes. Each time the experience of the inner body becomes deeper and more and more exquisite.

If you get it right, you will come out of it and feel on top of the world, and you'll have a great day. Everything will feel like it's in sync. There is an after glow that can last a while, depending on how long you have spent meditating.

The after glow does wear off as the day goes on, and the hindrances return. One notices when they do, as it feels unpleasant. The hard part then is convincing yourself to meditate again.

One can keep the afterglow going for longer by practising mindfulness in everyday activity. Known as sati-sampajanna, mindfulness and clear comprehension (knowing). Where one is aware of what one is doing, the body, what sensations are present, how one feels, anchored in the inner experience of the body. But also aware of what is happening around one in the present moment with one's peripheral awareness.

We have two brain hemispheres. One hemisphere likes to focus on something in detail, and the other hemisphere is more holistic and provides context to the detail, it looks at the bigger picture, and what is happening in the background. It probably evolved this way, so that one didn't get eaten by a predator whilst focused on a task such as gathering food. One side of the brain is focused on the food, and the other side of the brain is watching for danger. Like a deer eating grass.

One can find a refuge in this mindfulness during the day, and even go into a light state of absorption and flow with it. It can be helpful to notice and play around with these two different kinds of awareness. Tweaking them so that they have a good balance that feels pleasant to work with.

There can sometimes be resistance in the mind to meditate. Some part of the mind may even try to convince you that you don't deserve to feel serenity or joy. It will insist on going over your faults and past mistakes, make you feel worthless and ashamed. Don't let that bossy part of the mind bully you. You don't have to keep listening to that voice. You are allowed to ignore the inner critic. After all it is you!

The less attention you pay to that voice the weaker it gets.

There is something called a healthy sense of shame though, that one can use as a tool to help dismiss negative thoughts if they arise, and not hold onto them. Such as imagining what a person you respect and admire might think if they saw you in an unwholesome state of mind. That can help generate the desire to abandon it and generate something more wholesome instead. No need to judge and punish yourself for having those thoughts though, that's overly excessive. Once the healthy sense of shame has done its work, stop, put the tool down and focus on the good stuff.

If you get caught up in that quagmire of negativity. And if it is strongly present in the mind, and hard to ignore. Try to bring yourself out of it gradually in stages. But don't spend too long doing it, don't engage in lengthy debates with the hindrances. Don't spend any longer dealing with them than you need to. It is like putting out the trash, you don't want to hold onto the trash for any longer than necessary, just get it done with so you can get back to the good stuff, back to the peace and serenity, to the love.

Love and serenity makes everyone feel better, it heals the world. It is actually the best thing you can do to help yourself and others. It is easier to deal with the world in a serene state of consciousness, as things won't seem so overwhelming. It is hard to deal with anything when in a negative state of mind. So it is a good thing to take some time out and retreat from the world to meditate, it isn't selfish.

In fact I am starting to think that meditation is the key to going beyond the first stage of enlightenment. Apparently people can get stuck at the first stage of enlightenment for a long time, as long as seven more lifetimes.

I think this is because the next fetters to go are greed and aversion. And these are hard to let go of. The second stage of enlightenment is all about weakening those. Greed in particular is very hard to overcome, but it is a lesser stain on the personality than aversion is.

Greed here refers not just to the extreme of billionaires, but also its milder forms, such as eating more than one intended to, craving for entertainment, sex, intoxicants, fame, fortune, luxuries and so on. The attachment to worldy-pleasures is hard to let go of, and doesn't go completely till one reaches the third stage of enlightenment. The mind won't want to let go of wordly pleasure unless it has something better to take its place. When the mind finds something better then it naturally lets go. And when greed goes, so does aversion. Greed and aversion are interlinked, they both feed into one another. They are like two dogs, one barks and it sets the other one off. There is always going to be aversion present when there is longing. Such as impatience and irritability when there are delays in getting what one wants. 

I think what weakens greed and aversion is the practise of meditation, and the development of samhadi. When meditation becomes pleasurable, enjoyable and a richer experience than anything the world can offer. The two fetters of greed and aversion will get weaker, and keep getting weaker until eventually they fall away altogether. I think the second stage of enlightenment is all about mastering samhadi.

Once one reaches the third stage of enlightenment there is no going back to greed or aversion ever again, those two fetters are gone for good and they will never arise again. At the third stage one then works to lose attachment to the bliss of samhadi, which paradoxically is needed to reach this stage. So one should not be afraid of becoming attached to the pleasure of deep meditation in earlier stages, thinking they should avoid that fetter. It is a golden chain, but a necessary one, as one cannot completely overcome greed and aversion without it. The Buddha said it was a pleasure not to be feared.

If one dies whilst at this stage, in the next life they will be reborn in the higher heavens and gain full enlightenment there, and are never again born into this world. They live extremely long lives and many of them become protectors of Buddhism, like celestial Buddhas. They are very powerful beings, and are able to visit any of the lower worlds at will and can take on many different forms. Many are compassionate beings and help those in the lower worlds who are on the path to enlightenment, including the Buddha himself on his journey. It was a deva that had reached the third stage of enlightenment under a previous Buddha who appeared before Gotama Buddha after his enlightenment to encourage him to teach the dhamma out of compassion for the world.

I think these devas/spirits work in very subtle ways though, one may not even realise they are being helped by them. They don't directly interfere, and cannot make anyone become enlightened; but they can leave subtle hints, and gently guide one's intuition, set up helpful encounters, to steer us in the right direction. And if one looks back on one's life, there are moments that are hard to explain, and one wonders if a deva perhaps helped in some way. Who knows, I like to think so.

To reach the fourth and final stage of enlightenment, the attachment to blissful states of meditation is let go of, when one sees that these states are also subject to change, do not last, and are not self, the last remnants of the conceit I am disappears. The idea of a separate self is seen through completely, and when that happens the restless involuntary movements of the mind stop altogether and they never arise again, and there is perfect peace.

The very last fetter to go is ignorance, (or delusion). When one fully realises delusion, one becomes the one who knows, no part of the mind is hidden then. One is lucid and serene, completely free from suffering, dwelling in a state of lasting emotional well-being. They still partake in the pleasure of meditation though, as often as they wish to, whenever they wish to, as it is one of the fruits of the path, one of the seven factors of enlightenment, and available to them any time they want, the Buddha continued to practise meditation and samhadi throughout his life.

A fully enlightened being also naturally shines with love and compassion for all beings. And although not everyone is able to teach, those that can teach, and have capacity for it, in the spirit of the Buddha, do teach others and it is not a chore for them to do so, it is a joy. An unharrassed mind naturally feels empathy and compassion for other beings. It is a sorrowless empathy, one that shows love to those that are suffering, but does not suffer with them. The peace of a fully enlightened being is undisturbed by anything that happens in the world. They do not cling to anything in the world. This doesn't mean they won't do things to help the world out of compassion for others, just they are not attached to outcomes, and do not suffer when things don't go to plan.

Knowing about the four stages of enlightenment can be a helpful guide to where one is at, and what work needs to be done to develop further on the path. One can look at the mind and see which fetters are still present, and what one needs to do to progress.



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Travelling through the darkness

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 21 Apr 2023, 17:35

The darkness has lifted a bit today. I've been through quite a few 'dark nights' lately, they are not at all pleasant, but I seem to be getting a bit better at managing them now. The 'dark night of the soul' is apparently a common occurrence with spiritual practice, especially in the modern age.

The advice given to me by a good teacher (which works for me). Is to avoid thinking during the dark night. Don't pay attention to thoughts, disengage from them. Get away from words and language. The dark night is not something you can think your way out of. It is a time to practise stillness and samhadi. This stillness can be a refuge for the mind during dark times, and also if one enters samhadi it acts as protection against Mara.

I like the simile of the dark night being a bit like withdrawing into the inner cave. Going back into the womb, or entering a cocoon. One is going through a process of metamorphosis, of becoming, rebirth, and transformation.

The mind is changing at a deep level, and it can feel uncomfortable and unsettling. It is a process that for some of us needs to be endured. The deeper mind is rewiring itself with important new information it has learned, and the process can't be hurried. The length of time this can take is different for each of us. So one has to be patient.

At this stage in the spiritual journey the mind doesn't need to think or reflect on anything. It's best to keep thoughts herded in and centred with a meditation object. The breath is a good choice as it doesn't need words to pay attention to it. Experience the sense of the body from within. Whatever that subjective experience is for you. For me it feels like an inner ocean contained within a bag of skin, bones a coral reef, the breath like waves. The sea growing calmer as the mind gets stiller. Till the breath seems to stop altogether.

Any thoughts not to do with the meditation object should be brushed aside like useless rubbish, don't get involved with them, no matter how persuasive they seem to be. Stay centred with the body and the breath.

This is a process of purification. Not an intellectual matter.

I like the Buddha's simile of a broken gong that doesn't ring when struck. Sense impressions, thoughts and feelings hit the sense bases, but they don't reverberate in the mind. Everything stops at the point of sense contact before it becomes a story.

It may take multiple sittings to get some serenity and composure back. Don't be discouraged by this. After each sitting notice if the mind at least feels a bit better than it did before, if it does then feel encouraged that you are on the right track and are making progress. Keep the momentum going. It will grow stronger.

Eventually, when it is finished, the mind will emerge from the cocoon and will feel freer than it did before, and the skills one has been developing will seem sharper. Things that confused one will make more sense. And one becomes more aware of the inner workings of the mind; as some of what was previously hidden will now be illuminated. 

...

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The inner cave

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 13 Apr 2023, 10:49


I am a bit fatigued at the moment, and recovering from an illness I had earlier in the week, which is getting better now. The dark night has returned somewhat. But this time it is less painful than before. Mainly because I am understanding the process a bit better now and am more aware of what is going on with the mind, less ignorant. Normally I would be depressed during this difficult mind state, but this time despite a heavy fatigue there is a distinct absence of sadness and sorrow. When it arises, the mind is quick to dismiss it and it doesn't take root. The inner critic pops up occasionally, but the mind is quick to dismiss that too. I think I am understanding now at a deep level that negativity doesn't help the situation, and I seem to be shooting myself less with the second arrow. I.e. not adding mental suffering on top of the physical suffering.


This is almost certainly because I am getting better at becoming still and centred, which I can do now even when I am experiencing bodily and mental fatigue. Without the thinking and stories we tell ourselves about our experience, the suffering decreases. One can also play around with perceptions by changing the way one talks to oneself about things. But mostly practising samhadi has the effect of calming down excess thought energies, allowing me to go below the surface level of consciousness and go deep within, take refuge in the core of my being. My inner cave. 

The inner cave I am learning is the place to go when things feel dark and one feels vulnerable and weak. It renews one, it is almost like going into the womb again, you stay there for as long as you need and when you emerge from it, it is like a rebirth. Like a cocoon. A place where the self dissolves and the energies of the world continues outside but you are still and unaffected by it all, at peace in the centre of your being. When you emerge you are different. I wonder if this is because deep mind needs to process information at times, and there isn't much for one to do in those moments except be still, and be patient while the mind rewires itself based on the new information and insights into the nature of reality it has seen. There's a time for effort, a time for doing, and a time to be still.

I have also been learning about kundalini yoga from a book I got. I have always been drawn to this, although know very little about it, have more intuitively practised it. Kundalini feels like an old friend. She keeps me safe and feels like my protector at times, she often helps me out when I am struggling or feeling lonely. She encourages me on the spiritual path; but also gently reminds me to be humble if I am getting conceited (-: She also reminds me of love, and the beautiful emotions.

I am not so into the Hindu aspects of kundalini yoga. I tend to filter those bits out and just take what I find helpful from the practice, as I do with any teachings I learn - be my own refuge.

Lately I am finding at the beginning of a meditation session, it feels good to focus on the chakras, on the life force energy, and move that energy around the body. It is intimately connected to the breath I find. For me, this practice is very helpful, it gives the mind something to do at the start of a meditation session when it might be a bit restless. And it is something challenging and engaging enough to generate interest, curiosity and wonder in meditation, which draws the attention away from the thoughts and into the body. It feels enjoyable, and healing and invigorating. In fact, I am sure it was me practising this while lying in bed feeling sick that helped me recover quicker than normal from my illness.

There comes a point when the mind naturally stops moving the energy about the body, and it feels satisfied, balanced, and at ease. The body feels very pleasant and comfortable. And one feels very together and lucid, and content to just rest in whole body awareness and become very still and serene.

The chakras and kundalini has always felt real to me, and when the chakras feel cleared out, the energy of the body really does feel much better, cleaner and brighter, much less weighed down, lighter, more ethereal. When walking outside afterwards it almost feels like the air element passes right through me, like the matter of this body has become less dense. It is hard to put into words.

I think holding onto negative energies makes the body feel coarser, heavier. As many of our stresses and woes, our angst and longing gets stored there. The good news is we don't have to hold onto the negativity. We are allowed to let go of it, and nothing bad happens when we do. Yes, the process of purification can be painful and unpleasant at times, it is not fun to face the shadow self and all the myriad contradictory selves; but it is worth it when you come through the other side and you are no longer being weighed down by it all.

Nobody can do it for us. We have to give ourselves permission to stop holding on to the cause of our suffering. Much of which comes from longing, resentment, and identifying with things.

It is easier to do this when coming from the place of lucid serenity that samhadi brings. Stillness really is a great help when going through the dark night.


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Asoka

The Song Thrush and the Sea

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 7 Apr 2023, 14:41


Ocean wavelets
Make pebbles sing
A song of stone
Of Ancient days
Sun shadows of time
Flickering before me.

I am still and silent like a human sundial
And somewhere close by
A song-thrush sings
The sounds carve
Spiral
Beautiful shapes
Across the air
Gladdening the mind.

A joyful usher of Spring
Reminding me of 
Love
And the beautiful spaces within.

- Asoka



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The Natural Elements in Meditation

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 5 Apr 2023, 14:44


Have been listening to these talks given by the venerable Ajahn Sona today. He is a great teacher, and the one who gave me the dhamma name Asoka, which means sorrowless. Asoka is a succinct teaching for me, as someone who has experienced much sorrow in life and struggled with depression, this name inspires me to become the opposite (-:

These five talks go into detail about how to practise meditation on the four elements: Earth, water, fire, air  and also how to practise the four colour kasinas: red, blue, yellow, white.

I took part in this retreat last spring, and it is good to go over it again to refresh the memory. It is interesting how when one listens to a talk again one picks up something that they missed the first time they listened to it. I think it is because the mind takes what it needs at different times. The mind changes, and as one develops on the path, the mind looks out for new pieces of information to help with its current understanding, and perhaps that's why different things stand out on subsequent listenings to dhamma talks.

Anyway, I wanted to post these talks for anyone else out there who might find this topic interesting.


Here is the link to the talks on YouTube: 

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCXN1GlAupG1RoN3z1NN7jzwapA6OKbF5


May this practise be as much a blessing for you, as it has been for me.

Peace and metta


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Air kasina

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 31 Mar 2023, 15:39

The breezes at this time of year are very pleasant.  And the blackbirds and song thrushes are singing all around and it is beautiful. I enjoy having my window open or sitting outside, and being absorbed in it all, lifts up my heart.

The air kasina is great to practise at this time of year, in the Northen hemisphere at least. We have lots of breezes at the moment. Air kasina is basically breath meditation, but there's a component to it which isn't often taught. Which is to focus on the sensation and feeling of the air element as it touches the skin, and notice how that affects the mind. Apparently in ancient times a monk wanting to learn the air kasina would find a cave high in a mountain where there was a breeze and practise there. In modern times, one can practise this in any location with a plug in fan (-:

The fresh air can feel invigorating, and this feeling of invigoration is a breath nimitta. A tactile nimitta, some people get a visual nimitta, but for me the nimitta is always a tactile feeling. In Pali, nimitta means sign. And in this context it is the sign of the air element in the mind; or the effect that the air element has on the mind. It is a mind-generated phenomena, an internal feeling created in response to the air element.

If you stay centred with the nimitta it grows stronger and will expand and fill the whole body, which feels very pleasant and healing. One then keeps intending to stay with it, sustain it, soak the entire body with the tranquility and happiness. This can be challenging to do at first, but it gains momentum over the long term. With consistent practise the nimitta and the feeling of joy and pleasure grows, snowballs, and becomes more effortless and automatic. This is how the mind works, how we create sankharas. Samhadi begets more samhadi, i.e. what we practise grows stronger and becomes a habit, which then carries a momentum and energy of its own that continues and grows deeper.

After many hours of practise, one will be able to bring the air nimitta up at will, without needing a breeze. One can just incline the mind towards it and it will appear. Even the slightest zephyr of air movement in a room will bring it up. Sometimes one can go into absorption just watching the air blowing through the leaves of the trees and plants, or from the ripples it makes on the surface of water. It feels like magic, but it is just how the mind works. The same thing can happen when meditating on any other element, a colour, or on love. One will start to notice it more and more in the world around them and find this will bring up the samhadi associated with it. 

A teacher told me that for those brief moments when people take a break from being in a stuffy room and stand outside and enjoy the feeling of the breeze on their faces. For those brief moments those people have been practising breath meditation. He added that when it comes to samhadi, the Buddha says, use the low-hanging fruit. Find that which comes natural and then make it into something supernatural (-:

 


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Mind watching

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 27 Mar 2023, 21:11

Another handy tool I am using a lot more lately is single-pointed attention, for when the energies of the mind start to get a bit intense throughout the day. It is a handy tool, and it does help to calm down frenetic thought energies. Moments of single-pointed attention can help slow the mind down, and then it is easier to replace negative thoughts with ones of love and equanimity instead. 

At the moment I like practising staying with the breath, either at the nostrils, or the whole body breathing as one. I really like the air element (-: Whatever comes up that isn't the breath, I just set it aside like its useless rubbish and return to the breath and go deep into the mind with it like I am uncovering a precious jewel beneath all the rubbish.

Sometimes I label the intrusive thoughts as greed, hate, or delusion, or just say: 'I see you Mara.' Using the term 'Mara' as a catch-all for the defilements in the mind. And then I just stop following them, and centre attention back with the breath. 

Sometimes if I get it right, I can find a peaceful empty place deep in the centre of the mind, like a cave, and it feels safe to go there, the energies of the mind become like the rain falling outside, and I am not affected by them. Or it feels like I am sitting on the ocean floor and way above me is the surface of the water, like the surface level of the mind, constantly moving as it ripples and changes, but I am far below it, perfectly still and at ease like a contented rock.

Another technique I learnt at a retreat recently, is to use the word 'mind' to watch the mind. You just keep repeating the word 'mind' over and over in the mind (-: I know it sounds like a tongue twister. One uses the word 'mind' as a reminder that one is watching the mind. 

One keeps centring one's attention with the word 'mind' and as one does this, one watches the process of thought making. Any distracting thoughts that arise just push them aside using the thought 'mind'. 

As one repeatedly says the word 'mind', one uses it as a tool to get to the source of thoughts, how they are generated, where they come from. Keep pushing away the distracting thoughts that arise like water sprouting out of a fountain and go deep and look for the source of the water in the fountain. What is it that keeps generating these thoughts? Keep intending to go deeper, and keep looking for the source.

 It feels hidden at first, like an inpenetrable blackness that thoughts just mysteriously bubble out of. But after a while and lengthy practise, you start to see the intentions behind the thoughts, and if you go deeper still there is craving. One can watch the less intrusive thoughts that bubble up in peripheral awareness, and as one does, one can start to see that they are sankharas, mental formations created from repeated intentions in the past, that have now developed their own momentum and energy, and become habits. And as you go deeper, it is like going back in time, and more of what was hidden previously starts to become visible and one's awareness of the mind grows.

 If saying the word 'mind' over and over gets tiring, which it can. Just have a rest and practise breath meditation, till one feels settled and calm enough to start watching the mind again.

Eventually one can let go of repeatedly thinking the word 'mind' and no longer need to use an anchor to watch the mind. Like someone sitting serenely under a tree watching a stream flow by in front of them. The stream in this metaphor is the contents of the mind, and one remains at ease, and still, anchored in deep composure, watching the contents of the mind as they flow and change. Not clinging to any of it, just watching without reacting to it or getting involved in it. And as one does this, one starts to see that the mind is always changing, that it is inconstant, impermanent.

 This is a kind of samhadi, not as deep as jhana, but it is a pleasant and empowering state of mind and insightful. Occasionally one gets distracted by the contents of the mind, and without realising it, one has waded into the stream and started identifying with it all again and is getting swept away by the currents of longing and aversion. Don't stress, it happens, depending on how long one has been caught up in the contents of the mind, one may need to go back to the breath or repeating the word 'mind' to bring some stillness and composure back. 


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The four trainings of mindfulness

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 25 Mar 2023, 17:53


'
This is the direct path for the purification of beings. For the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation. The disappearance of pain and grief. And the realisation of nibanna.

Namely the four foundations of mindfulness.' - the Buddha

Foundation number one: Mindfulness of the body

  • Awareness of the four postures: walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.
    ..
  • Mindfulness of breathing. (anapana-sati)
    ..
  • Sati-sampajanna. Awareness of the present moment. Knowing where one is. What one is doing. One's behaviour, of that which is appropriate, that which is non-delusion.
    ..
  • Reflection on the 32 parts of the body:
    Head hair, Body hair, Nails, Teeth, Skin
    Flesh, Sinews, Bones, Bone Marrow, Kidneys
    Heart, Liver, Diaphragm, Spleen, Lungs
    Large Intestines, Small Intestines, Stomach, Faeces, Brain
    Bile, Phlegm, Pus, Blood, Sweat, Fat
    Tears, Grease, Saliva, Mucus, Oil of the Joints, Urine
    ..
  • Analysis of the four elements: earth, water, fire, air. (Both within the body and outside the body.)
    ..
  • The cemetery contemplations and marana-sati (mindfulness of death).

Foundation number two: Mindfulness of feelings

1. Mindfulness of pleasant feelings, mindfulness of neutral feelings, mindfulness of unpleasant feelings. Awareness of them both within oneself and within others.

2. Mindfulness of pleasant wordly feelings, neutral worldly feelings, unpleasant wordly feelings. Both within oneself and within others. I find contemplation of the eight worldly winds can be helpful here:

pain and pleasure,
gain and loss,
success and failure,
praise and blame.

3. Mindfulness of pleasant spiritual feelings, neutral spiritual feelings, and unpleasant spiritual feelings. Both within oneself and others. This is to do with the spiritual path and its fruits.

Awareness of the rising, flowing, and fading away of feelings.

Foundation number three: Mindfulness of the mind

Knowing when the mind is:

Greedy or not
Lustful or not
Angry or not
Hateful or not
Conceited or not
Selfish or not
Deluded or not
Confused or clear
Collected or scattered
Expansive or contracted
Developed or undeveloped
Meditating or not
In samhadi or not
Liberated or not

Awareness of the rising, flowing, and disappearance of these states of mind.

Foundation number four: Mindfulness of dhammas

1. The five hindrances to samhadi:

1. Longing, 2. aversion, 3. stagnation, 4. agitation, 5. doubt.

Awareness of the manifestation, origination, and disappearance of the five hindrances.

'And when one knows that these five hindrances have left the mind. Gladness arises, and from gladness comes delight, from delight one's body becomes tranquil, and with a tranquil body one feels happy.

And with happiness one's mind easily enters samhadi. And being thus detached from unwholesome states of mind one enters and remains in the first jhana...' - the Buddha (D. 2:75)

2. The five aggregates of clinging:

Identifying with the body.
Identifying with feelings.
Identifying with perceptions and memory.
Identifying with mental formations.
Identifying with consciousness.

Awareness of the manifestation, arising, and dissolution of the five aggregates of clinging.

3. The six external and six internal sense bases:

1. Eye and visual objects.
2. Ear and sounds.
3. Nose and smells.
4. Tongue and tastes.
5. Body and tangible objects.
6. Mind and mental objects.

Knowledge of them, of their arising, and the letting go of them. And through not clinging to them, the future non-arising of the fetters that originate dependent on both.

4. The seven factors of enlightenment:

Mindfulness -> Investigation of dhammas -> Energy (right effort) -> Joy -> Calm (serenity) -> Samhadi (deep stillness) -> Equanimity.

Knowledge of their presence, their arising, and their development.

5. The four noble truths

1. Knowledge of suffering (which is to be understood)

Old age, sickness and death is suffering.
Separation from those we love is suffering.
Identifying with the body, feelings, perceptions, memories, thoughts, ideas, moods/emotions, and consciousness is suffering.
Feeling regret and remorse for past actions is suffering.
Not getting what one wants is suffering.
Depression and fatigue is suffering.
Taking things personally is suffering.
and so on... 

In short, clinging to and identifying with changing (impermanent) phenomena that is outside our control, is suffering. We are all fated to become separated from what we love and hold dear. None of us have the power to stop that. Everything is transient.

2. Knowledge of the cause of suffering (which is to be abandoned)

The three aspects of craving are the cause of suffering. The Buddha describes them as:

1. craving for sense-pleasures (kama-tanha), which feeds the defilement of greed.
2. craving for non-existence (vibhava-tanha), wishing for things to be different, wishing for something not to be, not to exist. This feeds the defilement of hate or aversion.
3. craving for existence (bhava-tanha). Feeds the defilement of delusion.

(N.b. Tanha is a Pali word often translated as either craving, thirst or desire.)

(N.b. II - The five links at the centre of dependent origination can be helpful to keep in mind here: ..  sense impressions -> feelings -> craving -> clinging/identifying -> becoming ...)

When one has seen the sign of anicca (change and impermanence) at a deep level. It is hard to un-see it. It has a profound change on one. Wherever one looks, one sees the transient nature of things, and starts to naturally become disillusioned with materiality; and not as caught up by the things of the world anymore. One sees through it. Sometimes from bitter painful experience, by making poor choices and having to live with the results, which is part of learning too. Don't beat yourself up for that, we all do it. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we learn our greatest lessons from failure. 

As one gets less ignorant and wises up, one stops clinging to things, realising it is changing phenomena that is outside one's control. And then the craving starts to fade.

And with non-attachment, letting things be, letting them go, cessation occurs.

3. Knowledge of the end of suffering (which is to be realised)

Lasting peace of mind and contentment. Freedom from suffering. The realisation of nibanna, the deathless. The happiness of no longer being driven around and harassed by the defilements: greed, aversion, and delusion. This stopping, this ceasing of tanha brings relief, and frees the mind of stress and sorrow.  

The mind in its un-harassed original state is luminous, radiant like the sun coming out from the behind the clouds. (The clouds in this metaphor being greed, hate, and delusion.)

4. Knowledge of the way that leads to the end of suffering (Which is to be developed)

This is the noble eightfold path. The way that leads to the cessation of suffering. All the path factors are important. Leaving any of them out is like leaving out an important component of a motor vehicle, it won't start or be able to reach its destination if any are missing. All these parts need to work together in harmony.

1. Right view: in brief, mundane right view is knowing that good karma comes from thoughts, words, and actions of giving, kindness, and clear-seeing.
And bad karma comes from thoughts, words, and actions of greed, hate, and delusion.

Supra-mundane right view is the four noble truths. It's called supramundane because it is what leads to the four classical stages of enlightenment.

2. Right intention: Non ill-will, non-greed, non-cruelty. (The practise and cultivation of the brahma-viharas (The sublime abidings) is helpful here.)

3. Right speech: to speak truthfully, to avoid malicious and divisive speech, to refrain from harsh unkind speech, and to refrain from idle pointless speech.

4. Right action: To refrain from taking the life of any living creature. To refrain from taking that which is not given. To refrain from sexual misconduct.

5. Right livelihood: Having abandoned wrong livelihood. One continues to make one's living with right livelihood. This is an occupation or lifestyle that does not cause harm to one self or others.

6. Right effort:

In the words of the Buddha:

1. One generates the desire for the prevention of unwholesome states of mind by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.

2. One generates the desire for the abandonment of unwholesome states of mind by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.

3. One generates the desire for the arising of wholesome states of mind. By making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.

4. One generates the desire for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase, and full development of wholesome states of mind. By making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind and striving.

Right effort is also about tuning the energy of effort and attention so it is niether too tight, nor too loose. One has to experiment and find a sweet spot that works just right. It is like tuning a musical instrument, when you get it in tune it makes sweet music and there is progress and flow.

7. Right mindfulness:

This is the four foundations of mindfulness.

Having removed longing and dejection in regard to the world.

1. One abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, clearly-comprehending (knowing), and mindful.
2. One abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, clearly-comprehending, and mindful.
3. One abides contemplating mind, as mind, ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.
4. One abides contemplating dhammas as dhammas. Ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.

8. Right samhadi:

This is defined by the Buddha as the four jhanas. Four deep states of meditative absorption. The joy and pleasure described in the verses is a whole body experience. It is the feeling of the inner body.

1. First jhana: Quite secluded from the world, secluded from unwholesome states of mind (the five hindrances). One enters and remains in the first jhana. Which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought (or attention). And has the joy and pleasure born of seclusion (from the five hindrances).

(There is a bit of a wobble in the first jhana, as one keeps applying and sustaining attention to the meditation object. But after a time there comes a point when the attention becomes stable and centred with the object, then it becomes effortless. One can let go of the applied and sustained attention then, take off the stabilizers and just flow with the momentum as a mindful passenger. Mindfulness is what leads to the jhanas and remains present throughout them all.)

2. Second jhana: With the subsiding of applied and sustained thought. One enters and abides in the second jhana. Which is accompanied by self-confidence and unification of mind (deep composure). Is without applied and sustained thought and has the joy and pleasure born of samhadi.

3. Third jhana: With the fading away of joy. One abides in equanimity. And mindful, clearly-comprehending, still feeling pleasure in the body. One enters and abides in the third jhana. On account of which the nobles one say: 'One has a pleasant abiding, who has equanimity and is mindful.

4. Fourth jhana: With the dissolving of pain and pleasure, and the previous disappearance of sadness and joy. One enters and abides in the fourth jhana. Which has neither pleasure nor pain. And has mindfulness purified and born of equanimity.

Hopefully I haven't got any of that wrong. I am going from memory. This is something I chant to myself every now and then to remember the practise, it is an evolving chant, that changes and grows as I learn more.

But I find it helpful to go over what I have learnt like this. It can also help bring some faith, courage, energy and determination when I feel disheartened, or lack the motivation to practise.

After some lengthy chanting like this, it can feel easier to settle into meditation. It is a bit like sweeping the floor of the mind to make it more inclined towards samhadi.


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Tiredness and Mara

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 24 Mar 2023, 21:21

Quite tired today. Couldn't sleep much last night. Went for a walk this morning in a surreal haze of uncomfortable brain fog; barely managed to put one footstep in front of the other. Felt like an extra for a zombie movie. 

When I became mindful, I remembered to stop paying attention to the feeling of being tired and dull, as it intensifies the experience and makes it much worse, adding unbearable mental suffering on top of the physical suffering. So when I became mindful of it I would intentionally move my attention to something different in awareness, away from the unpleasant feeling of tiredness and the thoughts. And just kept doing that when I remembered to.

The breeze felt pleasant, so I focused on that. It was lovely. I stopped and stared at the water for a while. Watched the ripples in amazement, chasing each other across the surface like excited air spirits. I felt a synchronicity between me and the water. And again noticed how it keeps changing, how everything around me keeps changing.

The defilements in the mind are much worse when I am tired. And Mara tends to pop up then with the inner critic hat on. As always he is keen to point out all my faults, like a long rolling list that drops to the floor. I try not to pay attention to him. So he then gets right into the pit of my stomach and starts twisting and knotting my energies this way and that. I focus on the air element, and then I feel a lush breeze come along and it passes right through my being and blows Mara away.

 He really does not like it that I am trying to purify my mind.

I remember hearing in a dhamma talk that samhadi (aka jhana) is a protection against Mara. Mara is very good at manipulating thoughts, he's a rascal. But the stillness of samhadi can protect you from that. It calms down the thought energies. It is challenging to learn, but well worth the effort, as it becomes a very useful part of one's mental toolkit.

Mara frequently appears in the Buddhist suttas trying to tempt, frighten or discourage those on the spiritual path. 

On the night of his awakening the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree and for the first part of the night, his mind became dark as Mara threw everything he could at him, tried to pummel him with negative thoughts and aversion. But the Buddha sat there and endured.

Next Mara tried to seduce him with his daughters. Again the Buddha remained still and did not follow the lust. 

Then Mara tried to appeal to his sense of honour and compassion. Saying that if he didn't go back and be a prince, there would be noone wise enough to rule the kingdom after his father died and the kingdom would fall apart. But the Buddha reasoned back there would come a point as a ruler, when he would have to make a decision about taking another being's life, and as he now practised non-violence, he would be unable to defend the kingdom from an opposing army. He also reasoned that it would not solve anything anyway. Because he too would die eventually and then the kingdom would be vulnerable to falling apart again after his death. However, if he became a Buddha, it would be of greater benefit to other beings than becoming a king; and his teachings would survive longer than any kingdom and thus be able to help future generations. This was 2600 years ago. 







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Stilling my way out of this

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 8 Mar 2023, 15:38

A lot of my problems seem to come from mental fabrications. I.e. too much thinking. 

I keep reminding myself of this when things get dark during the unpleasant process of purification. This is not an intellectual matter. I cannot think my way out of this. I still my way out of this. 

What's needed now is to stop paying attention to thoughts, to the mood, and practise single pointed attention on a meditation object instead. Not too tight a focus and not too loose, a gentle focus that can comfortably stay centred with the object of meditation without straining the mind.

At first one has to endure the taints, the greed, aversion, dullness, restlessness, scepticism (aka the five hindrances). Through it all, sit as upright and still as possible, like the Buddha under the Bodhi tree. Without judging anything that is happening, just mindful and bringing attention back to the meditation object and keeping it there, doing this over and over, calming the body, steadying the mind. 

I use different meditation objects at different times, sometimes its the breath, other times space, other times the body, the life energy (kundalini), the emotion of metta, the perception of light, warmth, cold, a primary colour, a sound, a mantra, one of the four primary elements, there's many different meditation objects, whatever meditation object feels like a good fit at the time and holds my interest. 

After a time, the composure deepens and the senses start to settle and calm down, the thoughts fade, dissolve,and the mind becomes more and more centred, more composed and unified around the meditation object, and then secluded from the five hindrances one drops into a pleasant serenity, and this connects one with a deeper part of being, a safe place below the surface level of thoughts. Like an inner refuge. 

 It involves patience at first. One has to endure the five hindrances, endure the taints, the impurities of the mind, the longing, aversion, and delusion, the crazy thoughts, let them be, and just sit as still as possible, anchoring attention with the meditation object. It can take more than one sitting sometimes before it reaches serenity. 

I did have a powerful meditation experience though which encouraged me to keep at this. Where I reached such a state of stillness and composure that afterwards the darkness was gone, and I was in a completely different mood, like I was glowing. It showed me that this is indeed the way out of the dark night. Stillness, samhadi and equanimity. 


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The sublime abidings

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 15 Feb 2023, 14:52

There are four beautiful emotional states that can be cultivated and used as meditation objects in Buddhism, they are called the Brahma viharas (the sublime abidings). These are:

Metta (loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence).
Karuna (concern and a wish to help those who are suffering).
Mudita (joy when other beings are happy).
Upekkha (equanimity).

Karuna is often translated as compassion. But the word 'compassion' means 'to suffer with' which is not the right way to look at karuna. Karuna does not suffer with others. It tries to help others, shows love, kindness and concern for beings who are suffering, but does not become sorrowful. To suffer with others is like seeing someone sinking in quicksand and then immediately jumping in next to them, it doesn't help either person and both end up being pulled under. It can be tricky, to find the right balance, to be able to feel empathy for others without suffering oneself.

Mudita is to feel joy when other beings are happy. Happiness is such a rare event in this life for many of us. If you see a being who is happy, then smile and enjoy their happiness too, however brief it may be. In this world happiness can be hard to find and doesn't last, so rejoice when you see it.

Equanimity is to be calm among those who are not calm. To accept the way things are without being pulled under by them. To not allow the suffering of the world to drag one down into sadness and depression, as that is no help to oneself or others. It is to keep one's composure and balance of mind even amidst the suffering in the world. This is where contemplation of the changing nature of things, of impermanence, of not-self can be helpful. There are tragic things that happen in this world, and sometimes there is nothing anyone can do to help, or put things right. One wishes those beings well, and that is a noble wish, but if one becomes depressed because of it, that is not much help to the world. There's enough sadness and sorrow, if you can become someone who keeps their head while others are losing theirs it can be a real blessing for others in difficult circumstances, and help bring peace, calm and balance to another's mind.

Feel love for all beings, help those that you can, rejoice with those experiencing happiness, and feel equanimity for the difficult things in life one cannot change, for those beings who can't be helped. Metta and equanimity is like a knife and fork, they complement each other perfectly and bring balance to the mind. The warm heart of metta and the cool head of equanimity.

Sometimes I like to give peanuts to some crows when I go out for a walk. The crows will fly down to greet me and I feel metta well up in my heart for them. I know they are hungry so I feel karuna for them. I give them some peanuts. This makes them happy, and then I feel joy seeing how happy they are to get the peanuts. Unfortunately I don't have enough peanuts to feed all the birds and there are some birds perched nearby who didn't get any, but I have nothing left to give them. I wish them metta, but accept that I can't feed all the hungry birds in the world, as much as I wish I could. Equanimity is also how I feel when I see the crows are satisfied and not hungry anymore, and I then drift into a contented serenity. This brings a composure that leads to stillness and the other side to equanimity which is when one is in a state of equipose and all the different energies of the mind feel balanced and tuned just right. Like being in the zone. Centred. Composed and still, while everything around you is in a state of flux. Walking feels like stilness in motion.

In the beginning, one can cultivate these emotions by saying phrases that invoke it in the mind. Such as may all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings be safe and at ease. One can use whatever phrases one likes to help generate the feeling of unconditional love within.

If it feels difficult it is often because one needs to practise metta for oneself first.
Traditionally one is taught to first practise metta for oneself before radiating it to other beings. This is not wrong and it is not selfish, it is an act of kindness to oneself and others. It is much easier to make friends with other beings if one has become a friend to oneself first. So one can start the practice by saying metta phrases for oneself, may I be well, may I be happy, may I feel safe and at ease, and when the body feels satisfied, one can then radiate that energy out to the world, to all beings everywhere.

Sometimes the feeling of metta can be brought up from seeing something in nature, wildlife, flowers, trees, the sea, colours, the sky, clouds, beautiful sunrises or sunsets, the snow, the sound of rain.

It can also be brought on by memories of kind things one has done in the past, or kind things others have done. It can be generated by thinking of inspiring saintly figures, and characters in stories who radiate the beautiful qualities of the heart.

It can be thinking about angels, devas, ancestors, heavenly realms. Something imaginary, or real. Sometimes I imagine the world at peace with no more violence and war, no more stinginess or cruelty. Just this golden place where all beings live in friendship and peace with one another. It doesn't matter if it isn't how the world actually is, it is the wish for the world to be like that which can bring the feeling of metta up inside. It can also be one's children, one's parents, one's family, one's friends, a beloved pet,. One can recite chants about metta that help bring up the feeling of metta also.

Karuna is basically metta for beings who are suffering. And Mudita is metta for beings who are happy.

There are many ways to find one's way into the sublime abidings. Once there you want to try and keep the momentum going till it becomes strong enough to not need any more input. When the feeling of metta saturates the whole body, one can take the hand off the steering wheel of effort and stop the doing, thoughts will settle into a contented warmth and one can just rest in that feeling and enjoy it, becoming a lucid passenger, depending on the momentum consciousness will just cruise into a state of peaceful stillness that has a healing effect on the body and the mind. This can connect one to deeper mind and the wisdom it contains. There is a deeper wiser part of the mind that wants to talk to us, but we are often too caught up in the self-centred dream to hear what it is saying to us. When we get very still and quiet and are content, not wishing to be any place else, when the mind and body is at ease, and the energies of the mind become balanced, when one is no longer being pulled this way or that by the senses, truth reveals itself and one can see things clearly, then wisdom develops and one can direct that lucid mind state towards anything and understand it better, because one is less deluded and pulled by greed and aversion, one is able to see things better, like having a clean lens.

Not always easy to do though. It takes practise, like anything we learn in this life, repetitive practise, but it is worth it. Over time as one keeps up the practise it starts to develop a momentum of its own going one day to the next, and this momentum grows stronger, builds up an energy of its own. When it gets strong enough, you may not  need to say the phrases anymore, you can just connect instantly with the feeling and bring the energy up at will without using thought or words.

The practise of the Brahma viharas has a lot of benefits for oneself and others.

But there can be days I find it hard to practise them. I don't judge myself any more for that (I used to), but now it is okay if that happens. I just try to flow with where I'm at and work with what's in front of me and investigate that. There are other emotional states one can practise, such as mindfulness, investigation of the here and now, reflection, contemplation, studying, serenity, meditation, the stillness and composure of samhadi, the balance of equanimity, and others that don't spring to mind, but the palette of positive emotions is quite varied and wide, which is a good thing to know. My moods change quite rapidly, and I have found it helpful to have many strategies to hand.

Sometimes unfortunate events happen to us in life. Shit happens. The Buddha's metaphor of the second arrow can be helpful to remember here. An archer gets shot, then does a strange thing, he takes out his bow and shoots himself with a second arrow. The first arrow he couldn't do anything about, but the second arrow he didn't need to shoot, this is the mental suffering we create for ourselves after the event, such as the craving for things to be different, the way we might take it personally. All this just adds extra suffering to what is already an unfortunate event. The first arrow we couldn't do anything about; but the second arrow we can train ourselves not to shoot, and not add more pain to what is already there.

Not easy, at least not for many of us. There are some rare lucky folks who become fully enlightened straight away. But for most, it is a gradual process, that happens in stages, and it can go on for lifetimes. The concept of not clinging is easy enough to comprehend but difficult to practise, which is where the noble eightfold path comes in, that is the training that gets you there.

Beings who get enlightened quickly may be beings who have encountered this before in previous lives, who were already pretty far along in their development, so it didn't take much to bring that final liberating insight that permanently set them free from clinging.

Enough waffle from me anyway. I am not trying to convert anyone to Buddhism, or change anything. I do care about the Earth though and the suffering of this current age, brought about by greed, hatred, and delusion. The mass extinction event and endless violence now happening across the planet, which threatens many different species of life, including our species: homo sapiens.

It is a shame we can't make peace with one another, war is so horrific and unnecessary, causes so much misery and destruction. Why do we still have war? It is now 2023, and we seem to be more war-like than ever, with truly horrific weapons of mass destruction, of cruelty and violence. Why can't we transcend this? Why is it so hard for us to be kind to one another, to live in friendship and harmony with one another and all the other beings we share this planet with.

Why can't we share resources with one another, so we all live comfortably and in harmony? It is a shame that out of all the animals here on this planet, humans have become the most violent and cruel of them all. We think ourselves better than animals because we have all this technology; but the way we behave, we come across as lesser beings, as dangerous and not to be trusted. No other being on this planet behaves the way we do and causes so much destruction. Future generations will look back on this time and wonder why it got like this, why we couldn't change ourselves and put a stop to this madness.

We can be better than this. That is why I am training the mind, why I follow the noble eightfold path. It is because of greed, hatred, and selfishness that this world is so dark. If humans can free themselves of these three psychic poisons, imagine what a world we could build together, what a world future generations could inherit. The world doesn't have to be this way. Things can change for the better, if we have the inclination to, if enough of us choose to.

Still, I have hope that all is not yet lost. I think in the end there will be enough of us that care, who will make the changes necessary to create a better world. One that is in harmony with the other beings we share this planet with, one where there is no more inequality or poverty. One where the other species of life on this planet are treated with respect and friendliness, left to live their lives in peace and dignity. Without a thriving eco-system we won't survive.

I am not particularly gifted at anything, not very good at communication, I don't have much money, and I am not a leader; but I will do the best I can with what I've got, which isn't a lot, but I will try anyway. We all have different talents, and this is great, it wouldn't work if we were all exactly the same, our differences mean we work well as a team.

Anyway getting a bit side-tracked here. I am not trying to convert anyone to Buddhism, I am not proselytising, nor am I telling anyone how to live their lives. I have given up trying to change the world. What another being does with their life is their karma, and what I do is mine. I am not the greatest writer in the world, but maybe some of what I write may be helpful to others, both here and now, and perhaps in the future. I have struggled most of my life with mental health problems, and Buddhism has really helped me, and if any of what I share is helpful to others, even just one person, it makes it all worth it.

Take care everyone, peace and metta. May we all realise the end of greed, hate, and delusion. May we all experience the lasting peace and happiness that comes from an unhindered mind.

 

 

 


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Asoka

Dissolving problems

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I am enjoying meditating on the breath energy at the moment and moving it throughout the body. It helps me maintain interest and curiosity in the breath as a meditation object, and it feels enjoyable and invigorating.

I place my attention on the cool air going into the nasal cavity and the warm air going out, like the waves of the sea going into a cave, breathing in, breathing out. I become aware of the whole body at once, feel the breath energy travel deep into the body, into the lower belly and down into my feet and toes, making them tingle with happiness. I feel it in my hands also as I breathe in and out. The energy permeating the whole body, like the ocean filling inner coves. It feels cool, soothing, and refreshing. The spine tingles, and the scalp and back of the neck lights up with pleasure. The feeling of air and the touch of clothing on skin feels pleasant, and the body is comfortable and at ease. The cool air all around me enters the pores of my skin with each inhalation, nourishing every fibre of my being. It feels wonderful.

After a while of doing this, the energy becomes more settled and serene, and then it feels good to stop moving the energy round the body, and just let it be, resting quietly in the awareness of the inner body. The energy bubbles and flows gently on its own, and the mind settles into a peaceful state, composed, content and lucid. Not wanting to be anywhere else. The body and mind feels satisfied and becomes very still, no longer harrassing itself, tranquilised and at peace (-:

It doesn't matter if this is supported by science, meditation is not about objective reality. Meditation is about the subjective reality. It is about the inner world, the inner body, inner being. In meditation, the chakras, the breath energy, magic can all be real, and it can heal.

I read an article recently about the power of the placebo effect, and I wonder if that is an indication of the magic potential of the mind when it comes to the subjective experience (-:

I wonder if that was the meaning behind the movie: 'Life of Pi'. If that film was about the importance and value of the subjective experience, because that is where we live.

I am starting to realise that many of our problems are not really problems, they are just mental constructs and imaginary fears that don't need to be resolved at all. They just need to be dissolved by tranquility. Then whatever's left is easier to work with and understand.


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Inner critic

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Samhadi is difficult to practise but it is another helpful friend during dark nights, There are days I wake up feeling anxious and restless. I feel uncomfortable being around the energies of others, and metta (loving-kindness) practise feels harder to get into. It is an unpleasant edgy state of mind.

I find sometimes awareness of the breath and the body can be helpful then, using the breath energy to soften the tense areas throughout the body, becoming aware of the cool air going into my nostrils, feel it go right up to my third eye chakra, permeate my brain, cool down the thought processes, dissolve them into tranquility, and this can help bring a sense of relief, but it can be difficult to maintain.

It can be enough though, to help me pause and reflect for a moment: Why am I feeling anxious? Today I am feeling anxious because I have written a lot lately. My inner critic is giving me a hard time for sharing my writing with others. I reflect on what I have written. I do not feel I have written anything wrong or untrue. Then I sense the anxiety that others may not like it or approve of it. That's okay, they don't have to read what I write, I am not writing to please anyone, or proselytize. What other's think is up to them, I am not responsible for their thoughts, only my own. I like writing sometimes. Writing helps me to articulate my understanding of things, and it can be a useful tool.

Okay so why am I posting it online? It is true that it isn't going to be of interest to the vast majority of beings out there, it isn't what most people want to know about, which is fine; but if some of what I write helps me, then there's a chance that it might help someone else too.  It may trigger thoughts in someone and lead them to draw conclusions of their own that might be helpful to them. Others may leave comments that are wise and wouldn't have occurred if I had not posted my writing; this can also be helpful, and add more to what was written. 

I also could die at any moment, and it would be a shame to keep it all to myself. And although I have not yet realised a complete end to suffering in this lifetime, some of what I have learnt may help others either now, or perhaps one day in the future. 

And after that thought, the inner critic relaxed and became silent and it was easier to meditate.


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Magic

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There's a phenomenon where you might hear something on the radio or video, in a song, a podcast, in an article, perhaps in a conversation with someone. Where something that is said, a phrase, a word really sticks out for you, and seems to speak directly to you, as it resonates with what you are going through at that time, and it feels like it is a message for you specifically from the universe. And it is! Your mind is homing in on that because it is something you need to hear. It is one of the ways the deeper mind tries to help us, tries to communicate with us, by bringing something important to our attention that we are ignorant of, we are often so caught up in our heads we are not listening to the deeper mind. So it will sometimes do something like that, to stop us in our tracks, and bring us a eureka moment, an insight.

When I was practising meditating on the colour red, afterwards wherever I went I would notice the colour red pop out everywhere. It felt magical like I had a special connection with the colour red and it was protecting me. And it was protecting me, that was my subjective experience, as its presence helped me feel calmer, more alive and at ease wherever I went, so it was helping me. This also happened when practising the air kasina, I would notice even the slightest whisper of air in a room, and it would make my scalp and spine light up and tingle with excitement, filling me with a feeling of light. This was all my subjective experience, but it was helpful, it helped me feel better emotionally, and inside it felt more real than what was going on objectively. This is how the mind works, this is what magic is.


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The subjective experience

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 1 Feb 2023, 12:17

Seem to be getting back into writing again, not really feeling the painting at the moment.

I think I have some deva (spirit) friends who hang around with me which is comforting. I can't see them, although there have been times in deep states of meditation where I have seen them in my mind's eye. I tend to sense their presence, and feel their energy around me, and sometimes within me. Some are people I have known in this life who have passed away now. One is my Gran who I was very strongly bonded to as a child. She is a being of light now, like an angel. In her human life she was very kind to animals and to me. A person who was very in sync with nature, which led to her generating good kamma and she was reborn as a deva. She regularly comes to encourage me when I feel stressed and alone.

There are other spirits too, and they often reassure me when I feel weak and afraid. They fill me with peaceful fearless energy, and they tell me all sorts of things. Such as where a being who has recently died has gone. And how I can best help others who are suffering. They teach me about meditation and how to manage my failures. They recently said to me very clearly not to worry about money or finances when I became very stressed about the cost of living and the possibility of future poverty. They said they would take care of me and ensure I always got what I needed to survive if things got desperate. I often feel their gentle encouragement to keep practising the noble eightfold path and develop meditation further, to develop wisdom and emancipate the heart, so I can be a light in this world.

I have helped some spirits too. One's who experienced something tragic when they died, or ended up in darkness and became suffering angry ghosts. Upon encountering them, I felt compassion and I offered to share the merit of my spiritual practise with them, and it worked! It did help them find the light again and they sometimes come to visit me and support me with their jovial good energy, especially when I feel downhearted, or unwell.

There are beings who were wild animals in this life who I helped and prayed over when they were dying who are devas now, and I feel happy for them and glad they are doing well. 

The devas sometimes reveal things to me I can't know with my limited human senses which has been helpful in my practise. I doubt I would have got this far without their help, and I am really grateful for their support. It makes me realise that the sangha is truly great, composed of many different kinds of beings, and taking refuge in the sangha goes beyond just the human realm.

None of us are ever really alone, there are beings of all kinds around us (-:

This may sound crazy to those who hold the annihilist view that there is no existence beyond death of the physical body, but my experience is different. I have no way of proving that spirits exist, nor do I want to. But I have a strong conviction that reincarnation and rebirth is real. And the seeds of karma, the mental tendencies we nurture in this life are what we carry over into the next and they will sprout and grow into a new being.

This may well be my subjective experience. But it is our subjective experience that matters, as that is where we live. We do not live in the objective experience. For example if you are trying to lose weight and you step on the scales, some days you may feel lighter like you have lost weight, even if the scales, (the objectice experience,) tell you your weight is the same. The subjective experience is different, and it is this subjective experience that feels real, as that is where we live, that is where we come from.

There are a lot of stories in the Buddhist suttas about psychic powers and miracles performed by the Buddha and his disciples. Such as flying through the air and teleportation. And there are two ways one can look at these, and both ways of looking at it are correct. The first is that these miracles really did happen, and after experiencing some profound states of mind, I now believe such things are possible. The other way of looking at them is they are describing the subjective experience of being enlightened. The sense of freedom from suffering can make you feel like you are flying through the air, even though objective reality is telling you your feet are on the ground. Time also feels different for an enlightened being, so the subjective experience of moving from A to B may feel like hardly any time has passed at all, as if you have stretched out your hand and instantly gone from one geographical location to another. That is how the passage of time can feel subjectively for an enlightened being.

Another example, is sometimes after practising loving-kindness meditation (metta) it can feel like everyone and everything is my friend, even inanimate objects feel friendly and warm towards me. And when I stand next to the sea, it feels like it is happy to see me, each wave coming towards me like a friendly greeting. That is my subjective experience and there is nothing wrong with this, it can be a very beneficial and heart opening experience.

Part of right Samhadi, the eighth factor of the noble eightfold path is about playing around with our subjective experience of reality, and making it into something beautiful. We all have these beautiful spaces within us that can enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. But some of the circuits that activate these spaces are located deep within the mind, and meditation can teach one how to connect with and activate them. How to become still enough to reach the divine states of consciousness.

We modern humans spend a lot of time stuck in the pre-frontal cortex, it is a useful and important part of the brain, but it is only a small part of it. And it can feel unpleasant and limiting being stuck there all the time. This is why I think humans enjoy intoxicants so much. Intoxicants relax the executive functioning and inhibitions, and allow us to go beyond the boundaries of the prefrontal cortex and connect with the rest of the mind. This can bring a sense of relief and freedom. And it can feel very rewarding and enriching to connect with the deeper parts of the mind. It can refresh our view of things, help broaden our perspective, and see things differently, see everything in a new light, help with problem solving and creativity. The experience of connecting with the rest of the mind and body can bring a feeling of wholeness, of joy, of purpose, peace and oneness.

It is our subjective experience of reality that matters, it is how we feel that is important. If you feel like you are walking on air then you are (-: 

In Buddhism the question is how do I feel? Am I suffering or not? The goal of the Buddhist path is to realise the end of suffering, and this is a subjective experience. The objective experience is not important, it is how you feel within that matters. If you feel lost then you are lost. If you feel free, then you are free. The way to tell if you are making progress in Buddhism is to notice whether the practise is bringing a decrease in suffering. If it is then you are on the right track (-:


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