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Right mindfulness (part four)

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MIndfulness of dhamma categories

This is the fourth foundation of mindfulness. There are five categories here to be mindful of: the five hindrances; the five aggregates of clinging; the six external and six internal sense bases; the seven factors of awakening; and the four noble truths. 

What follows is my current understanding of the fourth foundation of mindfulness:

The five hindrances

These are: greed, aversion, stagnation, restlessness, and doubt.

They are called hindrances, because they are what stop us from reaching the deep states of meditation and prevent us from seeing things clearly, they distort our perception of reality.

Greed/lust is like being in debt, one feels a sense of lack and does not feel happy until one gets what one wants, this longing, this wishing is unpleasant and creates a feeling of disatisfaction and dis -ease in the mind. Like when coloured dye is added to water, the water looks attractive but it distorts things and makes them unclear.  

Aversion is like being afflicted by a sickness. Anger/hatred is painful, it literally poisons the body with harmful toxins, like a burning coal that one picks up and throws, which burns oneself as well as where it is thrown. It is like boiling water that distorts the surface so one cannot see clearly. 

Stagnation is like being in prison. One feels stuck and unable to escape the dullness and drowsiness, the fatigue. Like a stagnant pond with slime and algae growing over the surface, one cannot see the water clearly. 

Restlessness is like being a slave to a control freak of a boss, who never leaves you alone, is always making demands on your time and pushing you. It is like the wind blowing ripples and waves across the surface of water making it difficult to see it clearly. 

Doubt is like being at a crossroads and not knowing which way to go. If the wrong choice is made it could be disastrous. One cannot stay choosing for long as that is also dangerous because their are bandits about. So one has to make a choice and hope they pick the right direction. Doubt is like muddy water, where one cannot see clearly into the depths. 

Mindfulness is being trained to notice a hindrance when it is present in the mind, note what caused it to arise, learn what makes it tick, and how to remove it from the mind and prevent it from arising again in the future. The instructions on how to deal with the five hindrances are in right effort, the sixth factor of the noble eightfold path. Mindfulness is to carry out the instructions of right effort and become the sentinel of consciousness.

One way to observe the hindrances is through watching one's thoughts. Interrupting them if they manifest any of the hindrances, then replacing them with thoughts which are the opposite.This is hard work, but eventually with persistence and determined effort, the mind when freed from the hindrances will be full of happy peaceful thoughts. It then becomes easier to settle into meditation and the thoughts will naturally calm and grow quiet. Continually bringing one's attention back to the meditation object is also a way to seclude the mind from the hindrances.

The five aggregates of clinging

These are the five streams that come together to make up a living being: The body, feelings, perceptions, mental volitions, and consciousness.

They are called the five khandas in Pali, and the five skandhas in Sanskrit.

They are streams because they are always changing with nothing lasting or substantial behind them. Just like one never sees the same stream twice. A stream can give the illusion of looking the same as it flows past, but the water molecules one is observing are different each moment. 

The five aggregates are just processes rising, flowing, fading outside of our control. The body ages, changes, gets sick and dies whether we like or not. Feelings come from sense impressions which happen because of the environment around us. Perceptions change.Thoughts and emotions change. Consciousness just reflects all this, constantly changing from moment to moment. Non of it is the self. Not me, not mine.The five aggregates arise because of causes and conditions. When one looks closely with a mind that is serene and lucid, one cannot find a substantial self in any of them, it is all just process flowing and changing from one moment to the next.

It can be helpful to become aware of how we cling to these streams and identify with them. And how this clinging causes us suffering. 

This lack of substance applies to other beings as well. Our connections with others are also insubstantial. Everyone is changing. When we get attached to and cling to other beings, this causes us suffering, because when the inevitable happens and we eventually become separated from them it can cause us great emotional pain and distress when they are no longer around; or when they change and are no longer the same person they were.  

Every being we meet leaves an impression on the mind. Their voices and energies make their home there in some fashion. Our heads becoming a mix of all the different beings we meet. The traces they leave on us shaping who we are, and who we become. 

The mind is always needing to cling to something. I think because of the uncertainty impermanence creates. Meditation is a form of clinging. It creates a state of mind that does not last, but it is a useful illusion of stability, one that secludes one from the five hindrances to help one see things clearly and decrease one's suffering. 

This huge web of interdependence, a complex weave of cause and effect, constantly changing, with nothing substantial behind any of it. 

Who am I? Who are you? What is the self?

The six external and six internal sense bases

These are the six senses, both the contact and the impression that contact makes on the mind. The six senses are: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and the mind sense (called the mind sense because it is able to look at itself and get a snapshot of one's mood, emotions, one's state of mind). 

The Buddha gives a simile of six animals all pulling in diferent directions at the same time on ropes that are tied to a common knot in the centre. The six animals represent the six senses, the ropes tied together is a metaphor of how they are all connected together and pull the mind in different directions. 

There is a meditation one can practise here, where one can place one's awareness in the body and use that feeling of embodiment as an anchor. To stake and peg the communal knot to the ground. 

The six animals continue tugging on the ropes but are no longer pulling you off in different directions. You keep grounded in the body and remain still and calm, allowing  those sensations and feelings to just be without creating a story out of them anymore. 

Eventually the six senses start to settle down and stop pulling. They go quiet and things get very still and pleasant. This can bring a feeling of liberation and a reduction to suffering. 

With much practise it starts to feel like a super power, especially in this modern world. The ability to become still and content while the world goes on around one, no longer feeling the need to get involved with it. Not always easy to do, it takes patience and perseverance, and playing the long game, but in time it can become a supernormal power that brings with it a freedom from clinging to the world of the senses.

The seven factors of awakening

These are the support beams that hold up the awakened mind. One is to cultivate and develop these till they become second nature. One becomes mindful of their presence in the mind, and how to keep them going continuously in a constant cycle. Which is the second set of instructions in Right effort. 

The seven factors of enlightenment are: mindfulness, wonder, energy, joy, serenity, samhadi, and equanimity.

Mindfulness is the first factor of awakening, and also stays present throughout the whole cycle. The whole process of awakening starts with remembering, being mindful. 

Wonder is the second factor of awakening. Often translated as investigation of dhamma, or investigation of phenomena, but I find these translations remind me too much of the dryness of school,which doesn't really enthuse me all that much. I prefer wonder because the word brings back to me the feeling of being a child and looking at the sky and the clouds, the wonder of life, of earth, the water, the feeling of air on my skin, seeing its invisible presence as it moves through the plants and trees, the wonder of fire, of light and colour, and the warm energy of the sun. The wonder that there is even such a thing as sky, water, earth, air, life, the sun, and stars in the night sky. Wonder brings interest which gathers the mind together into a state of absorption and brings into being the next factor of awakening...

Energy. When one is interested in something one feels energised and enthused. It is the opposite of boredom which creates dullness and a lack of energy. Energy in this factor is also the momentum built up by repeated effort, and the drive and motivation to succeed at something. Energy is closely linked to the next factor of awakening...

Joy. Energy and joy go together. Which is where the word enjoyment comes from. Joy is an important component of the enlightened mind, if one skips this step, it can lead to drowsiness and one may fall asleep before they reach the later factors. For many this is one of the hardest factors to bring into being. But if done right, wonder, interest and energy should naturally bring some joy to the mind. And one starts to enjoy oneself.

Serenity is the fifth factor of awakening. The excitement and rapturous energy of joy naturally starts to calm and grow quiet, leading to a feeling of tranquility and calm. This is a very pleasant feeling, like relaxing on the porch at the end of an exciting day, it can feel satisfying to chill out when the excitment of joy has settled down. Which takes one to the doorstep of the next factor of awakening...

Samhadi. Samhadi is a difficult word to translate from Pali. It is a combination of meditation, composure, centredness, collectedness, wholeheartedness, flow, stillness, unification of mind, serenity and lucidity. It is also an emotional experience of beautiful states of mind, an experience of the deep, of the divine, of the higher states of consciousness. In the Buddha's teachings there are four stages to samhadi, called the four jhanas, which are covered in the eighth factor of the noble eightfold path so I won't go into them here. A rough translation of the word jhana is meditation. The four jhanas (meditations) naturally lead to the seventh factor of awakening...

Equanimity. This is where all the energies of the mind that pull us this way and that are perfectly tuned and in balance, in sync and pacified. It is where mindfulness becomes purified by a state of perfect equipose. It is from this state of mind that one can see things clearly and penetrate the truth of them without the distortion caused by disunity of mind. 

Then the whole cycle of the seven factors of enlightenment begins again. As one gets better at cultivating this, one starts to develop the wisdom faculty. Where one wonders about and investigates the three characteristics of phenomena which are: change/impermanence (both in the short term and long term), that there is no substantial self, and how clinging to this changing phenomena brings us suffering. Which gradually leads to the insight and the wisdom that changes one permanently and begins the irreversible process of awakening.

The four noble truths

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

Understanding how the mind is always wanting to cling to something. And how clinging to things that change, is suffering.

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

Understanding that the cause of suffering is greed, hatred, and delusion. Which correspond to the three kinds of craving: craving for things we think will make us happy (grasping); craving for something unpleasant to be otherwise (pushing away); and craving for becoming, for continued existence, the delusional story of self.

 The three are tangled up with one other, and feed off one another, creating a momentum that strengthens and reinforces one another. Greed and hatred both spring from delusion (also known as ignorance). One weakens greed and aversion first, which then makes it easier to get to the root of the problem, delusion. 

By abandoning greed, hatred, and delusion we abandon the cause of suffering in the mind. As craving is the cause of clinging. When we become less ignorant of this, and remind ourselves of it over and over again, using the three characteristics as a tool to help one develop dispassion and disenchantment towards the changing things of the world, one begins to start naturally letting go.

Which leads to the third noble truth.

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

As one lets go of the clinging to the world, one starts to experience greater and greater states of liberation, till eventually there is no more clinging at all, and no more suffering. Just a mind perpetually at ease, at peace, cycling through the seven factors of awakening, not clinging to anything in the world. 

Realisation of this truth is a complete and permanent end to suffering. And one experiences nibbana, which is the mind freed from greed, hate, and delusion. The goal of the path. A mind no longer shaken, disturbed or unsettled by the changing nature of phenomena. A mind that does not suffer anymore.

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

However in the meantime you need to cling to something to get to nibbana: the raft that gets you across the river: the noble eightfold path. This is what trains and conditions the mind to become an instrument capable of penetrating and understanding the four noble truths and fully letting go and realising the third noble truth.

The eightfold path both works together as a cohesive whole, each factor supporting the others. As well as cycling through each factor in a linear fashion over and over. The wisdom, understanding and development of the mind growing deeper and more profound with each cycle till it is fully liberated.

But until the mind is fully liberated one clings to the path and doesn't let go till the end. The raft is a bundle of sticks one holds onto while in the water. The sticks symbolise the teachings contained in the eightfold path. The paddling that gets you across the river is right effort. If one lets go of the raft before one reaches the other shore, then one will be carried and swept away by the current of greed, hate, and delusion. 

It is only when one reaches the other shore, that one can put down the raft. Then one can let go of the path and chill out on the shores of nibbana knowing that what needed to be done is done, that there is nothing further to do, freed permanently from clinging and suffering. .

How long  this takes varies from person to person, their inclination and motivation, and how much dust is in their eyes. It might take lifetimes, years, months, weeks, days, a night, a dhamma talk, or the time it takes to shave one’s head. The current world record holder for full enlightenment is recorded in the suttas about  a twelve year old boy who became fully enlightened in the time it took to shave his head (-:

And of course like the Buddha, out of compassion, one can then choose to share the teachings with others and guide them to the end of suffering, but only if they ask and want to know, Buddhism is not a proselytising religion.

If one would like to learn more about right mindfulness I recommend this series of talks by Ajahn Sona recorded during a virtual mindfulness retreat that took place during the pandemic:

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCXN1GlAupG0D2tTYFGurLptbA4pTB4k6

With Metta. 

May you find peace of mind and freedom from suffering.


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New blog post

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“They abused me, they hit me! They beat me, they robbed me!” For those who bear such a grudge, hatred never ends.

“They abused me, they hit me! They beat me, they robbed me!” For those who bear no such grudge, hatred has an end.

For never is hatred settled by hate, it’s only settled by love: this is an eternal truth.

....

If you find an alert companion, a wise and virtuous friend, then, overcoming all adversities, wander with them, joyful and mindful.

If you find no alert companion, no wise and virtuous friend, then, like a king who flees his conquered realm, wander alone like a tusker in the wilds.

It’s better to wander alone, than have  fellowship with fools. Wander alone and do no wrong, at ease like a tusker in the wilds.”

[MN128] 

https://suttacentral.net/mn128

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Right Livelihood

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 1 Oct 2022, 14:00


Having abandoned wrong livelihood, one continues to make one’s living with right livelihood.’

This is the fifth factor of the noble eightfold path. It is about how we make an income or get food and shelter in this world. Our career.

In the context of the noble eightfold path we aspire towards a livelihood that causes as little harm as possible to ourselves and other beings.

Becoming a Buddhist monk or nun is one way to practise right livelihood. Remembering that the Buddha left the household life, turned his back on being a wealthy prince, shaved his head and beard and went forth into homelessness, begging, wearing rags for robes. He was dependent on the generosity of others to get his food. This way of living goes against the grain of the world, but the spiritual life is unworldly. And showing generosity to one who is on the spiritual path or at any stage of enlightenment creates good kamma (beneficial consequences) for the giver. Which will return to bless them both in this present life and future ones.

But there is nothing wrong with being a lay follower either, the monk’s life is not for everyone, and one can still reach advanced stages of enlightenment as a householder.

When it comes to work and how we conduct our business in the world. We must try to cause as little harm as possible to other beings, and to ourselves. So careers that deal in weapons, poisons, violence, deceit, stealing, polluting, killing, misinformation, exploiting other beings and harming them, are bad career choices.

Always remember as well that you are a being and you matter too, just as much as any other being does. So one should be kind to oneself, and take care not to strain the mind by working long hours. One should not be taken advantage of by an employer, one does not have to be treated like a factory farmed human. One is not a slave to money, to the economy, to a nation, or to any being.

Our time is valuable and we should spend it wisely. We should be calm, dignified, and composed in our dealings with the world whether we are rich or poor, and not allow ourselves to be mistreated by anyone; and in turn we should not mistreat other beings.

In our world of work we should show kindness and friendship to others, but that does not make us a door mat, we assert our boundaries, in a non-hostile way, coming from a place of peace and friendliness. One does not cut short on morals or the spiritual life to please a boss or work colleagues.

We should make time for the other aspects of our life, especially when it comes to the practise of meditation and the development of the spiritual path. There will at times be the need for solitude, to seclude oneself from the world and the energies of others, to retreat and focus on one’s own emotional and spiritual development, which should be prioritised above all else. Above our career. A career is transient and will one day end, but our spiritual development remains and carries over into old age and our next existence.

Right livelihood can also be thought of as right lifestyle. As some people may be retired and out of work for different reasons. In this instance, one should make good use of the time one has and focus on one’s inner development and spiritual progress. Aspiring to live a peaceful lifestyle that causes as little harm as possible to oneself and other beings.

To accomplish this it helps to reflect on the reality of death frequently, to practise the remembrance of it as often as possible. Because death helps energise and motivate us to practise the noble eightfold path and the spiritual life. It reminds us of what is important. Death is universal and comes for all beings, even enlightened ones, and it can come at any moment. We don’t know when it will pay us a visit. Beings in this world die both young and old, across all species of life, and it is normal. The body is fated to one day become a decomposing corpse, (or ashes if cremated,) and the Earth will reclaim it. The body does not belong to us, it is on loan, and will be returned to the elements one day. We borrow these bodies for a brief time, so we should use them wisely.

It is good to remember this, not out of morbidity or in a depressed way. Not out of fear. But in a calm lucid serene way. Making peace with the fact.

Losing attachment to the body now is like making a wise chess move in anticipation of the future. Because whether any of us likes it or not the body does change, it ages, gets sick, loses strength and abilities, gets weak, and eventually dies. Even if you are the most beautiful and talented being in the world, that beauty will not last, that talent will fade, abilities become disabilities. You have no control over any of it. The body came into being and grows and ages all by itself, and so do other people’s bodies.

By losing attachment to the body now, you save yourself a whole bunch of suffering in the future when the inevitable happens. It also saves you a whole bunch of suffering now, because much of our world is caught up in the body. What it looks like, how strong and healthy it is, how smart it is. It causes us so much anxiety, lust, misery, delusion and mental illness. To no longer be caught up in all that is a relief to the mind.

It doesn’t mean one doesn’t take care of the body though. One looks after the body, feels compassion for it and sees to its needs as well as one can. One tries to keep it alive as long as possible, it is our vehicle to enlightenment after all. It is through the body we can realise the end of suffering, stress, and craving, and liberate the mind permanently from the defilements of greed, hatred, and delusion. But one does so without clinging to the body, knowing it is transient and fated to die.

Death will separate us from all that we hold dear. All that is beloved and pleasing to us will become otherwise. We cannot take our body, any of our friends, family, or material possessions with us when we die. It is a journey to a far place we must take alone. The only thing we take with us are our acts of generosity, kindness, and clarity. These are the friends that greet us on the other side and help us both in this life and in the next one to come; in whatever world that may be, there are so many different worlds.

Mindfulness of death (Maraṇasati) helps us remember what is important in life, that the clock is ticking and to use our time wisely.



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Tranquil wisdom meditation

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 9 May 2022, 17:38

Here is a link to a free book that explains much better what I was trying to describe in my previous article. I have found it helpful to practise this and it has brought me results. I am making great progress with weakening both aversion and sensuality, it's great! 

This technique also makes mind wandering a more interesting part of meditation practise. 

In a nutshell: 

1. Recognise the mind has wandered.
2. Let go of the distraction.
3. Become aware of the body.
4. Relax any tension in the body.
5. Smile and gladden the mind.
6. Reflect on the four noble truths. I.e. noticing the craving, letting go of the craving, experiencing the mind free from craving, and the development of the eightfold path
7. Return to meditation object.
8. Rinse and repeat if mind wanders. 

I find when I re-engage with the meditation object after this process it is much easier to stay with it and more enjoyable. You only need to do this when the mind has wandered for some time and the meditation object has been forgotten, for short distractions just go back to the meditation object. This process gets faster and more intuitive the more you practise.

 While meditating you want to keep that feeling of bodily ease and pleasure going. Eventually it feels natural to let go of applied and sustained attention to the meditation object and to allow awareness to become more expansive. The joy and pleasure gradually gets more and more refined, changing to tranquillity and stillness, until it reaches equanimity. Equanimity is how the mind feels when all the different energies that pull us this way or that are perfectly balanced. Like everything is tuned just right and in harmony. There is an exquisite stillness and clarity of mind that is hard to put into words but you will have felt it in your own practise at times I am sure, and will know what I am talking about.

I don't know if any of this is helpful to you, don't worry if it isn't, I won't be offended lol. I just send it in case it is helpful to others. I don't like keeping things to myself. And I could die at any moment so would be a shame not to share this with others.

I am not a normal person lol. I spend an unnatural amount of time researching and practising this stuff. I have never really been that into the material world to be honest, it doesn't do much for me, nothing lasts in this world and death comes for all. I have always found the inner spiritual life more interesting. 

Although I don't judge anyone else for not being the same and I am not trying to proselytise anyone, that's the nice thing about Buddhism one is under no obligation to share the dhamma with others or change the world in any way, there is none of that stressful evangelical stuff trying to convert others - thank goodness. I think this is just my way of giving, or trying to be generous with what I know because I don't have much else to offer really.

And I can say with certainty now that this stuff really works, I have definitely changed. I have not got angry about anything for a good while now and the craving for sense pleasure is also not as powerful a force as it once was and seems to be getting weaker each day.

 It feels great! The mind just becomes more peaceful, lucid and freer.

Be well anyway and sending you good wishes and energy for you own journey to nibanna.


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A good home

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 23 Apr 2022, 13:10

Was ruminating just now over feelings of regret and longing. These can pop up and disrupt the flow of peace at times. How to deal with those?

 I have been practising telling myself each time that I can't change the past. What has happened has happened, there's no super-power I have that can turn back the clock and make me do things different. And even if I could, would I want to?  

Past mistakes were done by a younger self that didn't know any better. But now you do know better, and it is because of your younger self that you know better. So stop punishing yourself, take a bow to your younger self and resolve to honour the mistake by being wiser from now on. And remembering your less-than-graceful moments can help one to be humble, which is helpful for overcoming conceit. But the guilt, longing, aversion, anxiety and remorse is not helpful, that can be let go of.

Your younger self is not who you are now. And it is who you are now that's important. Who you are now is what's generating the kamma for your future self.

Putting oneself down and feeling guilt, shame and anxiety will become a habit when repeated over a lengthy period of time, and it is a habit that is no good for the mind. It depresses it, and a depressed mind is no fun to be in at all. Our mind is our home, and so we should make it the kind of home that is warm, friendly, welcoming, wise, peaceful, and a refuge even when times are shit.

Unfortunately pain, sickness, fatigue, loss and separation is inevitable in this world. That is the kamma of having a body. Noone escapes this, not even enlightened beings. The Buddha aged, got sick, had back problems, had a toxic cousin intent on murdering him, and he died. 

It is the fate of all living beings.

What is the most important thing to have with us when we die? 

 Our time here is short and one could die at any moment, old age is not guaranteed, people die at different ages and that's normal; across the many species of life on Earth both young and old die. Noone knows how much time they have here.

And it isn't these things that are the problem. They are inevitable, they are outside our control, that's the way it is in a changing universe of interdependence and entropy. 

The problem is how we feel about these things. It is the hostility in the mind towards them that is the problem. Aversion is an unpleasant emotion, it comes with unpleasant sensations, unpleasant feelings and thoughts. It makes one's consciousness feel toxic and unhappy. To the point where one would do anything to get rid of it. And it brings us negative consequences - one's kamma, setting us up for more misery in the future. And yet we can't see that it is this hostility in the mind, this craving for things to be different that causes the suffering.

The good news is that aversion is not necessary and can be removed from the mind. And why wouldn't one want to remove it from the mind? It is not helpful, and one can live perfectly well without it. 

Aversion is generated by the mind. And because it is generated by the mind, it is possible to train one's mind to let go of it, and feel the relief of a mind that is not hostile. A serene happy mind filled with unconditional love instead of fear. It is easier to feel love for others when the mind is less hostile, when you realise all beings value their lives. That all beings want to feel safe, loved, and at peace. Just like you do.

Our mind is our true home. It is what we take with us when we die.

It might take time, a lot of practise, perseverance and a huge helping of patience. But continue putting in the right causes and conditions even when it feels like a desert and a trudge, and eventually the garden will flower and fruit all by itself. But remember to be gentle with the mind, a friend to it, take regular breaks and rest from the work. Impatience and overdoing it won't make anything grow faster.


 


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Right intention

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 22 Apr 2022, 17:28

What is intention?

Does intention come before thought, like a wordless impulse?

For me it feels like that, but thankfully one does not need to understand what it is to any great depth. Basically what we need to remember is: intention is the generator of kamma. Our intentions lead to actions, and repeated actions become habits. From intention comes speech and action -- our behaviour. What we think about reflects our intentions, and we can change our intentions by changing our thoughts.

Changing our thoughts can also alter our perceptions. For example, Ajahn Sona in a talk during a mindfulness retreat (available both as a podcast and on YouTube), talked about how as a monk one of the first things they are taught is to break the body up into the five parts we are most attracted to and memorise them. This becomes a mental tool one can use to help free the mind of lust and attachment to one's body. These five parts are: head hair, body hair, nails, skin, and teeth. When you separate them by themselves, they are not that attractive or appealing really. Our perception of them changes. There's something else interesting about them as well, they are also the dead parts of the body. And isn't it odd how we are not attracted to the live parts of the human body? The squishy inners underneath the skin, we find the living parts of the body repulsive and horrifying. One never praises one's romantic love's kidneys or the shape of their pancreas, or finds the real beating lump of their heart that appealing. When you break it down the whole thing about attraction can be turned on its head and one's perception can be altered.

During the talk Ajahn Sona likens skin to being like a leaky spandex suit. And I carried out a thought experiment with this whilst I was watching a movie with my family, and as I looked at the Hollywood actors and actresses on the screen I kept thinking: 'Leaky spandex suit', and you know what it worked! My perception was altered and the human body suddenly became quite repulsive to me, I even excitedly shared this with my family, who looked at me strangely lol. Alas they do not share my enthusiasm for the spiritual life.

Anyway to return back to topic, right intention is the second factor of the noble eight-fold path and is guided by right view. These two folds of the path are known as the wisdom faculties. They come at the beginning for a reason, because they act like a compass to steer one in the right direction. They are also at the end of the path after right samhadi and grow deeper and wiser as one's practise of the noble eightfold path develops. The noble eight-fold path cycles, and one's understanding of it grows deeper on each iteration. The eight path factors also support each other outside of the numbered order. I.e. the work of right intention is supported by the four right efforts, which in turn instruct right mindfulness.

Luckily the Buddha simplifies what one needs to remember to just three right intentions. These are: the intention of renunciation (letting go), the intention of non-illwill, and the intention of harmlessness. These are the three directions one should steer the herd of thoughts towards.

It doesn't have to be a stressful exercise, and one does not need to be an enemy or control freak with oneself. I sort of imagine it as a sailing boat following a course bearing. And at times I might go off course, but once I am aware I am going in the wrong direction, I simpy correct course and bring the herd of thoughts back in line with the three right intentions.

I don't judge myself for going in the wrong direction, I don't punish myself, or feel I have to tie up any loose thoughts I was having. I just simply interrupt the thought processes, let go of whatever it was, and simply steer the herd back in the right direction without an iota of judgement for having those thoughts. The Buddha is kind in that he gives us a 'get out of jail free' card which lets us out of the dungeon of guilt and shame. We are allowed to not ruminate over our mistakes. Gleam what wisdom one can from them and let them go. They were done by a younger self and are not who you are now. So let go of aversion towards oneself. Try to be a friend to the mind instead, don't fight it, train it gently with kindness, and it will be a friend back to you. It will become your best friend (-:

In fact metta practice (metta means friendship and loving-kindness) can help weaken the mind's tendency towards aversion, which is helpful for bringing into being the three right intentions. So metta can be part of the practise of right intention also.

It can help also to think of right intention as being like guiding a herd of cattle, when one notices the thoughts are going off course, one imagines oneself to be like a cowherd steering them back in the right direction. This metaphor comes from the Buddha in the Dvedhavitakka sutta - Two sorts of thinking (MN19).

The Buddha also mentions in the sutta that excessive thinking, even about good things, can be tiring after a while. And encourages one to quieten down the thought energies when one is tired and rest in Samhadi. This lucid stillness refreshes the mind and brings relief to the body, which helps with the work of right intention, so the eighth factor: right samhadi is also supporting it.

Calming thoughts down is not always easy though, the habit of thinking can be a hard one to shake, especially for us modern humans. We are conditioned by this industrial world to live constantly in our heads, and the constant thinking becomes a torture. Which is why it feels such a relief when one can let go of the thought processes for a bit and just dwell in another consciousness outside of speech. It feels freeing, refreshing.

To be able to stop thinking when I want, and to only think what I want, when I want. To train and master the thought processes. That is the noble aspiration here with right intention.

The Buddha says that training one's thoughts to follow the three right intentions will lead one to helpful kamma that is conducive to reaching the goal of realising nibanna. Whilst allowing them to wander about untrained in the opposite directions of: craving, hostility, and harmfulness will lead one to unhelpful kamma. 

The three right intentions:

Intention of renunciation.
Intention of non-hostility.
Intention of not causing harm.

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The key to enlightenment

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 15 Apr 2022, 22:18

To greatly weaken the mind’s tendency to aversion is wonderful. But nothing magical, it is just training the mind. If anyone with enough determination puts in the right causes and condtions, they will get the results.

I still have much work to do to go further on the path. I must now weaken sensuality, the next guardian at the gate. And there seems to be a strong resistance to do this in my mind. It is quite attached to sense pleasures. The Buddha said that sense-desire is a lesser stain on the personality than aversion. But comes with a trade-off in that it is harder to remove. And he is right, it is proving tricky to go beyond this guardian at the gate.

But I can see a strategy for overcoming sense desire. It will involve a great deal of patience and playing the long game, it will involve the four right efforts, right mindfulness, and the eighth factor of the noble path: Right Samhadi (right concentration). Right Samhadi is defined by the Buddha as the four jhanas. And jhana is described as a delicious state of consciousness by meditators who have learnt how to get into them.

Once one has learnt how to get in and out of jhana quickly, and can sustain these states of mind indefinitely, as well as come out of them at will. They discover a bliss they can generate all by themselves within, something that is described as being a greater bliss than anything external or that the world can offer. Then one can naturally let go of sense desire. A person at this stage of enlightenment who has completely cut off the two fetters of: greed(sense-desire) and aversion is known as an anagami (non-returner). They are never again born into this world. And in their next life they are reincarnated in the higher heavens, living very long lives there (aeons). They are born there because of their attachment to jhana. But this is absolutely fine, because what happens is they just carry on practising and make it to the fourth stage of enlightenment, realise nibanna and become fully liberated in the higher heavens - like celestial Buddhas (-:

There are some teachers of Buddhism who have been misguided about the jhanas, and some who even say they are not necessary. Whilst it is true that the jhanas aren’t necessary to reach the first and second stages of enlightenment (stream-enterer and once-returner), if one wants to go further, beyond the second stage of enlightenment, one needs to learn and get good at jhana (right samhadi). At least that’s my understanding, and some will disagree, but intuitively what I am thinking here feels right to me (on my journey anyway).

To learn jhana though one needs to be very determined and seclude themselves from sensuality (at least for a set time). The first verse goes: ‘Quite secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states of mind. One enters and abides in the first jhana. Which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, and has the rapture and pleasure born from seclusion from the world and letting go.’

The way I practise this is when I meditate I go outside somewhere quiet away from everyone. Which secludes me from other people’s energies and also from all the technological devices in my room, and the kettle (cups of tea lol). Doing this forces me to concentrate wholeheartedly on the meditation with nothing around me to tempt or distract me. This is what it means to become quite secluded from sense pleasures.

Secluded from unwholesome states of mind, means to let go of the five hindrances (worldy-desire, aversion, stagnation (or lack of motivation), agitation, doubt); and also means to let go of all the stress of the day and problems we encounter in the world and the kamma of having a body. Put that heavy suitcase down for a moment and feel the relief. Refuse to pick up or inspect the contents of the suitcase, just leave it be. No harm will come if you let go of it for a time. We let go of our worries and thoughts every night when we go to sleep, nothing bad happens when we do. Give yourself permission to let go. Then when the body feels relaxed and at ease it naturally starts to feel some joy and pleasure. When this happens meditation becomes more enjoyable, an indulgence, a way to quieten down the thought energies and refresh one’s mind in the jhanic consciousnesses of right samhadi.

There’s nothing wrong with that at all. If one becomes attached to jhana, that also is fine, it won’t stop one getting enlightened, in fact it is actually the way to enlightenment, or at least to full enlightenment anyway. One who is attached to jhana is in the third stage of enlightenment and close to the end of the path. So enjoy jhana fully and keep asking the mind for more joy and pleasure, keep asking until you couldn't ask for more. Don’t feel guilty or be told you shouldn’t get attached to the pleasure of jhana. The Buddha said that jhana was not a pleasure to be feared. He also recalls in MN 36: “… when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana where there was rapture & pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation, and wondered, could that be the path to Awakening?’ Then following on from that memory came the realization: ‘That is the path to Awakening.”

The four jhanas take you on a tour of (mind-generated) pleasure which can be safely explored without fear. When the mind has had its fill and feels content and satisfied, it naturally inclines itself more and more to calming and refining the pleasure bit by bit, till it reaches complete stillness and equanimity in the fourth jhana, which has neither pain nor pleasure. When one has sufficiently mastered the fourth jhana, and calmed the energies of aversion and sensuality to a hush, one’s vision is no longer clouded by them and one can clearly see the root of the problem: delusion, which comes from ignorance. Then one can unlock the door to full enlightenment using a key with three teeth that fits perfectly into the lock: knowledge of suffering, knowledge of change/impermanence, knowledge of no-self. These three knowledges are interlinked, and hence part of the same key. They are the key to freeing oneself from delusion.

That’s the plan anyway. I haven’t got that far yet, and I am only just starting to get what jhana is, and sustaining one is challenging, quite tiring actually. But I know if I keep at it for long enough, and keep putting in the right causes and conditions, it is only a matter of time (-:


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The conscious frying pan

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022, 17:30

I find writing can be helpful for clarifying my thoughts and reaching insights about things, things perhaps I wouldn't have seen by trying to think through or verbalise out loud.

Sometimes though I find it helpful talking out loud to myself. Giving myself a pep talk in preparation for upcoming challenges I see coming over the horizon, those dragons heading my way about to test me. There's no escape from those unfortunately, such is the kamma of having a body, of existence itself, an existence that is interdependent. It is simply the nature of an ever-changing universe in a state of entropy.

Anyway, talking oneself out of a negative state of mind is the Buddha's fourth strategy for abandoning unwholesome states of mind.  

The five strategies recommended by the Buddha for abandoning negative mental states are:

1. Replacement, replace the negative state with its opposite, e.g. sense-desire with contentment or equanimity, ill-will with serenity and goodwill, and so on...

  If that doesn't work move to step two.

2. Concern for the opinion of the wise. Imagine what someone noble and wise would advise if they saw you in that state of mind; or imagine that you are about to go out to dinner with people you really respect and admire and want to abandon that state of mind post haste as you want to make a good impression and not ruin the evening or feel regret later.

  If that fails move on to step three.

3. Distract yourself from the mood until it either goes away on its own and is replaced by calm and peace, or until it becomes weak enough to apply one of the strategies in the steps above.

 If this fails move to step four.

4. Talk yourself out of it. Try to be gentle, kind, and encouraging if you can. But if you need to be fierce with yourself, be so in a loving way, without feeling emnity towards yourself, treat yourself with compassion, like you would treat a noble friend you were correcting. 

 If this doesn't work, then the next step is considered a last resort, it goes against what is advised in popular psychology, but must be applied nevertheless, as one simply cannot allow that negativity to continue, to do so will cause harm both to oneself and others.

5. Suppress the mood, do not allow it to express itself. The Buddha describes it as: 'When a stronger man pins down a weaker man.' One must hold that mood down and not allow it to dominate the mind or express itself in any way. One must do this until it is sufficiently weak enough to then apply one of the strategies above to safely remove it. 

I ten to use the fourth strategy a lot. I will often use that strategy as a tool to weaken the mood sufficiently so that earlier strategies become more effective. For example I will talk myself into using distraction (third strategy).

With the third strategy it is good to have some activity you like doing that you can distract yourself with, so your attention is not focused so much on the negative mood, and absorbed instead by something else. Preferably the distraction is a wholesome activity. Our intentions and everything we do leave ripples and traces in the mind, when we do something once, we increase the likelihood we will do it again at some point, and then again and again, and the traces and ripples grow larger, leaving deeper and deeper grooves in the mind, which in time become new habits. 

 What we focus on grows stronger, so don't feed the monsters in your head, starve them of attention. What goes on in the mind is a lot to do with what we pay attention to. What we continually pay attention to dominates our conscious awareness, and the unconscious mind (trying to be helpful) will generate more of the same, actively filtering out things from awareness it considers unimportant and bringing us more of the same, reinforcing it. Not too disimilar to how the algorithm on YouTube works I guess, only more complex.The narrator part of mind puts this all together into a story. Which become the stories we tell ourselves about reality, about others, about ourselves. These in turn become our opinions, our delusions. Delusions come from a lack of information (not seeing the whole picture), misinformation and disinformation. Ignorance basically.

The first of the right efforts: prevention, is all about where one places their attention. One trains the mind to let go of unwise attention to the fault in ourselves, the world and others; and to let go of unwise attention to the attractive in ourselves, the world and others. What we pay attention to grows stronger. Unwholesome behaviours grow stronger in the mind, they take root and become harder to shake, so you want to become addicted to the wholesome if you can. Your future self will thank you for it.

The Buddha says with patience and perseverance one will eventually become super fast at removing negative states of mind. He likens consciousness in this instance to being like a red hot frying pan, with unwholesome states of mind like water droplets that upon landing on the pan go psssst and evaporate out of existence, leaving no trace. That's how quick one wants to aspire to be at removing unwholesome states of mind.


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Patience

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There's a bit of a conflict going on with what I am learning in Buddhism and popular psychology where one is encouraged to think that all emotions are okay. In Buddhism we are taught in right effort that unwholesome emotions are not okay and should be prevented or abandoned. Then one should work at bringing into being wholesome emotions and sustaining those. 

In one sutta the Buddha talks about how before he was enlightened he spent some time dividing up his thoughts into either wholesome or unwholesome. He watched his thoughts carefully and reflected on them and saw that those which where to do with sense-desire, ill-will or harmfulness led to harm for himself and others, they obstructed wisdom and did not lead to nibbana, so he placed them in the unwholesome pile and expelled them from his mind bringing them to an end.

And when he observed thoughts of letting go (renunciation), goodwill, and harmlessness, he saw they were beneficial, and where conducive to gaining wisdom, and attaining nibbana. So he nurtured those thoughts, strengthened them and brought them to completion. And at the end of this experiment he said it worked!

How long he spent doing that I don't know, he spent much time prepping his mind before he sat under the Bodhi tree to get enlightened it seems. So one should not get too disheartened at not being able to change one's head straight away lol.

I read something Ajahn Brahm wrote in his book 'mindfulness, bliss and beyond, a meditator's handbook' about how he loathed the all night sits he had to do in Thailand as a monk. He would feel ill-will towards the sits feeling they were stupid and unnecessary. He was also suffering from malnutrition and sleep deprivation at the time. He wrote it took him a couple of years to realise it was his aversion that was the problem, and when saw that he stopped fighting it and then found peace. Reflecting on that I realise I have the same problem sometimes. 

Anyway he's a great monk now, and I find it reassuring when monks and Buddhist teachers talk about how they also struggled on the path in the past and how they overcame it. As it gives me hope that I can do this, and helps me cut myself some slack for not getting it right away, it can take years of training. I guess we have all had years of training the mind in the wrong way and become masters at unwholesome states of mind. One isn't going to change that course in a single night (-:

Patience seems to be my teaching this year. I am having to learn a great deal about being patient. As the mind is a lot like a garden, that grows, flowers and fruits in its own time. Impatience will not make anything grow faster.

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The desert of effort

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 29 Mar 2022, 14:41

Woke up with a right shitty mood today. Agitated depression with a large helping of anger, oh and fatigue, yes agitated fatigue, if that contradiction makes any sense.

 The first right effort of preventing negative moods from arising had clearly failed at some point in the night, and my brain had put me back together in a rather haphazard way. So I tried to practise the second right effort of abandoning this unwholesome state of mind. But the fatigue made it challenging to rouse the energy to abandon it, it was like trying to shake off something stuck with superglue.

 To be honest the four right efforts felt like a joke. I felt like a failure for being unable to practise them. Started feeling doubt that the Buddha's teachings really do work. I think I even nearly swore at the Buddha at one point, which was shameful of me. This made the anger and depression worse. 

And I couldn't get much done, no energy or inclination to study or paint, and couldn't get no sleep, no escape, just stuck in this horrible state of mind. Loving-kindness felt impossible to generate. So I tried equanimity, but maintaining that state of mind wasn't easy, especially as I felt so foggy-headed and physically beat. I felt like giving up. But I can't really, there's nothing to go back to in the world. I have seen through it, and I have no desire to be a worldling again. Once one has seen impermanence and how everything changes and that the self is insubstantial. One just feels dispassion for it all, for material things, for the self. Nothing lasts, everything fades away, we all die, we're all fated to become separated from everything we love and those we hold dear. Our material achievements are meaningless in the end.

I am watching the mind though, and what it does, looking for a chink in its armour and a way I can abandon this negative state of mind and bring a more positive one into being. Mindfulness is considered a wholesome state of mind, but the lack of energy makes it challenging to sustain. Monks apparently are deliberately sleep deprived to learn how to manage fatigue and not suffer. In fact the more I learn about the austerity Buddhist monks practise, the less appealing that lifestyle becomes to me. I don't think I could live like that, I am not into austerity, and very much dislike sleep-deprivation. 

I can't give up though. I have to keep on pushing through this desert of the mind and hope that the Buddha really did know what he was talking about and that there really is a way out of suffering. Many people throughout history have got enlightened, so it must possible. I can't go back now, I have come too far, I have to keep trudging forward. There's still some determination in me I guess, and perseverance is classed as a wholesome state of mind. I willl keep on keeping, even though training this mind feels like walking the wrong way on an escalator sometimes - I've had it with Samsara.

'Row row row your boat gently up the stream,
Merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream.
Row row row your boat gently up the stream,
If you see a crocodile try to stay serene.'


 

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Sign of peace

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A bit depressed at the moment. It is a difficult state of mind to shake off as it feels physical as well as mental, and very much accompanied by a distinct lack of energy, making it hard to find the strength to practise at times. I feel quite weak and vulnerable just now. I am trying to abandon this unwholesome state of mind however. I am much better these days at letting go of the thinking processes and resting my attention instead in the feeling of embodiment. But I find it hard being around other people's energies when I am like this, and I prefer solitude. Conversation can be challenging. I try to invoke loving-kindness, but it is hard to generate it consistently, even when using the voice of another (listening to a dhamma talk), I just struggle. So I have resolved to just feel non-ill-will instead, which is the bare minimum I think. I wonder if it might be that I find repeating words and phrases becomes tiring after a short while and yearn to just let go of them, so experimenting with invoking loving-kindness without using words, just going straight to the feeling.

The enlightenment factor of joy is also difficult to generate, so letting go of that one for now.

I feel very much like I need to retreat from the world and go into my coccoon, rest in the deep centre of my being and be still, so I can expend as little energy as possible and just let the world continue around me while I remain in my inner cave, taking refuge in the deepest part of my being. Unfortunately being still like this is not always practical, and feels unpleasant when it is disturbed by external forces, as I don't want to come out of the cave, and do so reluctantly.

So I am exploring other wholesome states of mind I can conjure instead. Equanimity works if I can conjure it, and so does serenity. I am getting much better at conjuring up serenity, and the sign of it can appear even when I am fatigued and depressed. It is a beautiful place that feels boundless, timeless, and can often spontaneously appear without me even trying to conjure it up, whatever mood I am in, it feels like home. I call it serenity, but in fact I think it borders on the edge of samhadi, or perhaps something else entirely, I am not sure, it is so hard to describe what it feels like to go there, but it is a very pleasant place and I often don't want to leave, it is so peaceful and balanced, it is different state of consciousness that transcends this world and the thinking processes. It is wordless, maybe that's why it feels so good. Is much easier to conjure with meditation, but can also be conjured outside of meditation in daily life sometimes.

One can still function whilst in that state of mind, but one feels unhurried, unconcerned and unstressed by things. It is like I am in another dimension whilst simultaneously interacting in this one. It sometimes feels like a secret place I go to, and nobody knows I have gone there. But I haven't perfected it yet and it can be challenging to maintain, especially when other people's energies forcefully intrude and take me out of that tranquil head space and back to this crazy modern world. Which is why I guess there is wisdom at times in seeking solitude. But this isn't always a luxury I can afford.

Still I am making progress with it, as when I first experienced this state of mind it only lasted a few seconds and poof it was gone, and try as I might I couldn't recreate it. But mysteriously it would often appear again when I wasn't expecting it to, then mysteriously disappear if I got too excited at finding it again. And I would try to figure out what I was doing prior to it appearing. But it was frustrating as it seemed to have a will of its own and try as I might it wouldn't play ball. Then after a lengthy time of absence it came back more regularly and stayed for longer, sometimes for minutes at a time. It is what I imagined the kingdom of heaven might feel like when I was a child, it is a beautiful peaceful state of mind that goes beyond time and space, almost dreamlike, but in a good way. Once its gone though a strange emotional amnesia appears and it is hard to remember what it was like to be there.


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Path

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 11 Mar 2022, 23:30


Cold industrial echoes of the concrete night
Wet and tarmaccy puddles reflect artificial light
Serene raindrops ripple shape the liquid surface
Like this mind full of the noble eight-fold practise.

I walk with dignity
Rapturously
With the clear knowledge
There's no going back for me.


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The spiritual life

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 5 Mar 2022, 21:34


Contemplating becoming a monk one day. I am not there yet however. I still have a number of things I need to work through to reach that level, but it is something I am aspiring to now. The lifestyle of a Buddhist monk has suddenly becoming very appealing to me. Strange because if you had asked me a month ago, I would not have felt the same. A lot of things seem to have changed in me, things I thought never would change. At first it felt quite disturbing and seemed to upset me at a deep level, I became afraid of the changes, but now it is settling, I am quite happy about it actually. I can't explain, very difficult to put into words what has happened; but suddenly the world just doesn't feel like it has such a pull on me anymore. All the things I thought I wanted suddenly I don't particularly want as much. My main aspiration now is to develop in meditation and grow stronger in the way of dhamma.

 But I am not there yet. It may be a while before I get there. When I ask the Buddha about it, (yes I know he is in para-nibanna and will never again incarnate anywhere or teach devas or humans, but sometimes I swear he talks to me.) anyway, it could be a higher aspect of my mind being helpful by taking on the role of the Buddha, he just tells me not to run before I can walk, and not to walk before I can stand, and not stand before I can sit. He advises that a gradual training will suit my particular personality. Escaping the household life by riding off on horseback in the middle of the night as the heroic Bodhisattva may not work out so well for me, we are all a bit different after all and I am certainly not Gautama. So I should get the hang of being an Upasaka first. After that there's the intermediate stage between Upasaka and a monk where one deepens their Upasaka commitment and permanently takes the 8 precepts instead of five, then once one has got the hang of that stage, one can look into ordaining as a novice monk. 

Anyway I feel quite happy thinking that one day I could become a monk, it feels possible and I can see a clear path towards accomplishing that goal. 



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Ripples of kindness

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 26 Feb 2022, 19:17

Feeling quite rough today. Have become very shivery. And there's a heavy achiness about the body that seems to reach right into the marrow of my bones. I tried to study, but had to give up in the end and liedown. It is cold here at the moment, but keeping the heating off as can't afford to have it on as much as I would like. The cost of energy has sky-rocketed. Apparently this is because we are currently buying our gas off the US who are charging extortionate prices, and they won't let anyone buy cheaper fuel from Russia. Meaning energy prices have gone up here in the UK and the EU.

I am very touched by how my Upāsikā (lay Buddhist) friends have reached out to me and offered their support. Even though we are long distances apart scattered all over the world, there is a strong spiritual connection between us, which warms my heart. I feel blessed to be on this year's Upasika training program, and feel very fortunate to be part of a good bunch of open-hearted people. It really makes a difference to have good friends on the spiritual path.

I was reading about a 1200 year old Tibetan prophecy called the Shambhala warrior. Which is about a group of spiritual people who will rise up during these dark times to dismantle the weapons and technology of mass destruction and lead the world to a new era of peace. 

A Shambhala warrior uses two weapons: compassion, and insight into interdependence, to defeat the old warring and greedy order and bring healing to the Earth. There are Shambhala warriors everywhere, in every country, in every institution, even in the corridors of power. Some might not even know they are Shambhala warriors, and some would not recognise other warriors if they walked passed them in the street, as each one acts independently on their own initiative. They do not have a flag, badges, or any means of identification, and they are not motivated by greed, hatred, or delusion. 

Some have big tasks to perform, and others seemingly small, but each one effects the Earth in a positive way. As each time a Shambhala warrior acts out of compassion and kindness, it sends an energetic ripple that effects everything due to the process of dependent origination. 

There are apparently a great number of Shambhala warriors here now at this time, (maybe you are one dear reader,) and even though it feels hopeless just now and extinction is inevitable. The Shambhala warriors will through compassion and insight into dependent origination, heal the Earth and bring in a new era of peace and stability for all beings (-:

I don't know if the prophecy is true, but it is a nice thought, and brings some hope and cheer to the mind, which is better than feeling like we are doomed. And if we are all done for as a species well it is better to die performing acts of generosity, kindness and compassion, as these acts help to gladden the mind and that is the state of mind one wants at the time of death, plus that good karma carries over into the next life. So you have nothing to lose and much to gain by practising loving-kindness.

Warriors arise!


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Inner wealth

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 22 Feb 2022, 13:00

Focusing on getting this assignment done for the module I am studying. Fatigue is quite challenging at the moment, I find myself reaching a point where I just have to stop and rest, because the body says: 'Nope'. 

I have been granted a four day extension for the assignment after emailing my tutor, although he didn't reply to let me know I have an extension. I only just found out by checking my assessment tab. He is probably really busy and that's why he didn't reply, either that or doesn't like me very much. I imagine I am just being paranoid with the latter conclusion. 

It is a problem I have where I often feel like others dislike me.I am trying to learn how to have the courage to be disliked, so it doesn't affect me anymore. The thoughts are challenging though, whirring away on loops reminding me I am crap and everyone hates me, I should top myself... blah blah blah, so tiring, and the more I try to stop them the worse they get, like some part of my brain is determined to make me feel miserable. It no doubt comes from past conditioning. 

Meditation has been somewhat helpful in giving me some ability to disengage from the thought processes and just let them happen in the background like any of the other senses without being particularly concerned by them. Maybe it is true that people don't like me much. But I give up trying to please others, it is a miserable existence trying to live like that. I try my best with this difficult mind I have, I'm not perfect, and doubt I ever will be, but I am trying. 

Pain and pleasure; wealth and misfortune; success and failure; praise and blame. These are the eight worldly winds.

Ultimately we are all alone, we are all islands, locked into our minds. I am trying to practise self-compassion and how to be a friend to myself, even when my brain seems determined to be my enemy. I will keep trudging forward and persevere.  

 Anyway quarantine certainly gives me plenty of time to hopefully finish this assignment, it is not easy and the materials are challenging. Still if I can get the hang of it, my career prospects may improve, although energy is a big factor causing me problems just now. Often need to liedown and sleep when the fatigue gets overwhelming. I honestly do not think I will ever be able to work full time again, many of the jobs in Computing and IT are fulltime, but I just can't work the long hours expected, so not sure where all this studying will lead in the end. 

There's not much I can do about it, other than try my best. It is a bloody difficult world at the moment for many of us. Economics is messed up and cost of living is getting ridiculous, perhaps we are heading towards a 'hunger games' society. It is not an easy world to survive in and make a living. But I don't feel like my life has been for nothing, I may not be a success careerwise, but I have discovered the dhamma and the Buddha's teachings in my lifetime, which is more than the majority of people do. And when I die those teachings will be with me, so I won't feel confused or regret for having wasted my life. I might be a loser by worldly material standards, but I very much feel like a winner when it comes to the spiritual life, when it comes to unworldly standards. So despite my financial struggles, my health problems, this life has not been wasted. It has been a turning point, a time of spiritual growth, which in the end is the most important thing of all.


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Right Desire

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 21 Feb 2022, 15:15

We all have COVID here at the moment and are in quarantine for the next ten days after a doctor phoned to confirm a positive PCR test and told us we should all isolate. I don’t mind though, I will just imagine I am on a retreat. I seem to have COVID pretty mild compared to the others in my household who are quite sick with it. It is strange how it effects everyone differently. 

I meditated for two and a half hours today in a single sitting. And it is true there does come a point where the monkey mind gives up and lets go and one drops into a deeper state of serenity and stillness. Although my legs and knees hurt after sitting for so long. I am going to try and keep it up and sit that long every Sunday afternoon, perhaps try three hours next week.

We ordered our shopping online from the local supermarket, who delivered it to us, knocked on the door and scampered post-haste, leaving the bags of shopping outside, lol. Just two bags that came to £30. Everything is getting so expensive, the cost of living has doubled since this time last year and the media keeps telling us it is going to go up even more. Many people are worried about it, and understandly so. Old Richie would have been worried about it, but I find myself oddly calm, semi-detached and just flowing with things as they are. I still have the determination to make a livelihood for myself, but I am not attached to any outcomes, it is purely for functional reasons, as I need to get an income sorted so I can take care of this body, this organic vehicle to enlightenment; but if I fail then I fail, all anyone can do is try their best. I feel like I can die with some peace and dignity. I don’t feel like my time here on Earth was wasted, in fact I feel like I have found the real treasure in this life, the dhamma taught by the Buddha 2600 years ago (-:

I feel like I am part human and part something else these days, like some part of me is not of this world anymore. It is a nice feeling, like a taste of freedom, a kind of heaven on Earth. The stuff happening in the world just doesn’t seem to get me as ‘het up’ anymore. I find myself not getting caught up in the stories or dramas about the world or desiring anything in it that I used to enjoy, except perhaps for weed (;

The thought occurred to me if I die now I wouldn’t mind at all. I will just let go and direct my consciousness to higher things and if I don’t reach nibanna, perhaps I can make it to the stage of enlightenment known as non-returner, as a consolation prize. Then I will never have to be born and exist in this world ever again. Non-returners don’t come back to Earth, they are born in the higher heavens and get fully enlightened there, and although they have extremely long lives (aeons) they never incarnate here or in any of the worlds below them ever again, they can however visit any of the lower worlds whenever they like, and some do from time to time.

Non-returner is the third stage of enlightenment in the four traditional stages which are: 1. stream-enterer, 2. once-returner, 3. non-returner, 4. fully liberated (has reached nibanna and never incarnates anywhere again). 

I was reflecting on what it means to be a non-returner and imagined that there could well be many celestial Buddhas in the heavens right now who were non-returners, living extremely long lives beyond anything we can comprehend, who have seen universes come and go, and I wonder if they sometimes come to Earth out of compassion to help and guide people on the spiritual path. Who knows, but it is a nice thought (-:

Many Buddhists disagree with my thinking here, and I have been challenged on it. They say that devas or other heavenly beings don’t act as spiritual guides or helpers to humans. They only visit the human realm to learn, gain wisdom and knowledge. But in my personal experience I have encountered spiritual guides and helpers from the deva realms who have helped me many times when I have been feeling desperate and alone  (and still do now). So I think perhaps some non-returners do act in a compassionate way towards humans. Brahma Sahampati the anagami (non-returner from a previous Buddha) certainly seemed to be showing compassion towards humans when he came to Earth and persuaded the Buddha to teach after his enlightenment.

But noone really knows. I like thinking of there being celestial Buddhas out there who do show compassion to the lower realms, and guide and help those on the spiritual path. So I think I will believe in this theory whether anyone agrees with me or not (-: I also like to think if I can make it to the third stage of enlighenment and become a non-returner that I would be someone who acts this way; and if I feel like this, then there are bound to be other beings who do as well.

Maybe it is the Mahayana part of me coming through. I have spent a year as a Zen Buddhist so I am a bit influenced by that way of thinking, and do feel somewhat drawn to the Bodhisattva ideal, but not in the extreme way most Mahayana Buddhists do. I don’t particularly want to keep incarnating here over and over until all beings are liberated, in fact I don’t want to be reborn here if I can help it. My life here has felt very lonely and painful, poverty is no fun at all and this material world and the suffering it causes for most if not all of the beings who live here is a misery I never want to encounter again. I have found my time on Earth to be very unpleasant and I am keen not to be reborn here; but I do want to help liberate other beings in the future when I am ready to teach the dhamma, either as a human or a deva.

Anyway it doesn’t really matter, the important thing is practising the eight-fold path. There are certainly many devas who are just visiting Earth for their own personal development and don’t act as spiritual helpers or guides; but I also believe there are just as many who do show compassion and help other beings. Different strokes for different folks I guess, it is a huge multiverse out there with many differnt worlds and beings of all kinds with differing views.

Some of my views are different from what many Buddhists believe. Views that from my own personal experience resonate as truth; but they are so small as to not be worth argueing over. So I will remain silent about them and keep those thoughts just to my blog from now on. I am learning it is better to remain silent about such things when in the company of others. Something I think the Buddha himself practised at times. I don’t think people will ever agree one hundred percent on everything.

I like both Theravada and Mahayana, and seem to be a mixture of the two traditions in my own practise. It may be that I end up practising alone as a result, as it is difficult to plant one’s flag in just the one tradition when I am not wholeheartedly in agreement with any of them. I doubt there is a single teacher out there I will ever one hundred percent agree with, not even the Buddha himself.

I guess there is still desire in me, a desire not to be reborn in this world, a desire not to exist anymore, as it is existence itself which is the problem. Suffering follows existence like a shadow. Interestingly and rather paradoxically one can experience freedom from existence whilst one is still alive, in this very life in fact, a state of mind known as nibanna and when one dies that state of nibanna just continues unceasingly (no comedown). Nibanna is permanent and non-reversible, it is described as neither existence nor non-existence, as something utterly beyond all that, beyond anything we can imagine or comprehend, beyond duality. There are no adequate words to describe it, one has to experience it to know it. There are other experiences like that in life where words are inadequate. Nibanna is one of those experiences, it is a complete state of irreversible freedom that goes beyond everything, beyond all words and worlds, it is neither life nor death.

Desire for freedom may not be a bad thing. In a talk by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu, he likened the aspiration to become enlightened as a pair of tweezers that one can use to get something out of their eye. Once the offending item is removed from the eye, one simply puts down the tweezers as they have done their job and are no longer needed. I have also heard someone else describe it as a key which unlocks a door, and once inside people don’t then walk around holding the key in their hand, the key has served its purpose and one simply puts it down. In a similar way desire/aspiration can be used as a tool to help liberate oneself from suffering. It does have to be used skillfully mind and that’s the tricky part. If one does not know how to handle a pair of tweezers they might end up poking their eye out.



image of the buddha sat in meditaiton


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Moods

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 15 Feb 2022, 10:40

Life can be a real slog sometimes, well most times actually. I didn't want to get out of bed today, I really didn't, felt disappointed I woke up. I have no idea how to generate joy when I feel like this, and meditation feels impossible without any, like trying to kickstart an engine when there's no fuel, it stutters and goes nowhere, so I try to find some solace in writing instead. Constant thoughts whirring relentlessly in the background: 'Nobody likes you, you will always be alone, why don't you just top yourself?' Each time I answer: 'No I will not take my life' - but it gets tiring. Why does my own brain work against me so? I don't feel much of anything just now, of all the moods this is the most challenging for sure. The complete and utter wrecking ball that is depression.

Shame, as it is such a lovely day, but I can't face going for a walk, feel like I just want to retreat from the world in the sanctuary of my room and not have to deal with anything. I really don't want to be around other people's energies, even though I feel lonely, I just can't handle people right now, odd paradox.

I know this mood will pass, and when it does I will think of all the ways I can manage it better the next time it comes round. But alas, all the things I think will work, never do. I have been trying to overcome this mood since I was a kid and I still do not know how to handle it gracefully, it never seems to get any easier, but I will keep persisting.

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

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

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

One generates the desire for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase and full-development of wholesome states of mind by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering.
'


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Blue Monday

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 16 Feb 2022, 00:04

I am feeling a bit depressed today. 

Certainly this is not a pleasant world to exist in, there’s not much love in it really, can be a bit harsh and lonely. There’s always someone making us feel guilty or ashamed. We have all become masters at criticising one another, pointing out each other’s faults, and we are especially good at criticising ourselves as well. I am trying my best to reprogramme this behaviour as I do not find it helpful. If I can make it through my Buddhist training to be wise and skilled enough to teach one day, I think I will do things a little different and focus much more on friendship and connection. But that’s just me, I’m different, we are all different, yet also the same. As when one understands one’s own mind, one understands all minds; and when one has befriended one’s own being, one finds it easier to make friends with other beings.

Depression sucks, it can be hard to feel any joy or pleasure at all. I gave up trying to generate joy in meditation earlier and just went straight to equanimity. Sometimes joy comes easy and other times it feels like asking the impossible. The spiritual path is challenging and sometimes I wonder if I am cut out for it, but I persevere. Being a human is not easy. I hope I can do enough to not have to come back to this world again, it is not a pleasant place, at least not in my experience it hasn’t been. I understand some people really like it here and actually want to come back. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

My son and I saw a beautiful pheasant in the yard. I think it had escaped from being shot, (I often hear the shotguns going off nearby in the fields and woods). It opened my heart up to see it, and I felt a connection with it and I could see its sentience, it felt like our consciousnesses merged for a moment and we understood one another. I am hoping it will stay and take sanctuary in our garden and the nearby meadow and not go back to where it came from as I fear if it does it will get killed by hunters. Why anyone would want to shoot such a beautiful being is beyond me. But people travel from all over to come here and shoot birds - mad world.




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Shape of self

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 17 Feb 2022, 17:23

It is interesting how we all rub off on each other, every person we connect with changes us in some way. We truly are all the people we meet. 

What self is there?

Our bodies are changing, slowly ageing.
Sensations are changing all the time; like a white-noise of continuous data we either feel as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
Our perception of life's myriad objects changes.
Our thoughts, memories, emotions, and the story of self we narrate, about who we are, and our life, is always changing. I am not even the same person I was five minutes ago when I sat down to write this. 
All these events change our consciousness like light-reflecting ripples on the surface of a pond. Consciousness too is always changing. 

This is what I think Buddhism means by emptiness, by no-self.  It is saying there is no fixed unchanging entity or soul, just a fluid dynamic process, a flowing stream that's different from one moment to the next. 


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Square-shaped day

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There's a teaching in the Suttas where the Buddha gives lay disciples advice about what to do with money. He advises them after they have met their living expenses, to divide up any remaining money into four equal parts. Part one should be invested in something. Part two should be saved. Part three should be donated to a charity/noble cause. And the fourth part should be spent on oneself, so one can enjoy some of what they have earned. 

I thought this was great advice. And I have adapted it to also work with time, by dividing my day's activities into four equal parts. For the first part I study my university degree. For the second part I do some painting. For the third part I work on my dhamma studies (Buddhist lay disciple training). And the fourth part I spend working on my website. This division of time seems to work well for me so far (-: And I wonder in what other ways this division by four may come in useful? 

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Difficult but not impossible

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 8 Feb 2022, 14:37

I have been practising a strategy I heard in a dharma talk about preventing negative states of mind arising. And I have been getting some success with it, although I still get caught out at times, but it makes sense to me and the concept is easy enough to understand.

What one does is say to oneself 'for the next five minutes I am not going to get irritable.' or swap it for any unwholesome state of mind ' I am not going to get angry... stressed... criticise myself... feel any ill-will. I am not going to cling... I am not going to doubt... I am not going to be greedy... I am not going to be conceited... I am not going to be lazy for the next five minutes.'

Or try the inverse 'For the next five minutes I am going to be content... generous... kind... clear-headed... lucid... calm... mindful... interested/curious... persevere... smile.... be serene...be still... be equaminous,' and so on... just pick one mind-state to work with at a time - keep it simple.

Make it into a game you play with yourself. It doesn't matter if you don't manage the whole five minutes and rubber 🦆 it up, even a few seconds of getting it right is enough to begin the process of training the mind. And the good news is, just doing it once even for a few seconds is enough to get the ball rolling, and means you can do it again, and again, and find your way back over and over and the effect will snowball and get stronger, and in time with repeated practise it will become easier.

If it fails and a negative state of mind does arise and manifest itself, then it's no bother, one simply moves on to the strategies for abandoning/letting go of the negative state of mind and then just have another go (-: 

One is just training the mind, creating a new habit, it's nothing intellectual, one doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to do this. But one does need to be determined, patient and persevere. Like anything we learn in life it takes lots of repetitive practise, and if you mess up it's okay, just try again. Don't be hard on yourself, give yourself some encouragement for trying, be kind to the mind. Eventually the mind will get better at it and you will get a nice flow going.

I like this idea anyway, this strategy is hopeful, gives one the power to change oneself and not be fettered to the psychic irritants of: wanting, aversion, stagnation, agitation, and doubt. Those are the five unwholesome states of mind that cause all the problems in our psyche and disturb our peace. The good news is one can fight back, and make a stand, things are not hopeless, we do not have to be at the mercy of unhelpful past conditioning, we can change ourselves, train our minds, master our emotions and become happy and free. 


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Rain God

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 5 Feb 2022, 21:54

A shimmering cold and wet walk in the rain. We have had so much of it lately I feel like I am living in a water world. Future models predict this exact location where I live is to get even more of it in the coming years as the weather changes, which is odd. It reminds me of something my Gran once said to me when I was little. She said she knew I was coming to visit her because she could see the rain-clouds coming over the horizon. I used to wonder if I was a rain God. I remember a character in a book by Douglas Adams (can't remember the title for the life of me). But there's this character who is a rain God and everywhere he goes it rains, with rains of all different kinds: drizzle, torrential, serene. And it is the rain-drops paying homage to him only he doesn't realise and is constantly grumbling about the weather (-:

There is also a strange story in the suttas where the Buddha narrates a tale about an elephant that has the peculiar ability to make it rain, and people from other lands request the king that owns it to send them the elephant to cure a drought they are experiencing so their crops can grow.

If I really am a rain God, then that might not be too bad a life, touring the world, visiting all the places that need rain, sitting there with my umbrella and a cup of tea (and a spliff if I am lucky). Making people happy because I bring the rain (-: Hahaha



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Water

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 4 Feb 2022, 19:48

Sky go from lush blue to ominous grey, to crying a river of rain.
Soaked to the skin, a part of me almost grumbled
But I remained content, calm and at ease
A spiritual lesson in equanimity I thought
And smiling took shelter under a nearby tree
Soaked shoes squelching on the shimmering
Pavement-become-puddles as little birds 
Flew-danced across my path
Chasing each other's tails.


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No separation

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 1 Feb 2022, 18:29

I know that your higher mind is always with me.
Just as my higher mind is always with you.
These small monkey minds are only a tiny part of the whole.
The mind is much bigger than the one narrating the story of self.
With its limited conscious awareness and capabilities.
These physical bodies are not all there is to us. 
But our physical side can get in the way of seeing this.
We get so caught up by the things of the world.
By our past conditioning and culture.
And the erroneous thinking of our modern age.
The truth is much of the mind is unconscious to us.
And what we are conscious of,
is just the tip of the iceberg.
T
here's so much more to us than we realise.

Our being interacts and is connected on a much deeper, more ancient level.
Greater than our briefly existing physical parts are able to see.
And when you look into the core of your being.
And trust the purity of what you feel there.
You will see that this energy is real.
I am you and you are me.
Interdependent.
Unified.
One.

No separation.

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Rapture, serenity, a blackbird, and the mountain of awareness

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 24 Jan 2022, 11:20

I have found a nice spot in the Winter gardens which provides adequate shelter from the rain. And I have made friends with a blackbird that hangs out there. It came to say hello as I was meditating, and perched on a stump directly in front of me, watching me in its intent birdish way, at one point it did this cute cartoon-like yawn that opened my heart right up, and then there it was, a great whoosh and rush of something that swept and carried me off in the strength of its current and for a moment took me away from it all, leading to a free-floating spacious rapturous serenity which was a very pleasant state of mind.

 I think an elusive feeling I have been trying to pin down for a good year or so now in meditation, is in fact rapture, which for me at least is a better description of what one is trying to invoke in meditation than joy. Rapture is much more ecstatic, it carries one away in its intensity. With plenty of rushes, tingles and otherworldy feelings, there is a slowing of time that makes sensations exquisite with pleasant trails and echoes as they rise and fade away like the tide of the sea. Rapture feels like a connection to the divine, to the heavenly realms.

I reflected on what one-pointed attention is. Remembering what I heard in a dharma talk that it means an embodied awareness, a wholeheartness involving the whole of one's being paying attention. One should be aware of the whole body, of one's presence while paying attention to the breath. Using the metaphor of attention being like the peak of a mountain. When one is looking at a mountain, it isn't just the peak one sees hovering above an invisible land-mass, one sees the whole of the mountain. This understanding of what one-pointed attention means, and my encounter with the blackbird brought a genuine feeling of rapture which lead to serenity and a happiness that felt otherwordly and freer than anything I have encountered before in the material world.

I left an offering of sunflowers seeds on a nearby stone for the blackbird. Nature has often been a teacher on my journey to enlightenment.

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