There are moments and days when I feel flat, and wobble about in weakness and vulnerability. To rouse energy for meditation takes a lot of effort.
Chest beat a surging flame of worry
I sit and meditate to chill me down
Breath centres open wide
Odd mix of pleasant unpleasant
I calm the energies to a hush and
Let go of the spiky aversion
Greet with love instead
Love does not ask for anything in return
It is its own reward
For it makes one's mind and home
A pleasure to be in
The dark side approaches.
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.
The cost of living has sky-rocketed here. Food and energy bills are a lot more expensive than they were this time last year. We are really not able to live within our means anymore and have become dependent on generous family members to help us out. I feel ashamed, but also trying to balance that, as I know from experience self-loathing is no help at all. The other extreme is also unhelpful: too much self-grandiosity. So one has to get as close to the centre as possible with these states of mind. (I imagine it like a needle on a dial, where I am trying to keep the needle in the green area.) But do so with kindness towards oneself, this makes the experience all the sweeter and easier I am finding. The mind works better when it feels loved, especially by oneself.
So I am finding myself stuck on the 'Right Livelihood' aspect of the path just now. I have discovered this year, rather unpleasantly and quite painfully, I do not seem to have much ability for maths or computing anymore. I really seem to be struggling with the module I am studying this year on computability and algorithms. I am suddenly not sure software development and coding is realistically going to be something I want to or can do anymore as a career.
I enjoy painting, but I cannot support myself financially with painting, I have not yet sold a single painting or a print after nearly a year of trying. I just cannot for the life of me do the marketing involved, I have tried and failed repeatedly. I do not seem to have the right personality and not really cut out for it. I just want to paint, not spend all my time in self-promotion, my mind just won't work that way.
Sadly chronic pain and faitigue makes even shelf-stacking at the local supermarket impossible. I think from now on I will only be able to work part-time from home, which is not enough to live on these days. I am at a loss with how to realise 'Right livelihood' if I am honest, this is not an easy part of the Noble eight-fold path for me. I am very uncertain as to how to proceed or how I am going to support myself in the coming years. Again I have to be careful not to get overwhelmed by negative states of mind here. I must face all this with kindness and equanimity, remembering to cut myself some slack, because shame and self-loathing is no help either. It is important to balance my life with the other aspects of the path and not just spend all my time and energy focusing on livelihood. One must not neglect the other parts of the mind. If I do not look after the whole of the mind. I will be in danger of becoming burnt out, unwell and unable to do anything.
Equanimity is a careful balancing act, which is itself balanced out by kindness. Metta (loving-kindness) and Upekkha (equanimity) are like a knife and fork, they compliment one another and support one another perfectly on the path to enlightenment.
Fear is a strong emotion, not an easy one to work with. I got bitten by a large dog last night. It was on a leash and I was just walking past it on the street, when it suddenly turned after I had walked past and bit me hard on the back of the knee, drawing blood. The owner was apologetic. But dazed and in shock I just said: "What was that all about?" She looked worried and kept asking me if I was okay, and I saw the dog coming for me again and I just backed away and said again: "What was that all about?" Then turned and walked home as fast as I could.
When I got home I cleaned the wound, which was quite nasty, with mouth shaped teeth marks, it looked like a shark bite. I put some antiseptic ointment on it and practised letting go of any feelings of ill-will towards the dog or the owner, and instead practised wishing them goodwill. Although I feel maybe I should mention to the dog owner next time I see her that a muzzle for the dog might be a good idea in case it bites someone else; as next time it could be a child or an elderly person.
The incident has left me feeling somewhat anxious about going outside though, and I was brave enough in the end to go for a walk today, but didn't walk far due to my knee being a bit painful, and also I felt paranoid about any big dogs I saw about, feeling mistrust towards them. I was relieved to get home and shut the door. I think I was still in shock and kept wondering why the dog attacked me. I wonder if it is karma from a past life. I know that practising the spiritual life does not make you immune to past karma. I read that even enlightened beings still have to deal with negative karma from their past, even the Buddha himself did.
Reflecting on equanimity and dependent origination, I understand that unpleasant things can and will still happen to one, and being on the spiritual path does not take one beyond this.
I find myself facing yet another dharma gate. And find my courage is a bit weak suddenly, I feel a distinct lack of confidence today. I am trying to look at it as a spiritual test, maybe the Buddha is testing me. So I am determined not to believe the stories my negative depressed mind comes up with, I have learnt listening to these stories leads to erroneous thinking, so I can't trust those thoughts. I am realising more and more that our delusions come from the way we narrate our experience of life - how we talk to ourselves.
The stories we tell ourselves about experience programmes our unconscious minds. So I am going to try and feed my unconscious mind clear information about reality and also feed it wholesome stories about letting go, clarity, loving-kindness, compassion, generosity and equanimity, so that this becomes automatic behaviour instead of the old unhelpful habits of the past.
Reprogramming the unconscious mind is hard work and tricky, because it goes against the grain, its like trying to teach yourself to fold your arms in a different way, it feels uncomfortable. The mind does not like to let go of well-entrenched habits and clings to them even if they are not helpful. 'Neurons that fire together wire together', and once wired there's a strong resistance to rewiring them, but with enough repetitive practise, persistence and patience it can be done, one can change one's mind and automatic behaviour by telling ourselves a different story about reality, one based on lucidity and clear-seeing, and kindness towards oneself and others.
I can't seem to stop the automatic thoughts that appear: delusions of grandeur, the inner critic, the low self-esteem, the strange weird invasive thoughts that remind me of how crazy I am, the self loathing; but I keep working at interrupting those thought patterns (gently and with kindness), encouraging myself to tell a different story, and it does feel uncomfortable and at times like asking the impossible, but each time I do I am training my mind, and it gets a little bit stronger, a little bit steadier, and a little bit freer. The new enlightenment grooves will slowly and gradually get more habitual. And by training myself to let go of the old negative conditioning when it arises, and replacing it with a new story; I will teach myself slowly but surely to not take personally the events caused by an impersonal universe.
This is what should be accomplished by one who is wise.
Who seeks the good and has obtained peace.
Let one be strenuous, upright, and sincere.
Without pride, easily content and joyous.
Let one not be submerged by the things of the world.
Nor lay upon oneself the burden of riches.
Let one's senses be controlled.
Let one be wise but not puffed up.
And let one not desire great possessions even for one's family.
Let one do nothing that is mean.
Or that this wise would later reprove.
May all beings be happy!
May they be joyous and live in safety!
All beings. Whether weak or strong.
In high, middle, or low realms of existence.
Great or small.
Visible or invisible.
Near or far.
Born or to be born.
May all beings be happy!
Let none deceive another.
Nor despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or hatred.
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life;
Watches over and protects her only child.
So too with a boundless heart should one cherish all living things.
Suffusing with love the entire world.
Above and below and all around without limit.
So let one cultivate an infinite goodwill toward the whole world.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down.
Throughout all one's waking hours.
Let one practise the way with gratitude.
Not holding to wrong views.
Endowed with insight.
Freed from senses appetites.
One who realises the way will be freed from the duality of birth and death.
Metta means: loving-kindness,friendliness, joviality, benevolence, altruism, goodwill.
Traditionally you start training by practising it for yourself. By becoming your own best friend and being kind and compassionate toward yourself. Which is not easy. Once you have got the hang of practising metta for yourself, you start practicing it for others, usually in this order: someone you love, then a neutral person, then an enemy, and then all beings everywhere, radiating the energy outwards in all directions. It is an energetic practise, the first of the four Brahma viharas.
There are lots of tricks one can use to get metta going. Sometimes the sea brings it up in me or the singing of a songbird, even fresh air and a nice breeze can do it. One can also use imagination to invoke the feeling, such as imagining a famous spiritual figure like Jesus, Avalokitishvara, Maitreya, a saint, or the Buddha.
The idea is to invoke the feeling of metta within and then keep it going. Cultivate it, strengthen and increase it.
Saying phrases can help, such as "May I be happy. May I be safe and well. May I be serene and boundless. May I be relieved of suffering. May I be at peace." (Obviously just replace the word 'I' for the name of a person or 'all beings' when practising metta for others). Make your own words and phrases up that help you generate it. In time you won't need words to invoke it, it becomes a warm sensation in the heart area that radiates outwards.
Sometimes praying for those you love can invoke it. When I ask angels and devas to help with stuff, that can invoke it. Memory can invoke it, most of us have experienced metta at some point in our life, popping an ecstasy pill (MDMA) at a rave and feeling pure empathy and love for everyone is a memory that helps me invoke it at times. Metta (once it builds up momentum and gets going) can feel a bit like that in the first jhana (first stage of meditative absorption). And gradually settles, becoming more tranquil, serene and still, till it reaches equanimity.
The four Brahma viharas are: Metta (loving-kindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (joy in another's happiness), Upekka (equanimity).
Karuna and Mudita both come from Metta. Karuna is loving-kindness for one who is suffering. And Mudita is loving-kindness towards one who is happy.
For example, today I saw my crow friends when out walking, this brought up metta within me, I felt compassion for them so gave them some peanuts this made them happy and I felt mudita as I watched them enjoy eating them. Then I continued my walk and feeling satisfied and content in the crow's happiness I settled into equanimity.
Metta and equanimity compliment each other like a knife and fork.
Metta, Karuna, and Mudita can take one up to the third jhana (third stage of meditative absorption). The fourth jhana is always equanimity regardless of the meditation object used, so it is said that metta, compassion, mudita can only take you to the third jhana, but to reach the fourth jhana you have to let go of them, as the fourth is pure equanimity. Well technically speaking it is mindfulness purified and born of equanimity. Equanimity actually begins in the third jhana, and the fourth is where it is refined and isolated by itself. In the fourth jhana there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fourth jhana is said to be the ideal state of mind to gain the liberating insight which leads to nibanna. But one does not have to wish for insight, apparrently from that lucid state of mind insights naturally arise. Then once one has fully realised nibanna there is no turning back and the liberation cannot be reversed and one never incarnates ever again in any world. Yet the mind still exists, it is like what fire becomes when it is no longer held captive by its fuel. The fuel being (greed, hatred, and delusion).
Greed covers lots of stuff such as lust, craving for intoxicants, eating a little more than you needed to, to the extremes of hoarding wealth and stealing - there's many different levels to it.
Hatred also covers many things such as boredom for example which is aversion to the present moment, or aversion from lack of stimulation. Hatred also covers conceit, being boastful, as well as the more obvious extremes such as arguing, fighting and murder.
Delusion can also mean ignorance. It is a lot about the stories we tell ourselves about reality. The excuses we make to justify different behaviour. Or just believing in misinformation, disinformation or acting out of ignorance due to lack of information. The mind is a delusion generator. And delusion is the hardest of all to remove. Greed and hatred sprout from delusion. They also feed delusion. The four Brahma viharas can be helpful at weakening the power of greed and hatred, enough at least to be able to get to the root of the problem which is delusion.
When one has fully uprooted greed, hatred and delusion from the mind that is the state of mind known as nibbana and one becomes a Buddha (fully enlightened being).
I chant the metta sutta sometimes to help me invoke Metta.
You can be creative with Metta, it is like a craft; and yes it can be a magical practise. For example, when walking along the street I will get focused while walking and invoke the feeling of metta and then think of Maitreya (Bodhisattva of metta and the next Tathagata) and as I do I become a channel and imagine multiple copies of Maitreya coming out of my heart in all directions, holding a bell shaped object that when shaken fills all those around with loving-kindness. I have a weird imagination lol.
But I am sure you can think of your own ways of radiating metta. Sometimes I imagine it as energy waves radiating outwards, and sometimes I don't need to imagine at all it just radiates out if I set the intention to radiate it to all beings and it happens. Different moments require different methods, you have to learn to be spontaneous and do what naturally feels right in each given moment.
I have different mood cycles. And sometimes during the negative cycles there are days when I can't invoke Metta at all, I feel nothing. It isn't easy and equanimity and patience can help here, although they can be hard to generate too. Patience can be invoked sometimes by imagining the depressed cycle as me retreating from the world and being in a womb of sorts. In a state of becoming. Like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, or a nymph becoming a dragonfly. It can be very painful and challenging. And it may take a while and fill me with doubt and stagnation. Then when the cycle changes and I feel better energy arise and feel well again I am able to practise metta once more, but I find this time it has mysteriously grown deeper, like some part of the unconscious during the gestation period has been working things out and changing things, rearranging them, almost like the mind is rewiring itself. It is unpleasant and can really test one's endurance, shake you to the core, demolish your beliefs and perceptions. But afterwards one gains a new found clarity and freedom, and develops in the eight-fold path. This conscious part of me, let's call it the ego mind has very little to do in the process of becoming, you just have to be patient. Most of the growth happens outside of one's awareness in the deeper hidden mind. Another way of looking at it, is as being like pearls of wisdom.
Also it seems from my experience that there is a malevolent outside agency that will try its utmost to deter you from the path, so be prepared for a bit of a fight. The sceptic can think of it as a trickster part of the mind. But my experience is there is both an internal and external enemy that will do what it can to make you lose your way. This energy is very tricky, and it can be oppressive as well as seductive. In the suttas this being is known as Mara.
So don't despair if you can't do this right away, it takes years of practice, perhaps lifetimes for some. You have to persevere, pick yourself up after every failure, brush yourself down and try again. If you do this you will get a bit stronger each time and eventually get there. But don't burn yourself out, try to find a balance between laziness and over-doing it; look for a nice middle setting that works for you, and be prepared to be in it for the long game.
Also remember to take refuge in the Buddha. The dharma. And the Sangha whenever you need to. These three are known as the triple gem and it is a powerful jewel. And don't dismiss the power of doing this. There is lots of grace out there I am discovering. And I find whenever I take refuge in any one of these, (again depending on the moment and what feels right), helpful energy and support will come to my aid. I think there are spirits and other beings seen and unseen who are devoted to this practise, and like angels, will help when you struggle. The sangha also includes all Buddhists everywhere, and those who practise Buddhism in the deva worlds as well.
Metta itself is also protection if you can generate it suffiently enough, the good energy will protect you and make you fearless.
I am not enlightened yet, see my previous blog posts and rants for proof of this. But I will keep trying.
This is the spiritual path I have set for myself, even if it takes me lifetimes to accomplish I will get there one day, although I am aiming to do it in this very life if at all possible.
Peace, metta and good luck on your own journey to nibanna.
Here's a great collection of talks and Q&As done by Ajahn Sona on the topic of Metta:
This a short sutta from the Pali cannon on the eleven benefits of metta practise. And is another chant I like to do every day. I tend to do my chanting mostly when walking on the beach, next to the sea. But If there are people about, I'll just recite it silently in my head.
Metta is a Pali word that means: love, kindness, friendship, benevolence, goodwill.
The Buddha addressing the sangha:
" There are eleven benefits that come from the practise of metta. That arise from the emancipation of the heart. That if repeated, developed, made much of, made a habit of, made a basis of. Experienced, practised, well-started. These eleven benefits can be expected for one who practises metta:
One sleeps well.
One does not have nightmares.
One wakes up feeling well.
One becomes affectionate to human beings.
One becomes affectionate to non-human beings.
The deities protect one.
Neither fire, nor poison, nor weapons can harm one.
One's mind is easily calmed.
One's countenance is serence.
One dies without confusion.
And beyond that should one fail to realise nibbana; one is reborn in the higher heavens. "
[n.b. the seventh benefit: 'Neither fire, nor poison, nor weapons can harm one." May be a metaphor for greed, hatred and delusion.]
Found a bumble-bee struggling on the road earlier today, wasn't moving and seemed barely alive. I put my open hand next to it on the ground, and to my amazement it clambered on, and I carried it home.
I was taking part in a meditation and writing retreat with a Zen group via Zoom. So I sat in Zazen meditation with it cupped in my upright hand. Where it just rested and warmed up, and over the course of the meditation it perked up and started cleaning itself and stretching. Then began crawling from one hand to the other, seeming to become more and more alive, its feet tickling my palms. At the end of the meditation (30 mins), the group leader on Zoom rang the bell, and the bee started buzzing excitedly and I got the sense it was ready to leave me. So I went back outside and stood on my doorstep, felt it vibrating as it buzzed on my palm. And from my open outstretched hand it took off perfectly, and flew away, seeming to be in good health and happy. I wished it well.
This may sound crazy but doing metta practise for the viruses/bacteria in my body has helped to consistently turn things round when I have been sick, actually the last three times in fact. Generating unconditional love for the micro-organisms seemed to change their energy a bit, perhaps even effecting their consciousness. And now I feel like they are part of me, but in a more benevolent form.
Metta is an energetic practise and means unconditional love, kindness, jovial goodwill, warmth and friendliness towards oneself and all other beings (not just humans).
I told all the virus/bacteria in my body, that they were all welcome to call my body their home, and that my heart-mind has resolved to become a Buddha. I offered to share the merit (benefits/knowledge) of my spiritual (bodhisattva) practise with all the different beings who call this body their home. All the different consciousnesses living in the body-mind, cells, bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites. I wished them all well and said they were more than welcome to call this body their home and join me on the path to Buddhahood.
I saturated my entire body with this energy and then radiated it out into the world. Offering to share the merit of my spiritual practise with all beings everywhere, wishing them all to be well and serene, and for everyone to realise Buddhahood and cross over to nibbana and be free from suffering.
Metta is a powerful practise and is a skill worth learning, but it takes time for the practise to grow. Equanimity is also an energetic practise that is worth learning as it compliments metta really well. They go together like a knife and fork.
Here are some talks and Q&A sessions from a virtual retreat led by Ajahn Sona I took part in last Christmas, they teach how to practise metta and I can testify that this energy is real and with practise it will snowball and grow stronger and bring much benefit to one's life and those around.
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