Seem to be getting back into writing again, not really feeling the painting at the moment.
I think I have some deva (spirit) friends who hang around with me which is comforting. I can't see them, although there have been times in deep states of meditation where I have seen them in my mind's eye. I tend to sense their presence, and feel their energy around me, and sometimes within me. Some are people I have known in this life who have passed away now. One is my Gran who I was very strongly bonded to as a child. She is a being of light now, like an angel. In her human life she was very kind to animals and to me. A person who was very in sync with nature, which led to her generating good kamma and she was reborn as a deva. She regularly comes to encourage me when I feel stressed and alone.
There are other spirits too, and they often reassure me when I feel weak and afraid. They fill me with peaceful fearless energy, and they tell me all sorts of things. Such as where a being who has recently died has gone. And how I can best help others who are suffering. They teach me about meditation and how to manage my failures. They recently said to me very clearly not to worry about money or finances when I became very stressed about the cost of living and the possibility of future poverty. They said they would take care of me and ensure I always got what I needed to survive if things got desperate. I often feel their gentle encouragement to keep practising the noble eightfold path and develop meditation further, to develop wisdom and emancipate the heart, so I can be a light in this world.
I have helped some spirits too. One's who experienced something tragic when they died, or ended up in darkness and became suffering angry ghosts. Upon encountering them, I felt compassion and I offered to share the merit of my spiritual practise with them, and it worked! It did help them find the light again and they sometimes come to visit me and support me with their jovial good energy, especially when I feel downhearted, or unwell.
There are beings who were wild animals in this life who I helped and prayed over when they were dying who are devas now, and I feel happy for them and glad they are doing well.
The devas sometimes reveal things to me I can't know with my limited human senses which has been helpful in my practise. I doubt I would have got this far without their help, and I am really grateful for their support. It makes me realise that the sangha is truly great, composed of many different kinds of beings, and taking refuge in the sangha goes beyond just the human realm.
None of us are ever really alone, there are beings of all kinds around us (-:
This may sound crazy to those who hold the annihilist view that there is no existence beyond death of the physical body, but my experience is different. I have no way of proving that spirits exist, nor do I want to. But I have a strong conviction that reincarnation and rebirth is real. And the seeds of karma, the mental tendencies we nurture in this life are what we carry over into the next and they will sprout and grow into a new being.
This may well be my subjective experience. But it is our subjective experience that matters, as that is where we live. We do not live in the objective experience. For example if you are trying to lose weight and you step on the scales, some days you may feel lighter like you have lost weight, even if the scales, (the objectice experience,) tell you your weight is the same. The subjective experience is different, and it is this subjective experience that feels real, as that is where we live, that is where we come from.
There are a lot of stories in the Buddhist suttas about psychic powers and miracles performed by the Buddha and his disciples. Such as flying through the air and teleportation. And there are two ways one can look at these, and both ways of looking at it are correct. The first is that these miracles really did happen, and after experiencing some profound states of mind, I now believe such things are possible. The other way of looking at them is they are describing the subjective experience of being enlightened. The sense of freedom from suffering can make you feel like you are flying through the air, even though objective reality is telling you your feet are on the ground. Time also feels different for an enlightened being, so the subjective experience of moving from A to B may feel like hardly any time has passed at all, as if you have stretched out your hand and instantly gone from one geographical location to another. That is how the passage of time can feel subjectively for an enlightened being.
Another example, is sometimes after practising loving-kindness meditation (metta) it can feel like everyone and everything is my friend, even inanimate objects feel friendly and warm towards me. And when I stand next to the sea, it feels like it is happy to see me, each wave coming towards me like a friendly greeting. That is my subjective experience and there is nothing wrong with this, it can be a very beneficial and heart opening experience.
Part of right Samhadi, the eighth factor of the noble eightfold path is about playing around with our subjective experience of reality, and making it into something beautiful. We all have these beautiful spaces within us that can enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. But some of the circuits that activate these spaces are located deep within the mind, and meditation can teach one how to connect with and activate them. How to become still enough to reach the divine states of consciousness.
We modern humans spend a lot of time stuck in the pre-frontal cortex, it is a useful and important part of the brain, but it is only a small part of it. And it can feel unpleasant and limiting being stuck there all the time. This is why I think humans enjoy intoxicants so much. Intoxicants relax the executive functioning and inhibitions, and allow us to go beyond the boundaries of the prefrontal cortex and connect with the rest of the mind. This can bring a sense of relief and freedom. And it can feel very rewarding and enriching to connect with the deeper parts of the mind. It can refresh our view of things, help broaden our perspective, and see things differently, see everything in a new light, help with problem solving and creativity. The experience of connecting with the rest of the mind and body can bring a feeling of wholeness, of joy, of purpose, peace and oneness.
It is our subjective experience of reality that matters, it is how we feel that is important. If you feel like you are walking on air then you are (-:
In Buddhism the question is how do I feel? Am I suffering or not? The goal of the Buddhist path is to realise the end of suffering, and this is a subjective experience. The objective experience is not important, it is how you feel within that matters. If you feel lost then you are lost. If you feel free, then you are free. The way to tell if you are making progress in Buddhism is to notice whether the practise is bringing a decrease in suffering. If it is then you are on the right track (-:
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.
Yesterday I was flying high, today I trudged slow through the tortuous harassment of sloth and torpor.
At one point I noticed aversion rise up in me in response to a mistimed moment of clumsiness. And I noticed that the anger arose because I felt like I was swimming in fatigue and malaise, and there are chores which needed doing and my energy felt like a battery unable to hold its charge, everything felt impossible and all I wanted to do was liedown and retreat from it all. I felt harassed!
Which is another way of describing the five hindrances that stand in the way of meditation: greed, aversion, fatigue, agitation, doubt. These are the five harassments. When those five are gone from the the mind, one can easily settle into deeper states of meditation and enter a calm, lucid, steady stillness of attention and emotional well-being.
Loving-kindness meditation (Metta) felt impossible today. I struggled to get into it. Until it occurred to me that perhaps I should forget about sending Metta to others and instead generate some Metta for myself. Because right at that moment I surely needed it. How could I possibly hope to send Metta to others when my own well was dry. So that's what I did, I put my hand on my heart and said to myself: 'May you be well happy and peaceful.'
And it worked!
We in the West are often critical and judgemental of ourselves and others, and also tend to feel guilty at the thought of loving ourselves. It is a curse of this modern age I am finding, and I am by no means the only one who suffers from this lack of self love.
But it is wrong view.
When one feels friendliness towards oneself then that will naturally radiate out to others. So do not feel guilty for practising Metta for oneself.
Being a friend to oneself is very important on the spiritual path.
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.
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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