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Shephard of thoughts

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 3 Feb 2023, 14:42

I am learning how to notice my moods better, and if my state of mind is unwholesome, I will look at what my thoughts are doing. And like a shepherd guarding his sheep, I try to steer them back in the right direction, towards the wholesome. Towards non-greed, non-hatred, non-delusion.

I use the word 'non' because there are many wholesome mind states that are not greed, hate, or delusion.  And it is helpful to have many wholesome states to choose from. It can be tiring to feel kind, loving, or joyful all the time, and that's alright, because there are other wholesome states one can cultivate and use instead. It is good to have a wide palette to choose from and experiment with.

If my thoughts have strayed into the territory of greed, hate, and delusion, depending on the mood I am in, steering them away from those fields, can be as simple as interrupting the herd of thoughts with a gentle nudge, whereupon they will immediately stop what they are doing and happily go back in the right direction.

Other times it can involve the need to talk the thoughts into wanting to go back in the right direction, which means learning ways of talking to myself that helps to change the state of mind I am in, this sometimes results in me giving myself a dhamma talk, or writing an article like this. Or if I am not feeling I can do anything like that, I will use the voice of another, ( i.e. listen to a dhamma talk, a podcast, read an article or book) and use their voice to talk me into a better state of mind. 

But there are times when my thoughts can be racing and chaotic. And then it is like trying to shepherd a stampeding herd of buffalo. On those occasions I will practise something I dub the megaphone technique.

Named after scenes in movies where there's a crowd of people all talking loudly and at once. Perhaps they are excited about something, or argueing over this and that, perhaps they're panicking. Someone then walks into the middle of the group with a megaphone and makes it squeek loudly and everyone suddenly stops talking and turns to face the person with the megaphone.

My megaphone is to attempt to become aware of all the bodily sensations happening at once in the present moment, and flood the mind with these sense impressions, and keep bringing my attention back to this experience, so that I am constantly interrupting the thought processes with this sensory overload. It can work, and help bring some relief and composure back to the mind.

There are other megaphones that also work, some are gentle, such as surrounding myself with the colour red, yellow, or blue, like an aura. Some soothing like paying attention to the air element, or water element, the solidity of earth, the warmth and energy of the body, or just being aware of my feet, hands, or any part of the body that feels better than being in the head. 

It's basically just something to distract the mind and help it settle into a more tranquil state and regain some composure. Tranquility is a wholesome state of mind. One can be creative with this. These examples are just things that work for me, everyone should experiment and find what helps them. It is our subjective experience that matters here, forget about trying to make it fit in with any scientific theory, this exercise isn't about that. It is about taking what comes naturally to us, and making it into something supernatural.

Sometimes the thoughts don't respond well to anything, so I will let them continue in the background, but choose not to let them bother me, I become unattached to them. I choose not to judge them, not to follow them or identify with them. Just let them be, like background noise, and choose to place my attention on something else that is happening in awareness, something in the present moment that helps bring some peace and composure back to the mind, and then I can focus on a task at hand better without feeling harrassed by the thought processes.

The ability to choose where we place our attention is something we can all learn. And it is an aspect of the mind we can have some control over. It is also useful to learn how to tune the energy of attention so it is neither too forceful, nor too lax. Like cupping a little bird in your hand, if you cup it too tightly it will hurt the bird; but if you cup it too loosely it will fly away. How do you make attention comfortable and stable. How do you get into a flow? How do you keep the mind interested in something so that attention wants to stay there willingly and not want to be anywhere else? That's the questions we have to ask ourselves if we want to train the mind. 

It is challenging, so remember to cut yourself some slack. Try not to compare yourself with others, be okay with where you're at in your practise. Don't judge others or yourself when failure happens, which it will. And if another judges you, just remember that other people's practise is their practise. Some people have been at this a while and are advanced. Others are just starting out. We are all at different levels, and that's okay, let others be where they're at, and concentrate on your own practice. Go at your own pace. Be comfortable with where you're at. That is where you come from and meet the world. Development is a gradual process, and that's okay, it isn't a race, nobody gets extra brownie points for getting there before anyone else, the prize at the end, nibanna, is exactly the same experience for everyone. If you persevere in a way that doesn't stress or break the mind, you will get there, in your own time, in a way that works for you. It is important not to strain the mind, to take care of it, rest it, nurture it, to be gentle, be kind to it, a friend, it is not your enemy, it is where you live. If you are making progress you are making progress. Whether that progress is fast or slow doesn't matter. Enlightenment is not a race or a competition. It is a gift that you give to yourself, and noone else can give it to you. Others can guide you, share their wisdom, but the onus is on you to do the work, noone else can.

 


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me

Sacred herb

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Life is hard. I try my best, I really fricking do. It might not seem like it to others. To most I guess I am pathetic and weak-minded. I am always getting critisized, judged and misunderstood. But none of those people are living inside my head, they don't know what I am going through, what it feels like to be Richie. They just look at the world from their limited perspective and expect everyone to be able to see what they see, and cope as well as they do. But we aint all the same, and I am honestly fricking trying.

 I honestly don't know how other people do it, how they keep their head together in this world. I seem to be completely incapable. The only thing that really helps me consistently is smoking weed (a strain with a ratio of moderate THC levels and high CBD), it is medicine for me. It calms me down, helps me concentrate better, helps me meditate, helps me work and get things done, helps me see things different, helps me exercise, helps me sleep. Without it everything is unbearable, and I am not joking. I really cannot handle being straight,  I just fall apart. I don't know what normal everyday consciousness feels like for everyone else, but it is suffering for me, I can't stand it. It is full of unpleasant feelings and horrible thoughts that are hard to ignore, and I have been practising meditation for over two years now, and I still have trouble with my thoughts and emotions. Constant thoughts about suicide, pretty much every day at the moment (don't worry I won't act on them, but they are tiring nonetheless). I feel constant agitation, and anxiety. I can't think straight, my head is always scattered, even with all this Zen training and CBT (Cognitive Behaviour therapy) I still struggle. It is a mission to get anything done at the moment, to function, as this agitation is the wrong kind of energy, not a helpful energy at all. I can't sleep well, I'm lucky if I get a couple of hours a night at the moment. This mood I am in is really unpleasant, my brain seems to be constantly stuck on this setting at the moment. It is unbearable. I think this is why I constantly write on here as otherwise I am just pacing around my room, getting irritable at the slightest thing, with noises put me on edge, I can't think straight or think rationally, I can't get any work done, and  desperately looking to find some relief, but not getting any. I have been in this state of mind for weeks now and it won't ease up, the prescription meds don't help and I am tired of seeing doctors and trying different pharmaceuticals. I wish they would just prescribe me cannabis, I know that works and I would be fine then. 

It is hard to get enlightened when one's own brain is like this. Meditation feels impossible at the moment, and spiritual practise is a real battle. If I get some weed I know I will be able to meditate, and practise the eight-fold path. But without it I struggle, I seem to be incapable of practising with this agitation. The stuff I read in the suttas or have learnt from Buddhist teachers about dealing with agitation doesn't work, and the four right efforts are not working for me, they work for others, but I guess it is much harder to practise if one has a mood disorder unfortunatley. Although I miraculously find it all much easier when I have some cannabis, the whole path seems doable then, is strange I know. 

But then if I got enlightened whilst using weed, would it be real? Or would my mood deteriorate again once I went without the cannabis, and then it wouldn't really be enlightenment. Is it possible to get to nibanna when one is so dependant on a herbal medicine. I don't know. Buddhists do tell people to take medicine if necessary and not to suffer needlessly, and for me it is definitely a medicine I need to function. I do know that cannabis would have been freely available at the time of the Buddha. It would have grown everywhere, and would have been used as medicine for sure, possibly even by the monks and nuns at the time, although there's nothing written in the suttas about it as far as I am aware. So I don't know. Would the Buddha have been okay with me using cannabis? Did the Buddha use cannabis? Who knows. I know the sages who created kundalini yoga were all on cannabis, it was an essential part of the practise. And I do know it is bloody difficult for me to function without it, but the stigma in society about it is no help. A stigma created by this modern world and its ridiculous hypocritical war on psychedelics. Anyway I know I can never be a Buddhist monk as they would never approve of me using cannabis. Most Buddhist groups have the five precepts, and the fifth one is: no intoxicants, and I imagine most would class cannabis as an intoxicant. However I will be studying with a different Buddhist group next year and they have changed the wording of the fifth precept slightly to: I will refrain from using intoxicants that make one heedless. Which I feel does give me some wriggle room, as cannabis definitely does not make me heedless, if anything it makes me more mindful, calms my thoughts down, and I can meditate much better on it. For me it is meritous. It is medicine, and I am sick of hiding that out of shame and fear of persecution in an ignorant brainwashed society. I think it is a miraculous plant, a real wonder. It saved my life, it really did. I wouldn't be doing this degree if it wasn't for cannabis helping me get my head together. And I also wouldn't have even started practising Buddhism if wasn't for cannabis. So giving credit where it's due for this sacred herb.

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