TAP DANCING THE DHARMA

InsightLA is having a community festival this Sunday, Nov. 11, from 1-4.  Upstairs, different teachers will be offering talks and practices in ten minute rotations, while downstairs, there will be food trucks, music, a trampoline and play area for kids, and various teachers offering, a la Lucy,  “Dharma Advice $5”  (I know, hers was 5 cents, but these teachings are priceless, and there’s been inflation.)

The parking lot will have a kids play area, while the cul-de-sac on 15th will be blocked off.  There will be a stage, and live music.

And I have volunteered to tap dance.

Well, maybe not like that.

Or that.

 

But (gulp) I am going to be tap dancing on 15th and Olympic on Sunday Nov. 11.  I think I have the 1-1:30 slot.  If you get there at 1:30, you’ll probably miss it.

Anything for InsightLA.

Hope to see  you there.

http://www.insightla.org/1025/insightlas-10th-anniversary-community-festival

Love 2.0

Tech Support:
Yes Ma’am, how can I help you?
Customer:
Well, after much consideration, I’ve decided to install Love. Can you guide me through the process?

Tech Support:
Yes I can help you. Are you ready to proceed?

Customer:
Well, I’m not very technical, but I think I’m ready.
What do I do first?

Tech Support:
The first step is to open your heart.
Have you located your heart, Ma’am?

Customer:
Yes, but there are several other programs running now.
Is it okay to install Love while they are running?

Tech Support:
What programs are running Ma’am?

Customer:
Let’s see, I have past-hurt, low self-esteem, grudge, and resentment running right now.

Tech Support:
No problem, Love will gradually erase past-hurt from your current operating system. It may remain in your permanent memory, but it will no longer disrupt other programs. Love will eventually override low self-esteem with a module of it’s own called high self-esteem. However, you have to completely turn off grudge and resentment. Those programs prevent Love from being properly installed. Can you turn those off Ma’am?

Customer:
I don’t know how to turn them off.
Can you tell me how?

Tech Support:
With pleasure. Go to your start menu and invoke forgiveness. Do this as many times as necessary until grudge and resentment have completely erased.

Customer:
Okay done, Love has started installing itself. Is that normal?

Tech Support:
Yes, but remember that you have only the base program. You need to begin connecting to other hearts in order to get the upgrades.

Customer:
Oops! I have an error message already.
It says, “Error-program not run on external components.”
What should I do?

Tech Support:
Don’t worry, Ma’am, It means the Love program is setup to run on internal hearts but has not yet been run on your heart. In nontechnical terms, it means you have to Love yourself before you can Love others.

Customer:
So what should I do?

Tech Support:
Can you pull down Self-acceptance;
then click on the following:
Forgive-self;
Realize your worth;
Acknowledge your limitations.

Customer:
OK, done.

Tech Support:
Now copy them to the “My Heart” directory. The system will overwrite any conflicting files and begin patching faulty programming. Also, you need to delete verbose self-criticism from all directories and empty your recycle bin to make sure it is completely gone and never comes back.

Customer:
Got it. Hey!!! My Heart is filling up with new files. Smile is playing on my monitor and Peace and Contentment are copying themselves all over My Heart. Is this normal?

Tech Support:
Sometimes. For others it takes a while, but eventually everything gets downloaded at the proper time.
So Love is installed and running. One more thing before we hang-up. Love is Freeware. Be sure to give it and its various modules to everyone you meet. They will in turn share it with others and return some cool modules back to you.

Customer:
I promise to do just that.

[Source Unknown – from an email]

BIRTHDAY GREETINGS

I’m told that in Buddhist countries, when it’s your birthday, YOU give the gifts, to celebrate your gratitude for your life.

I teach the regular Thursday night sitting group at InsightLA, and this year, it falls on Oct. 11, my birthday.  Thinking about how I could make this Thursday sit my gift to the insightLA community has already given me great joy.  Instead of thinking of my birthday as a day that brings me one step closer to aging, sickness and death, my inheritance as a sentient being, I am thinking of it as a celebration of the fact that I was given birth into this precious human existence, at this time and place, with such privilege and abundance and so much available to us, particularly, but not limited to, our access to these precious teachings.

Impermanence does not only mean loss, but also gain.  All conditioned things arise and pass away, but often we are often so focused on what is passing away, that we loose sight of what is arising.  The world is continually being born and reborn, created anew, moment by moment.  And, as Louis Armstrong sang, it’s a wonderful world.

We are so accustomed to comparing ourselves and our lives to what they would be if they were different and better, and feeling bad about the gap.  But this is a habit of mind, and it is a habit that can be changed.  I know it can be done because I’ve done it.  I have “changed my mind” to look for the good, the delightful, the beautiful, the funny, wherever I can find it, like playing “Where’s Waldo?” and finding as many lovely things as I can in any moment or situation.  Just as when we sit, we notice breath and body sensations that are always there, but usually beneath the level of awareness, we can train ourselves to see the good nestled within so many things that we ordinarily take for granted.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore tricks and techniques for training the mind to practice happiness and gratitude.

For now, if you’re able to come this Thursday, I’ve ordered a big beautiful Buddha cake to share with my beloved sangha, my birthday present to commemorate the day of my birth, and the fact that I am not dead yet.

 

 

FORGIVENESS – GIVING UP ALL HOPE OF A BETTER PAST!

I’d hoped to get this posted in September, our time of new beginnings, but posting it in October is a good chance to practice self-forgiveness.

In any event, as the seasons turn, and we begin out new “season” at InsightLA, a good thing to do at the beginning of the year – or any other time, for that matter – is to reflect on the harm that one has done, the harm that has been done to one, and to make an effort to forgive.  Forgive self, forgive others, and forgive life.

Here are some things I’ve learned about forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness is good for you.  Forgiveness lowers blood pressure, releases tension, even improves immune response.  Holding onto resentment releases stress chemicals that lead to backache, muscle aches, dizziness and upset stomach.
  • Forgiveness increases happiness:  Studies show that people who are able to forgive and let go have improved feelings of contentment and well-being, and are generally happier than people who are unwilling to let go of feelings of having been harmed.
  • Almost nobody wants to do it!  Forgiveness requires letting go of “cherished wounds;”  the stories we have told ourselves many times over about the wrongs we suffered, and the harm that was done to us, and how we’ve suffered as a consequence.  It requires “changing our minds”  and letting go of long-held, deeply ingrained habits of thought, many of which seem to make us feel better, by elevating ourselves over the person who harmed us.
  • Forgiveness is not a way to deny pain.  You can’t leapfrog over the hurt.  You first have to acknowledge the pain of the harm, to grieve the loss, to experience the pain of betrayal.  Attempting to leapfrog over this is called “spiritual bypass.”  A way of using pseudo-spirituality to avoid feeling pain.
  • Forgiveness is not the same as condoning.  It doesn’t mean you were “wrong” to be angry, or that the other person is “right.”  You don’t need to understand or sympathize with the wrong-doer.  You are letting go for your sake, not for theirs.
  • Forgiveness is a recognition that my lust for revenge, my resentment, my cynicism, hurts me.  Not the person who harmed me.

The Buddha said that when we carry a grudge of hold anger towards another, it’s like picking up a hot coal to throw at someone.  We’re the one who gets burned.

Nelson Mendela said resentment is like drinking poison, hoping the other one will die.

Catherine Ponder has said “when you hold resentment towards another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel.  Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

Coming soon:  How to practice forgiveness.  Also, forgiving ourselves, and forgiving life.  Stay tuned!

 

September – The fall season begins!

Maybe it’s all those formative years of being in school, when the year begins in September and ends in June, or all my later years working in television, where the year began with the fall season – or maybe some genetic ties to the Jewish calendar, which marks the fall as the beginning of the year.  But it always seems to me that September is the time for new beginnings.  And so, in the two groups I lead, Dharma Alliance and the Thursday evening sitting group, this feels like a good time to begin again.

Beginning again is the key to our practice.  We know the need for a daily practice, and we vow to have one – and then something happens, and a day or two or more go by when we don’t sit, and momentum builds and we find it harder to sit.  Don’t sweat it.  Just begin again.  We know that resting attention at the breath is a good way to develop concentration, but we notice one breath, maybe two, and then the mind wanders, and we’re off, onto our to-do lists, our hopes and dreams, memories and regrets.   No problem.  Just begin again.  Or we are doing a Metta practice, sending wishes of good will to all beings.  One being comes to mind and we’re carried off  on a train of thought that catapults us back to the past and all that might have been but was instead.  Doesn’t matter.  Begin again.

The Buddha has said that to which we incline our minds, becomes the natural state of the mind.  If every time we find the mind wandering, or our practice slipping, we blame or criticize or get angry at ourselves, all we are doing is practicing blame and harsh judgment or anger.  If on the other hand we simply notice, and without fuss or bother, begin again, we are practicing resolve, persistence, energy, mindfulness and kindness.

Which do you think it would be more beneficial to practice?

 

Five Things To Do At The Beginning of a Sit

FIVE THINGS TO DO AT THE BEGINNING OF A SIT

(With a debt of gratitude to Leigh Brasington, who suggested them.  Feel free to modify and alter to suit yourself and your practice – I know I already have.)

1. GRATITUDE.  Take a moment  to generate some gratitude:  for the teachings, our teachers and our access to them; and for the circumstances that allow us to be practicing – in general, and at this moment.  (Or any other circumstances for which you are grateful.)

2. MOTIVATION.  Spend some time getting in touch with your motivation to practice.  Why are you doing this?   To see deeply into the true nature of reality?  To be able to be present to each moment?  To awaken to your own true nature as boundless love?  To develop kindness and friendship towards yourself, just as you are? To life, just as it is?  To know life at it’s essence?   To achieve liberation for the benefit of all beings?  Conscious contact with a Higher Power?  Whatever works best for you, that can serve as a reminder, should the going get rough, or the practice stale.

3. DETERMINATION.  Spend a moment rousing some resolve, some energy, some determination

4. METTA.  Include, at the outset, some time offering yourself some loving-kindness, some friendliness, some unconditional love; setting an intention to be kind to yourself regardless of what arises during your practice.  If you like, you can also offer this kindness and wishing well to other beings, or all beings, as well.

5. “Breathing in, I calm body and mind.  Breathing out, I smile.”  This comes from Thich Nhat Hanh and is a good transition to the sit.  It points our attention to the breath.  Spending the initial period of a sit giving attention to the breath is a good way to calm the mind, and generate concentration.  Concentration gives rise to happiness.

Remember:  comparisons are odious.  Don’t compare this sit to any other, or even any moment in this sit to any other moment.  Or you to a projected or imagined “real” meditator.  We are not trying to “achieve” anything, or put preference on one mind-state over another.  Sure, concentration feels great, but sometimes we can’t concentrate.  If the mind is distracted, just note, “distraction” and keep going.  “Whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon will be the inclination of their mind,” says the Buddha.  When we blame ourselves for what arises during our sitting period, we just reinforce the habit of self-blame and condemnation.  Just be present to the truth of the moment with kindness, and keep going.  Have fun!

 

Five Things to do at the End of a Sit

(With another debt of gratitude to Leigh Brasington)

1.  Review.  Review what you did, what techniques you used, what happened.

2.  Impermanence.  Remember that whatever state you were in, good or bad, sublime, mundane, will pass.

3.  Insight.  Did you get any insights?  What were they?

4.  Merit.  Meditation is a wholesome act that generates good karma.  Dedicate the merit (good karma) you’ve accumulated by doing this, to the benefit and liberation of all beings.

5.  Mindfulness.  Remember, as you get up from your sit, to be mindful – of the body, as it moves into action, of thoughts, feelings, emotions – to be mindful “off the cushion” as well as on it.