From the Guiding Teacher
By Ven. Do'an Prajna
Now that the Summer Bodhichitta Gyeolje is underway, I wanted to share with you some simple tips to help strengthen your practice, even in the midst of a busy, spontaneous summer season, where we struggle to maintain our minimum level of practice:
Tip 1: Check Your Attitude.
Ask yourself: what do you bring to your practice?
Our minds are so conditioned to expect that what we experience is wrong in someway. It is important to have a daily practice, but we often tell ourselves we don’t practice right, enough, or the quality of our practice is not good, etc.
We need to break down this conditioning.
We can’t progress if we’re vague about where we are. We must be able to honestly look at our current practice and determine where we are within it. This keeps us doing our practice rather than thinking we are doing our practice.
There are hundreds of ways to practice. What makes the difference in terms of spiritual freedom is our attitude we bring to it. If we think we should be doing it, that we are not doing it well enough, that we are not cut out for it, if we are not honoring the potential in us, it undercuts the process.
Often what makes our practice hard to keep up with is because we are learning to give to ourselves. If we are feeling unworthy, we interpret this self-compassion as selfish. We must remember that lovingkindness is a natural state. Regular practice will lead us to this natural state of compassion and lovingkindness will arise spontaneously from within us. It is already within us, we just need to drop our filters. Regular practice will help us do this.
Ask yourself: What is my attitude?
Check in with yourself. Ask what the quality of your practice is in relation to your attitude? How do you approach your practice? Are you compassionate? Are you hard on yourself? If you are too hard, too rigid or serious, light up. If you are too laissez faire about your practice, perhaps it will help to remind yourself of the benefits of a more disciplined practice.
Tip 2: Remember your Intention.
Bring to mind what matters most to you. Let your heart and mind be free and just see what is true.
In sitting practice, we tend to try to polish our skills or "have an experience". Sense, instead, this sitting is the last few minutes of your life—to just experience the moment. We are so used to always being on our way to somewhere else or doing something for the sake of something else. We forget where are right in the moment. Enjoy the walking the path, rather than race to the finish.
Our intention should encompass a relaxed attentiveness, that is receptive and compassionate.
Tip 3: Be Simple.
Often the reason we fail to be consistent is because we over complicate our lives. Our mind tells us that simple steps don’t matter and complex ones do. The reality is that all of our successes come from consistently taking one simple step after another.
Being simple also addresses our "need" to someday be an expert. Our goal is not to become an expert. Our goal is simply to practice.
Tip 4: Be Active Now.
Do it. Whatever ‘it’ is, do it the first thing before all other things. Go in the bathroom and lock the door. Roll out of bed to your knees. Hide in your closet if you must, but go to any lengths to practice your practice.
You can’t ride on the laurels of practice. Practice is simply dedication to the present—it is not about getting somewhere, striving for anything will only result in not being present.
By Wonpung (Miyo)
Having anxiety issues is not an uncommon reality for many people. While my anxiety problems have largely remained undiagnosed, I can say with certainty that in my late teens to mid 20s or so, I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks.
Sometimes an anxiety attack would seem to strike out of nowhere. Sometimes, I could see it coming. Other times, it would strike out of nowhere. No matter how an attack would be triggered, the progression would always be: I feel a rush of adrenaline, followed by some symptoms like numb hand, numb left half of my face, racing heart, shortness of breath, chest pain that radiated from the left side of my chest down my arm -- all very real, all very scary. I remember getting a very acute case of this while driving home through the Adirondacks one weekend after a visit to my mother, and driving myself to the ER in Saranac, NY.
During any bout of anxiety, I would be rapid-fire diagnosing myself and imagining the worst: I have cancer; Having a heart attack; Brain tumor...eventually, I’d imagine myself dead. If the fear was over something like finances - in the span of five seconds I was in jail, my life completely ruined (in my mind). The spiral was intense, and while there was a logical part of my brain screaming at myself to stop--that I was making things worse--trying to stop my barreling thoughts was like trying to stop a train by standing in front of it--fruitless, and it seemed to get worse whether I ignored it, willed it away, tried to distract myself with enjoyable activities - it didn't matter.
For the most part, with the help of good friends, therapy, life experience and my mindfulness practice, I have been able to go years between episodes of these attacks--to the point, that when I had one just recently, I was bewildered and wondered what the heck was going on.
There was the rush of adrenaline (my brain: “Whoa! That’s weird!”). Then the hyper-attention to “symptoms” (my brain: “OMG, shooting pains in my joints, tight chest, nausea...I HAVE CANCER!”) and before I knew it, I had diagnosed myself with colon, rectal, and ovarian cancers. Why? Well, why not, I guess.
The interesting difference? It wasn’t long before I recognized my old enemy: “Ohhhhh, hello Anxiety Brain. Long time no see.” Once I understood what this was, the chills I felt disappeared. My headache eased, my racing heart calmed--I said hello to my old nemesis, and I was able to leave it behind. Very different from my days of trying to stop the oncoming train bare-handed, no tools at my disposal.
I can only attribute this newfound ability to my mindfulness practice--the repeated habit over and over of observing my thoughts, leaving them there to float away, saying hello when they return and letting them go again. That over and over practice paid off.
I still don’t know what exactly caused this bout of anxiety--that’s something I hope further practice and/or therapy will help me understand (if it’s able to). It is nice to know, though, that my brain has learned how to board that train and apply the brakes.
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members