Purifying my mind?

The Vatthupama Sutta, says “knowing, monks, covetousness and unrighteous greed to be a defilement of the mind, the monk abandons them.[4] Knowing ill will to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing anger to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing hostility to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing denigration to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing domineering to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing envy to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing jealousy to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing hypocrisy to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing fraud to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing obstinacy to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing presumption to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing conceit to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing arrogance to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing vanity to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing negligence to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it.

Well I am not a monk and you probably are not either. I want to point out that this Sutta is still very important for us to read and understand. Two words stick out to me.

The first word being “knowing” in our practice we use the words right intention and we practice awareness of our mental states, objects, basically our feelings. This takes practice we do not just become awake to our mental states over night. Right intention starts to come into play after the “knowing” or possibly you want to use “right understanding” we have to see clearly and understand the defilements of the mind before we can abandoned them.

Here is an example, I had an addiction to alcohol for years. Most of those years I had no idea just how addicted my body/mind was to this substance. Here is another one, compulsive sex or dating. I would engage in these behaviors almost like I was on auto pilot, very unaware that they were wrong or that they may be damaging.

When I decided to abandon these behaviors it only came through awareness of the way it was hurting me. How these mental states were effecting my life and the lives of others. Once I saw this I had to investigate and see clearly the mental states so I could start to abandon them. This took “right understanding” and “right intention” the intention to fully acknowledge that I needed to abandon these behaviors and mental states.

So through meditation practice our minds start to open up we investigate the truth of the present and learn to stay in the moment. Each moment we notice “a defilement” or just “unhealthy mind state” we have to abandon it. With practice and present time awareness we learn the practice of this beautiful Sutta. It’s also important to be kind to yourself, remember a thought is not real, if you do not engage in the thought it’s like a passing bird flying over your head. Recognize the bird and watch it go.

May this help you on your path.

Attachments, me?

I remember being young and counting down the days till holiday, or another significant event I was excited about. I remember often just waiting for the minutes, hours, or days to pass till I could leave my home and go somewhere else. I was homeschooled for my childhood and when we had an event or maybe a field trip of some sort I would get really excited to see other children or just people. I would often create fantasies around what this event would look like. Day dreams would help pass the time and keep me excited. As the days got closer to the special event or trip I would get more and more excited. Now this seems like a normal human experience we all get excited about things we are planning for in the future, we all may day dream here and there or imagine what it will be like.

The key here is what happened to me if a plan or event fell through. I would be so upset and heart broken if the holiday was ruined or the fieldtrip was canceled. I may of known that it was because of a snow storm, or maybe someone got sick. It didn’t matter see I spent all those days, months, weeks, and moments, creating a storyline in my mind of how everything was going to play out. Does this sound familiar?

Now I learned at a young age that when I felt upset or something didn’t go as planned I could manipulate my feelings with unhealthy behaviors. I would self-harm, over eat, not eat, and eventually I would drink. However one thing I did not learn was how to accept life as it was in that moment.

So, now I know that I became so attached to these plans or events that I would often crave the unhealthy behavior whenever anything didn’t go my way. What an easy way to not ever be present with myself when I am upset.

What I have learned to understand to be true is that being overly attached to anything can cause harm to myself and others. Another word for this is clinging I grab on to something and basically suck the life out of it and when it leaves a craving to escape gives birth. So when we become so attached to an outcome and the outcome fails to go the way we want it to we give birth to craving an escape.

When we live this way we miss out on life and never learn to be fluid. The key to this predicament is acceptance and mindfulness. When I notice I am getting stuck or creating an attachment I remind myself to stay in the moment, “what right now can I be grateful for?”

Be kind to yourself and roll with the punch’s, practice being the rock in the stream controlling how you react and letting the rest go.

Equanimity as self love

In Buddhism, equanimity (Pali: upekkhā; Sanskrit: upekṣā) is one of the four sublime attitudes and is considered:

“Neither a thought nor an emotion, it is rather the steady conscious realization of reality’s transience. It is the ground for wisdom and freedomand the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.”

Equanimity means I am not responsible for anyone else’s actions or karma. It means I am only responsible for my own actions and karma.

How many times have you tried to manipulate or control another person and their outcome? How many times have you blamed someone for your reaction?

This is how important equanimity practice is for us. I myself have tried to control or manipulate other people in many different ways in fact I probably still do. It’s a practice to learn to let go and let other beings be responsible for their own happiness. Sometimes I may think “I’m just trying to help” or “I love them so much” unfortunately I still have to remember I cannot control the outcome.

Another aspect of this practice is the blaming someone else or making an excuse for why you acted in a particular way. “Well he said that first” “she disrespected me so I just reacted”. This is also unhealthy and not part of the equanimity practice. We have to learn to control our reactions. In equanimity practice we learn only I can control my actions and I have a choice in how I act.

How is this self care?

When we let go of the need to control we let go of so much stress that we didn’t need to carry in the first place. When we take responsibility we heal and become more self aware. These are so important for our mental and spiritual health.

May we remember that we are only in control of our responses not what happens after.

May we remember to let go of the need to control others and have compassion to their choices.

Stop looking through the pin hole

I have always struggled with obsessive thoughts and high anxiety. As the obsession would slowly build my awareness would shrink. I would get so stuck literally stock on the object of my obsession that it would take over my every thought. Everyone I ran into I would talk about this object of obsession and keep replaying it over and over in my mind till it was all I could see. The pin hole reaction, everything else is dark except what I am obsessed about.

The question now is how do you stop this? Is there a way to stop the obsession? As a person who still struggles and is working on it I can’t tell you there is an exact answer to how to forever stop obsessive thoughts but I can tell you how mindfulness practice can and will slowly help.

First when I notice myself slowly shrinking my view to the object of obsession and notice everything else I’m doing going away I try to catch it. Build awareness around my obsessive mind and see if I can catch it and open the awareness back up.

One of the ways I open the awareness up is by using meditation specifically practicing a meditation where I practice labeling my thoughts as simply positive, negative, or neutral. This helps my brain practice learning to how recognize what is happening. It also allows my to not get caught in the thought itself.

Awareness of this happening is key, if I can catch the obsession starting before it takes over my mind I have a better chance. So often this is still me trying to control an outcome or situation. I don’t like how this feels so I obsess to look for a way out of the situation.

Accepting that this is the way it is right now and will pass is key however easier said than done.

Body awareness also helps pull me out of the obsessive thinking mind, simply allowing my awareness to focus on relaxing my shoulders, stomach, legs, feet, ect. Will start to allow my brain to ease up on the object of my obsession.

Remembering to be kind to yourself is important, you are slowing learning how to retrain your mind.

Obsession has often been an escape for us, from trauma, if we obsessed we didn’t have to feel what was going on in the moment.

Breath in I am here now, I am safe. Breath out I forgive myself, I am doing the best I can.

Like a fine tuned instrument

“He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen: This, monks, is called right effort.”

So often right effort is over looked as part of the 8fold path but it possibly is one of the most important. It takes practice to figure out what is to much and what is to little. I have some tools that help with this I would like to share with you.

The first tool is what I call intentional effort. At any given moment I am putting some amount of effort in, possibly in my mind, or my physical body through exorcise or yoga. However without intention my effort is lost and not directed. I am shooting an arrow but have no bullseye. So when you put effort into anything make sure you are using right intention. This helps us not get lost in the chaos of our effort. For example we are helping someone who is struggling we may go in with all great intentions but get lost in the co-dependency of helping. Intentional effort calls us to help with a purpose while being mindful of our own boundaries and when we need to pull back. Right effort is really all about finding our own balance.

Mindfulness of the self is another part of right effort. Without knowing what is going on inside and outside of me I won’t know how much effort to put in or possibly take away. Imagine you had never ran before and your put a lot of effort in to run, before you knew it you ran 10 miles and were in pain. In this example you completely let the effort of running over take you, and in return cause an amount of suffering. So you must practice mindfulness of the heart mind and heart body when practicing right effort.

Now when using intentional effort and mindfulness of the body and mind you will find what the right amount of effort will look like for you.

Don’t push to hard or pull back to quick, you are exactly where you need to be.

Pleasure? Pain? Suffering?

How many times have you eaten that second piece of cake just to be in pain after? How many times have you bought to much on amazon because you can’t be in your own mind? How many times did you scroll through your newsfeed to laugh at a different meme over and over again, and ignored your children?

I have done all of these things and more for many years. Unfortunately I trained my mind to avoid pain at all costs. I think we should take a second and talk about pain. For some this may be chronic pain, others an emotional trauma, some sickness, or the loss of a loved one, ect. You get the idea, it is one specific event. It is painful and you feel it in your core.

When we feel this specific pain we find a coping skill. Some of us may find healthy coping skills others unhealthy. Either way we find a way to “manage”. For those of us that find unhealthy coping skills like overeating, drugs, over shopping, dating apps, ect. We start a thought in our brain that says “nope! This sucks I need to find a way to feel pleasure and fast!” So we search for these coping skills. In return we create habits painful situation happens and we already know how to cope. Amazon prime is right there waiting for me along with my glass of whiskey.

Now let’s pause and explain suffering. Suffering or Dukka as we call it in Buddhism is that gnawing, aching feeling of I just can’t get enough of that cake, or enough products off of amazon, or the whiskey bottle ran out. Suffering is on going torment.

So now that we have talked through the difference of pain and suffering let’s discuss a way to learn how to handle the pain that occurs in life.

First learn how to recognize pain as pain. Pain is impermanent, it won’t last. Suffering is when we tell ourselves that it will last forever. Or better yet our mind tells us that. I promise you, pain will not last forever and so often if you sit and accept the pain or maybe even ask yourself questions about the painful experience it will get better.

This leads to the second part of handling pain. We allow pain into our life and our present moment without pushing it away. Accept that in this moment you are experiencing pain. See if after you accept it, you find it lessons.

Then investigate the pain. What is the pain? Is it from the past or the future? Is it physical? Mental? What is the truth about this painful emotion or sensation?

Lastly nurture yourself. Can you bring compassion to the pain of this experience. Don’t beat yourself up if you had that second piece of cake. Notice if you can bring mindfulness practice to your day and just be kind to yourself.

Today let’s start recognizing that pain is a natural part of life and we can learn how to accept and heal from it.

Courage

I was thinking about courage today, I often think of fear and how to relate to my fears or make friends with my fears. I don’t often think of what courage means. The action after recognizing my own fears and choosing to continue to live in the moment even when it is difficult or scary.

Courage to me is being willing to look clearly at any given situation. Courage means being honest with myself and leaning in to the things that are uncomfortable.

We need courage to truly live in the present moment to live through the pains of life and to see the beauty always.

I have lost a lot of loved ones the past year, it created a fear in me. I looked at myself differently as I fought through the painful emotions of loss. I continued to push myself forward but I was living in survival mode. Continuing life the best I knew how but possibly not truly living in the moment.

Courage means I not only am going to get thrown out of the nest but I am going to jump out. Love each moment for what it is and look for the beauty in everything.

Courage is how we overcome fear. Courage to accept life as it is one breath at a time.

The masks we hide behind

I was having a conversation with a few people the other day about the masks we put on for survival. Yes, we put them on for survival. In Buddhism we talk about seeing clearly or the truth of the experience. To practice this self reflection we have to look at the different masks we use to protect ourselves from actually seeing the truth of the experience. So often when triggered by something we put on our mask, it may be a mask of defensiveness, or anger, maybe manipulation, but either way it is a mask to help keep us safe from the threat we are now triggered by. When we see things clearly however we see that the mask is taking us away from the truth and not allowing us to see if the threat is really there. The mask takes us away from mindfulness and only allows us to see through one lens instead of different lenses. When feeling attacked we often get defensive, but was it really an attack or did we perceive what the other person said as an attack because of our mask of defensiveness? See, what I’m saying here?

I often take inventory of my masks, I have survived for years with different ones. The ones that say “I’m tough ill fight anyone” “leave me alone, I’m fine alone” “I don’t cry, things don’t bother me” “I’m fine, I’m focusing on the positive” “I don’t need anyone” “I can handle it I’ve been through worse” “You don’t deserve it” The masks we put on kept us safe so we could not be harmed by situations in the past, and now we keep reliving the same situations because we are putting our mask on as soon as we our triggered.

So often I say to myself “make friends with your mind”. The masks will never allow us to make friends with ourselves, they will continue to allow us to stay hidden and afraid forever.

So what would happen if you let your mask down? What masks do you use? What would happen if you looked at the experience from a different point of view?

Perception and the truth

So often as humans we want black and white answers or I sometimes like to say the period at the end of the sentence. We get stuck on the perception of our truth. This comes down to many factors, our ego, our culture, upbringing, our biases, our education, our trauma, and many other things.

The beginning of practicing right view or right understanding starts with looking at ourselves first. What really matters to us? Can we see and accept that life is fleeting and impermanent? Can we let go of the craving to control things outside of us?

Right understanding really is a practice of insight into our own soul, we must dig deep and ask ourselves, where is this thought coming from? Is this my judgement mind? Am I holding a bias because of a past experience or trauma?

There is no right or wrong truth my perception based off my experience may look different than yours. One week I may see things one way and after time in meditation I may see it differently the next.

Impermanence really comes into play here. Also we must stop and look at the our feeling tone when we express our understanding. Am I angry? Am I projecting? Is this triggering a past trauma?

To see clearly we must look inward with compassion to understand the truth of what is there.

Awareness builds in this practice and eventually we will greet our different mind states with compassion. Hello judging mind, what am I seeing here?

I learned my perception is often wrong when clouded by outside or past experiences, I get stuck in my judging mind. To see clearly I sit and peel back the layers to recognize the truth.

Why is this making me upset? Where is this craving coming from? Why do I feel hurt? It is not to minimize my feelings in fact it creates more space for compassion when I look deep to see what is really present.

Always with compassion we look at ourselves never judging just sitting and making friends with the experience.

The Freedom in groundlessness

One of the things I struggle with most is the fear of not being in control. The idea that I can control my experiences has led to most of my suffering in life. The Buddha taught that flexibility and openness brings strength and that running from groundlessness weakens us and brings pain.

However the key is awareness when we start running from or start trying to manipulate and control are experiences. If we notice when we are uncomfortable we can simple state “This is uncomfortable hello anxiety, fear, boredom” or whatever feeling tone is showing its face.

Without awareness we will continue the cycle of running and grasping. We try to grasp on to things that will never be permanent like relationships, jobs, financial status, and even life. We want certain things to stay the same forever. We try in vein to control and end up hurting ourselves worse.

This is not to say you cannot plan or think about your future, just to be aware and live in the present moment every day.

Another thing we do to control is to try and numb out or escape. What behaviors do I use when I am depressed or lonely? What ways do I numb out when the change is to much to handle? Awareness of this allows room for growth and change.

This was exactly what I had to do to get through the mud, sit in it and feel, feel everything.

I started out using self harm as a tool to control my life at the age of 11, It gave me a sense that I could control my own pain instead of the pain I felt from my experiences. I don’t blame myself I was a child I didn’t know any different. Now I do though and now that I am aware I have the responsibility to be healthier.

The key is to never run just be in the experience, to feel is to be alive. I promise it’s worth it.