My Hungry Little Ghost

Costly Buddha

Greed comes from a belief in lack.  It’s autonomic, like its precursor anger, there is some sensitivity in our nervous system to a reflexive belief in lack.  It probably came from our ancestors, they had no way of knowing if there would be enough food so we have developed an inclination to hoard and to hang onto things.  Also like anger, greed has either a story to tell or us a question to ask us.  We’re not getting what we want; or, do we do really believe that we are enough?

The more I witness my emotions, the more I am aware that the spark of anger precedes greed.  Anger may be called by numerous names;  it’s not always a hot passionate anger. Personally, I experience it as crankiness, impatience, anxiety, irritation, annoyance, frustration, and dissatisfaction.

For example, I may experience irritation that I’m not the most financially prosperous person.  Maybe I coveted another’s success.  Maybe I compared myself to another.  This lead to feeling that I am less than. This inner attack, completely from myself to myself, causes a reflexive defensiveness.  Like an autoimmune disorder, my ego’s actually attacking another part of my mind.  Paradoxically, there’s a desire to console the bruised angry part of myself with a bright shiny bauble.  One aspect is agitated, the other desires to soothe.  One time or another this, temporarily, “worked”.  The angry part was distracted.  But, the newness wears off.  The angry part resurfaced demanding gifts: a latte, a new skirt, another degree, it became voracious.

In Chinese Buddhism the Hungry Ghost is a revenant from someone who died traumatically, or has been neglected by their ancestors.  In a nutshell, they can be dangerous because they are permanently dissatisfied.  They haven’t found peace. However, I think of it as a metaphor for Now.  In this life there is often inability to find contentment, or as the yogi say santosha.

As I shared in my previous post, anger should be observed in its natural habitat. In the same spirit, it would behoove us to observe greed.  As mentioned, greed is often unaddressed anger.  There is an abrasion, an irritation, a tapping finger, a stomping foot buried at various layers.  I am not getting what I want!  I deserve this thing!  Argh!

As my dear teacher says, “witness everything!”  Pause, notice when you feel you can’t have enough.  It is that easy.  You just have to practice.  We just choose to ignore and be possessed by the feeling with trying to satisfy it.   Ask yourself, “will this bring me peace?” “Will this bring me closer to Joy?”  Use whatever term describes yourself when there’s no problem to solve.  If the answer is “yes”, I suggest you proceed. No one outside of you can answer this.  Watch the urges.  They are insidious.  They rear their ugly head in a split second.  One minute you enjoying a meal at the dinner table then the inner spoiled child wants another piece of cake.  It’s stomping its foot.  Will it bring you love? You are already the embodiment of love.  No piece of cake and add to that.

 

The Angry Baby

Image result for angry baby tiger

As a mindfulness instructor, it’s challenging to come up with an “elevator speech” or lesson about anger. Many people come to me seeking to become rid of their anger. This is not the goal of mindfulness training.

Anger is a reflexive emotional response to disappointment and aggression (real or perceived).  The yogis explain the powerful emotion springs from the four primitive fountains, which are inherent to all sentient beings: food, sleep, sex, and self-preservation.

Self-preservation is the most powerful urge. It makes sense, there is an inherent drive to keep oneself alive.  Eastern Philosophy would argue, many times (especially in the developed world) the reaction is to threats which exist only in our mind. The ego perceives the potential death of one of our many personae.

Physiologically, our amygdala switches on the sympathetic nervous system and our body is flooded with cortical hormones. It’s the classic flight or fight response.  This isn’t inherently bad, it serves an important purpose–it’s how our ancestors survived so we can be here to discuss this! 

The problem is many of us are overly reactive and every little ego-death causes us to fly off the handle. We’re literally a bunch of raw nerves.

So, shouldn’t we try our best not to feel anger? 

The answer is no! Anger is a signal that something is wrong (even if it’s in our imagination). We don’t want to become numb. We need to learn how to feel the emotion without becoming consumed by it. We should learn to react skillfully. 

The first step is deciding that we no longer want to be a slave to our emotions. Talk to yourself, connect with what is meaningful to you. Tell yourself when you are you’re possessed by anger that it takes you away from what matters. It puts strain on relationships and impedes connection.  

Next, (and you may need to find a teacher to guide you) you practice observing yourself when you’re feeling angry.  This isn’t easy and it takes willpower. This is one of the reasons systematic yoga meditation is powerful and effective: during the body scan you methodically move attention throughout your own body.  This helps you to develop a sense of actually inhabiting your body–most people are a little disconnected from their amazing human suit.  Over time you can use this skill to observe your body when you are feeling angry.  Perhaps you feel your chest tighten and your heart rate quicken.  This can signal you to use another technique from systematic yoga meditation, deep diaphragmatic breathing.  This counteracts the fight or flight response and helps to calm the nervous system.

In deeper stages of meditation you become a witness to the mind in its natural habitat, allowing the thoughts to come and go. This affords the ability to see thoughts and emotions as objects that are inhabiting the mind–they are not the mind itself. In a nutshell, you can observe anger in the mind with awareness it is not the entirety of the mind.

At this level of practice, you create a little space from anger. In that pause, which you develop during meditation, you can choose to act from the anger or to allow the wave of anger to arise in the mind and body and, when it abates, continue with a wise course of action.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains,  “Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying… Your anger is your baby. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother. Embrace your baby.”

The anger isn’t evil; however, we may do evil while in its clutches.  Anger is shaktithe power of creation.  However, we can choose to create while blinded with anger or allow the anger to wake us up and enact positive change.  The anger can catalyze a course of action fueled by that which brings us closer to our higher self.  This is acting from love–this is acting skillfully.  But, in order to do this we have to broaden the space between the trigger and the anger–it has to become less reflexive.

Ignoring anger is just as detrimental as continually exploding.  The stored up anger has to come out–remember it’s the creative power of the universe.  It will manifest either in an H-bomb or in other deviant behaviors.

Rumi lovingly metaphorized emotions as visitors in his oft-quoted seminal work The Guest House:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Will you pause and listen to the guide or allow it to take over your mind while the Real You watches idly by?

 

Hangry for Sleep!

 

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Alex Grey, “Insomnia”

 

I was posting the newsletter for the monthly Yoga Nidra practice I help to facilitate. It reminded me of an acronym used in treatment, to describe various triggers which catalyze substance abuse: HALT–hungry, angry, lonely, tired.

The ancient yogis recognized these primal urges, which are identical to those of our animal brethren: self-preservation, sex, food, and sleep. The four primitive fountains.

Self-preservation isn’t merely the urge to protect one’s body from death; it is the urge to protect our numerous personae. Sex isn’t merely the urge to copulate; it’s also driven by loneliness and insecurity. Food is a necessity; but, it’s also a sensual pleasure which can overrun other urges when unchecked. But, today, I want to talk about sleep.  A blessing many of us are not partaking of.

In the Himalayan Tradition, there are three primary levels of consciousness (there are more, but brevity is helpful): waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. They are correlated with three states of energy: gross, subtle, and causal (hence, the name of the blog).

Yogis assert that the level of deep sleep in the causal plane is the most cathartic. It is the realm of pure potentiality, the place before the subtle manifestation of dreams. This is intuitive, think about the deepest sleep you’ve had… Right where you feel you’ve vanished for a while. This level is so close to the realm of pure being (or, turiya, the fourth state).

Yet, so many of us are sleep deprived–myself included.  We go to bed too late, we have too much caffeine, and there are those darn LED lights.  One article I read recently explained, soon lack of sleep will be viewed like smoking.  It asserted in the near future, we will realize the detriments: depression, obesity, and cancer.  Another NPR story suggest we get out of the city and spend some time in the dark–isn’t it bananas that we need to be reminded of needing dark!

Yoga Nidra is another name for deep sleep in the causal plane.  It is also the name of a progressive series of exercises to bring one to that place, while, paradoxically, remaining awake.  It is the psychic sleep of the Yogi .  This is a tool for developing more than better quality sleep, it is a method for dealing with negative karma.  I suggest clicking on the link that I attached above for detailed instructions on this ancient practice.

The causal plane is a womb.  It is the realm of rebirth.  A cleanse which we have the opportunity to partake in and give ourselves a spiritual reset.  Challenge yourself to try the practice for 7 nights in a row (in a dark room without caffeine) and see how you feel.

(Post 13 of 30 Days of Peace. Let peace begin with me.)

When You Think You’ve Got “It”…

…”It” can be so challenging to not slip into self-judgment. When, you believe you’ve crossed some magical threshold and you can let your spiritual practices take a back burner. Ironically, this may happen even though you may be striving to “improve” your life.

The endeavor of entering seminary has been amazing for me. I’ve developed a deeper understanding and appreciation for an array of the world’s spiritual traditions. But, finding time to do my studies added another layer of busyness.

Next thing I know, old behaviors creep in… 

…After a long day the couch and T.V. beckon.

As a mindfulness instructor, I know it’s not the T.V. that’s inherently evil. It’s the diversion instead of relaxation that causes harm.

Diversion is when you don’t make an effort to clear the mind and set down your obligations. Diversion is pleasant; but, it is ephemeral. Relaxation takes effort; but, it is cathartic.

Intrinsic relaxation is a skill. You don’t turn on music. You don’t do more–you subtract. There are an array of exercises for autorelaxation: yoga postures, shavasana, pranayana to name a few.

Paradoxically , it’s recommended to do something more engaging when the mind is busy (or if your newer). Move your mind around and it’ll settle down and focus.

As I share this, I remember a great quote, “put down the book [turn off the T.V, computer, device] and meditate”.

That’s what I’m going to do now.

(Post 12 of 30 Days of Peace. Better late then never. Let peace begin with me.)

Advaita (Nondual) Lord’s Prayer

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Advaita Vedanta is the Philosophy in which the Individual Self is understood to be one and the same with the Unifying Nondual Supreme Consciousness.

This an interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer from the perspective of Nondualism.

As this body breathes, I connect with the Supreme Consciousness (which is infinitely named) that exists in and as me.

This is the Silence at the end of Om.

Absorption in this state exists in the Now.

There is no other; I am awake to I am.

From the depth of my heart, I offer gratitude for Self Realization.

Knowledge from this state removes attachments.

Nothing is mine. Nothing is mine.

I ask the grace of the Guru inside, to forgive myself if I stray from the Path of Fire and Light.

My mere mind cannot sustain this awareness. Grace, in the form of Divine Love, is the gravity that pulls me to my True Self.

Nothing exists that is not Brahman.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

Keep Up The Good Work!

 

2nd anniversary

It’s the blog’s two-year anniversary.  Thank you for sharing the love and light!  Mommy dharma has kept me preoccupied; but, all is as it should be!

A tardy Day 11 of 30 Days of Peace (but, I forgive myself)!

One of my spiritual teachers, Rev. Richard Burdick, is a musician.  He recently shared that new piano students would focus on the mistakes they made while playing.  He explained that he would try to shift their focus to celebrating the dozens of right notes they played instead.

We’ve all been the aforementioned novice musician.  We gave a presentation and focused on the one slide we flubbed.  We made a beautiful meal and focused on the salty side dish. We were snappy with a loved one and forgot all of the hugs, kisses, and wiped tears.  Or, we got distracted from our spiritual practices and labelled ourselves a failure.

An essential component of inner peace is forgiveness.  I know it sounds cliché; but, forgiveness begins with ourselves.  In several previous posts I note the importance of maintaining regularity in practicethe benefits of small sessions, and not judging yourself harshly if (and when) you slip.  The reason these tips are repeated so often is I speak from experience.  There are so many opportunities to become distracted from the path of fire and light.

…But, each slippery rock is a stepping stone.  One deep breath and you’re back on the tightrope.  The important idea to hold is the only reality is this moment.  That is what all of the new-agey whoey phooey means by “The Now“!

Whatever you did before is over; whatever you think you may do is not guaranteed.  This moment–which appears to move linearly through this imagined construct called time– is really not moving.  This moment is Eternity–in experiences of flow, deep connection, and the blissful states of meditation we chip away at its veil.

When you have full awareness in the moment it is the zenith, the ambrosia, heaven on earth.  Isn’t attainment worth the effort?

But, even if you find you’re distracted from The Now by the illusory pull of the ephemeral world, it’s right there just waiting for you to wake up enough and let it pull you back in.

I was just there.  Were you?

 

Are You Your Relationships?

WorldOneness4

I eliminated duality with joyous laughter
Saw the Unity of here and the hereafter
Unity is what I sing, Unity is what I speak
Unity is what I know, Unity is what I seek

Rumi

Part 7: 30 Days of Peace

Appearance plays a particularly interesting role in the Himalayan Tradition. The Master’s of these practices elucidate, from their direct experiences, that All that exists is One Power, One Presence, One Consciousness (call out what you will, I will NOT anthropomorphize). But, it appears to present as multiplicity.  This appearance goes by many names: maya, avidya, shakti, illusion.

The cosmological apparent multiplicity is mirrored in the microcosm. People appear one-way outwardly. But, what is going inwardly may be entirely different.

We all have different expectations for our relationships. Most of them are made from our attraction (raga) to about particular outcome: we expect loyalty, companionship, perhaps even financial support.

Some of these expectations are stated when we commit to a relationship, some of them are implied. But, this can lead to assumptions.

Furthermore, there are societal expectations and norms for where what kind of relationships we need to be in based on constructs such as: age, sex, race, and socioeconomic status.

People can disappoint us (which leads into a whole different post about expectations and attachments). They may even harm our bodies (I write this with the assumption that readers of this post know they are not merely a body).

If we allow it, all of this creates stress.

It’s no wonder many wise sages sought refuge in monasticism! Even there, unless you’re a hermit, there are still vows, obligations, and relationships with other monks!

The irony, and purpose of this post, is that it’s all the Power of the aforementioned illusion, the Leela, the Play of Consciousness.

We started this post discussing Unity, not connection–that would denote that the One could be separated.

What’s really going on is utterly magical. Through its own will the One manifests as many. Therefore, relationships are a way the One expresses its magnificence.

This is important for a seeker to understand.

We are relationships. We are the result of relationships. We create and sever them. Our actions may create humans that, in turn, share this web of karma. It sounds really ominous; but, it’s actually beautiful… We are every apparent individual that exists. We are not separated.

When we remember this we can practice lovingkindness to everyone. So many master teachers have tried to impart this wisdom. Because, as stated in many previous posts, there are no others.

One practice from this tradition is a meditation on the Four Attitudes.

  • Friendliness : an attitude to cultivate with the general public
  • Compassion : an attitude to cultivate with those who are suffering
  • Gladness : an attitude to cultivate with those you are envious of
  • Neutrality : an attitude to cultivate with those you have strong negative feelings towards

During your seated practice you can bring forth the image of a person who evokes these responses in you. You breathe and hold their image in your mind-field. Allow the attitude to fill the space and send the recipient the blessing of your positive wishes. Neutrality is the most profound of these attitudes. If you can become neutral, by remembering those who cause pain are also in pain, you may eventually progress to compassion.

Click the links!!