Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MPOW #23 - Your Spiritual Task

Once you understand your basic Buddhist Personality Type, you can use this as a vehicle for awakening. I refer again to the Which Buddhist Personality Type Are You? quiz from Tricycle: The Buddhist Review magazine. If you haven't read this already, it's quick, easy, and a bit fun, too. The article defines custom mindfulness practices for each type.

Each type has a spiritual task to accomplish. The spiritual task of the greedy type is to transform the desire for sense objects into a desire to know the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Greedy types need to balance their optimism with an awareness of suffering. Practices that can help the greedy type include: contemplation of old age, sickness, death, and impermanence, meditation on the 32 parts of the body; generosity; renunciation; noticing the ending of experiences; putting oneself in uncomfortable, unpleasant situations (in order to become disenchanted with sense pleasures); slowing down; and taking the Three Refuges.

The spiritual task of the aversive type is to transform the critical mind through wisdom and insight. Aversive types need to learn to relax, question their beliefs about being “right,” and notice joy in addition to suffering. Practices for the aversive type are: lovingkindness, compassion, mindfulness of mind, humor, faith, patience, open awareness, and putting oneself in pleasant surroundings in order to soften the heart and connect with life.

The spiritual task of the deluded type is to transform spaciousness into a state of rooted equanimity. Deluded types need to learn how to reel in their minds. Practices useful for a deluded type include: noting (labeling); mindfulness of the hindrance of doubt; body awareness; somatic experiencing; qigong or yoga; precision; mindfulness of the earth element, and putting oneself in safe and pleasant surroundings to prevent dissociation.

This week, mindfully take at least one small step on your spiritual task each day. We are all created different from each other and no single personality type truly defines. We also change from moment to moment. The personality type is not meant to completely define you. It simply serves as a guide on your path of awakening, or a helpful tool to increase your mindfulness. Have fun with it and bring yourself a little bit closer to your edge.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

MPOW #22 - "Gain and victory to others; loss and defeat to myself."

"Gain and victory to others; loss and defeat to myself." - Tibetan Buddhist saying

Pema Chodron explains this powerful slogan to cultivate generosity and vulnerability in Start Where You Are. This writing borrows a lot from that and from my own experience using it this past week. The slogan definitely needs some explaining. A big part of the Words Are Powerful observation is that words are often overloaded or miscommunicated, and this quotation particularly so.

Loss and defeat to myself does not mean to extend an invitation to the world to attack you with slings and arrows. It is not encouragement to submit to having your bones broken and head kicked in. It is a reminder to allow your armor to come down and let yourself feel vulnerable. Every time that something hurts us, including emotionally, we have the tendency to fly, fight, or fortify. Likely this comes from the reptilian center of our brain's fight-or-flight response. Perhaps when we are socially ostracized, we feel that we are going to die. I recently heard Keith Ferrazzi (author of Never Eat Alone and recently Who's Got Your Back) deliver a presentation with vulnerability as a major theme. He spoke about how the feeling of sudden death due to embarrassment--"oh, I could just die"--likely has childhood roots. As young children, we are entirely dependent on our parents and guardians. If we are embarrassed, the mammalian centers of our brains fear rejection that will exclude us from this circle upon which we completely rely, which may leave us without sustenence and loving connection. So, from a young age, we have built up a response to treat even emotional dings from social slights as physical threats.

So, from youth, we build up an armor, layers and layers of constricting mail, a helmet, a shield, gloves, and boots. Every time we put up another shield, it makes our world a little smaller, every layer makes us a little more removed from the world as it is. Our protection in response to our fears makes a weaker version of ourselves hiding in a shell. It's not a bad thing; it's a trade-off. Though, it is a trade-off that makes us less and less flexible, our perspective more and more narrow, and removes the expansive potential of our world. Another thing that we learn over time, is that this defense isn't reliable. It doesn't really work. There's always a chink in the armor, or a time when it's down; we let it down sometimes when we connect with others. Then, we accidentally get hurt only to return to the armory for renewed fortifications to avoid being hurt. And this may work for another week or two.

There's an alternative. For your mindfulness practice, discover your armor, the ways that you protect yourself. See if you can peel off the armor and be as you are. Intentionally and methodically allow yourself to be vulnerable. Challenge your comfort to go out into the world without armor and experience it naturally. Allow yourself to realize that you can survive loss and defeat.

During this time of vulnerability, you have an excellent opportunity to cultivate your generosity. Rather than using your energy to inflate yourself at the expense of others, do the opposite. Put your energy into helping others win. Celebrate their victories. There are many things to notice. Here are three of them that I find curious and charming. First, of the six point seven billion people in the world, there are a lot more victories and gains to celebrate than if you only celebrate your own. The second is that you come to realize your connectedness with others, you find a unity in humanity. The third one is ironic, working toward the gain and victory of others often brings positivity back to you in as possibly a karmic effect of "no good deed goes unrewarded." Be careful of the trap here, though. Remember loss and defeat unto yourself, the point is the gain and victory unto others, not funding your own karmic bank.

For this week's mindfulness practice, keep that slogan in mind through your day and through your actions. This vulnerability is a sweet and elegant thing. It's what I mean when I wrote On Cracking Creme Brulee.

This post is dedicated to my friend Mariko Hosokawa, who loves creme brulee, She is as charmingly vulnerable as can be, every bit of her essence is the creme brulee that she loves so much.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

MPOW #21 - Waterfall of Light

This mindfulness practice of the week is one about nourishment and healing. In MPOW #15 - Authentic Self, I wrote about an authentic waterfall that's nurturing and welcoming enough for you to meet your authentic self. This same waterfall can be used to heal your emotional self. We all have blockages, places in our body where we are tight or sore, places were we cannot stretch, places where we store the stresses of our lives.

These places can represent emotional blockages, too. For example, a too-rigid spine, one that cannot physically stretch, may represent how we are inflexible mentally. Both need to release at once. Allowing our vertebrae to have more space goes hand in hand with allowing our minds to be more curious and our hearts to be more open and accepting. Conversely, by releasing what blocks our curiousity and keeps us entrenched in narrow patterns (maybe fear, loss, a limited sense of identity), we also break through new ground in our bodies, feel more comfortable and at home there.

Gently limber up--physically, emotionally, and mentally. This will allow you to free yourself from pains and blockages and give yourself a more living and flexible definition of self.

The Practice

Find a comfortable position, seated or lying. I prefer to keep my head up and facing forward with my spine erect, though you may choose something else. Hold your hands palms up in front of your body. Allow yourself to calm down and relax from your busy life.

You have a simple task for your mind to focus on. Imagine a healing, warm, loving, light-filled waterfall cascading over your body. If you are sitting, it massages the crown of your head and the tops of your shoulders, it soothes your neck and flows down your chest and back, it falls upon your legs and lap, and it makes you feel warm and cared for all over. If you are lying face up, it massages the tight muscles of your face and jaw, your throat, chest, and adbomen, your feet and legs and arms and hands. Or on your back in soothes your neck and back muscles, loosens your buttocks, and relaxes your hamstrings, calves and feet.

Allow your mind to concentrate on creating the universe of this waterfall and all of its sensations. Scan the body as it is touched by this waterfall to identitfy blockages and allow the loving light and warmth of the water to soothe and release them.

This is your own private spa, one that you can come back to any time to show yourself soothing love and healing relaxation.

Haiku #5 - Buddhist with Beattitude

Karma sans dogma,

Buddhist with Beattitude,

One divinity.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

MPOW #20 - Focus on Your Nostrils

This mindfulness practice of the week is another foundational practice. It is simply paying attention to your breath. Yogini Saiko introduced this to me in yin yoga class on Sunday and I find it a great way to get into a relaxed meditative state, even when I'm in monkey mind.

The Practice

Sit or kneel in a relaxed meditative position with your spine erect. Place your hands in any configuration that works for you if you have a favorite. I suggest hands roughly palms up on the knees. When keeping your spine erect, imagine a string tied to the crown of your head, gently though firmly pulling you toward the sky. During the posture, allow your spine to relax if you feel too tense or extend a little more rigidly if you are losing focus or dosing off. The erectness of the spine is a useful and important element of posture to control in this and many meditations.

Allow yourself to settle your breathing naturally, without adhering to any particular pattern. When you are relaxed, you are ready to begin.

Bring your gentle attention to the front tips of your nostrils. Focus on this part of the body. As you pay attention to the inside of your nostrils, you may notice that your thoughts keep coming in. That's ok, recognize them as thoughts, gently label them as "thinking," and bring your attention back to your nostrils. Your thoughts will continue to come, but as you practice this, you will find more and more space between the thoughts. You are taking this time for yourself as a treat. So reward yourself by not judging your thinking. Use this time to be gentle with yourself and keep returning your attention to the tips of your nostrils.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Haiku #4 - On Cracking Creme Brulee

Cracking creme brûlée...
Pleasure. Vulnerable core
Beneath burnt, sweet crust.

Monday, June 01, 2009

MPOW #19 - Exploring Your Edge

“If I never explore my limits, my bodymind will gradually tighten and become unconscious. If I regularly explore my limits in a caring and adventuresome fashion, I will expand and grow in a vital fashion. But if I try to push myself past where I am honestly able to go, I will no longer be practicing ‘yoga’ but instead will be practicing ‘greed,’ and I will probably be met by pain and disease. Stated simply, it is the difference between ignoring your self, making love to yourself, and raping yourself.” –Ken Dychtwald, Bodymind

To my great happiness, my yin yoga instructor Saiko has returned from her travels and is teaching yoga in Seattle again. She read the above quotation during a several minute (around five minutes, relaxing into poses distinguishes yin yoga from other types) hold of downward-facing pigeon pose (Adho Mukha Kapotasana). I was stretching into my right hip, trying to maintain the exact right spot and hold there, and this quotation brought me to mindfulness about my relationship to my limits, my edge.

In my physical yoga (asana) practice, I tend to find that I err on the side of pushing the edge to a spot that is aggressive against my muscles. In other aspects, I tend to err on the side of ignoring the edge. Dychtwald's wisdom need not be true for physical yoga alone, as the sanskrit word yoga means "discipline" or "alignment with divinity". So, substitute in any word for an activity or virtue with "yoga" and see where you fall in your explorations. The sanskrit word yoga is often translated to mean "action".

"If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space." - The slogan on one of my favorite teenage tees.

Mindfulness Practice of the Week - Explore Your Edge

If you have yoga experience, I recommend trying this from pigeon pose. This is a challenging pose and can lead to knee damage if done incorrectly and you push yourself. So if you have never done it before with the help of a yoga instructor, try something simpler like Balasana child pose (toes together, knees on the ground shoulder width apart, butt on your heels with your arms stretched forward.

Tips from the WikiHealth site: (pigeon pose)
  • Make sure to stay focused on the breathing as this pose can be intense. If you can, imagine that the breath is opening up space in the hip and releasing the tightness.
  • It is not unusual to experience a full range of sensations and emotions, from naseau to sadness and anger. Allow whatever your body is experiencing to move through you and stay connected to your breath.
  • It is estimated that the hips store physical and emotional build up/memory. Thus, it is common to experience a strong physical/emotional reaction when we are in the process of opening them.

From the pose, say the quote aloud in your mind and contemplate the ways in your life in which you are on the edge, avoiding the edge, and pushing past the edge. Don't berate yourself for missing the edge, just note it and calmly see if you can bring yourself back to the edge. Remember this as an exercise of loving yourself. Be tender, be gentle, be thorough.

My Experience

As Saiko spoke these words and I focused on finding the edge, I noticed a shift in my hip muscles releasing and allowing me to sink much more deeply into the pose. I have known people to hold a lot of emotion in their hips and cry through and after pigeon pose. I never experienced that myself, though in this session, learning to love myself through yoga allowed me to physically open along with the opening of my symbolic heart.

A meditation this weekend helped me realize that I had gone astray from the path of loving myself. Realizing this was all it took to get back on that path. I have again been able to turn off the mind and find some good rest. It reminds me of How I Learned to Take a Break from Analyzing and Start Loving Myself.