If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained.
Listen Up there!
Buddhist Meditation is about listening, about seeing, about knowing
There is a different sort of activity often called meditation but which should rather be called contemplation. Contemplation involves an element of active thinking. Often this takes the form of a led envisioning in which the leader tells a story which the meditators follow internally, creating a moving picture of the story as if they were in the story themselves. The sort of thing that I mean often starts with something like; ‘You are walking down a forest path. On either side of you are spreading oak and beech trees which reach up over your head so that you just catch glimpses of the blue sky beyond. You can hear the leaves rustling in the light breeze and the sweet sounds of many birds singing in the branches…..’ and so on. The journey invites you, at some point to continue on your own without the leader prompting you to see what happens and whether you find some special message or symbol before you are guided back to the start of the journey and the room you are meditating in.
There is nothing wrong with this sort of contemplation with it’s rather shamanistic overtones but it is not Buddhist meditation. Or perhaps I should say not the Buddhist meditation that this article is going to concern itself with. I say that because there are active Buddhist meditations, especially in the Tibetan traditions. These generally take the form of internalised rituals in which the meditator creates a mental image of a Buddha or other Buddhist ‘saint’ with very symbolic meaning and then performs, usually again mentally, a series of ritual actions and words before the image. These can be very powerful in terms of developing compassion, spiritual insights and so forth and one needs to have been initiated into them by a teacher who has had much experience of using them him ‘or her’ self. Generally they are only revealed to people who have studied a lot in various disciplines as preparation.
What I want to discuss now is the most basic forms of Buddhist meditation which are Shamatha and Vipassana meditation. Put simply this is just an awareness of what is. However for most people it is not possible just to sit down and be. Sooner or later the meditator gets fascinated and absorbed by the thoughts that are arising and then gets lost in them. Everybody who does not meditate, if asked if they could just be conscious of being, of what is going on around them and what is passing through their mind, will confidently say that they can and is amazed when they try it to find that they can’t. Gurgief said that most people are asleep most of the time, but because when anyone or thing calls them to attention they are for that moment aware of being there, they do not notice where they are the rest of the time.
Here is a simple and harmless exercise that you could do if you have not discovered this inability to stay aware for any length of time. Just sit comfortably on a chair, (no fancy lotus position needed for this,) and count slowly up to ten, perhaps one digit for every in-breath. When you get to ten (if you get to ten!) just start again. Suddenly you will realise with a start that your mind has wandered and forgotten all about counting. You might still be counting, or you might have stopped but you had gone woolgathering following other thoughts. There are all sorts of exercises designed in a similar way such as looking at a candle flame or reciting a simple mantra and many teachers of meditation start their pupils with an exercise like this and keep them coming back to this practice for many months or years in the hope that it will develop the ability to focus awareness on something and keep it there.
The basic Buddhist meditation is just to sit, allowing thoughts, sensations and outside events to come and go. At first, and for a long time, this is practiced in a formal way with the guidance of a meditation teacher. For a long time the thoughts and sensation sooner or later overwhelm the meditator and the have that snap-out-of-it-moment when they realise the awareness of being there has gone. Then it is the time just to refocus on that primal awareness and continue. Eventually that awareness becomes stronger and lasts longer and the bewitching thoughts and events come and go but do not sweep the meditator away. Many ways in which this happens and stages that some people go through have been recorded by seasoned meditators but knowledge of them is not essential to meditation. It knows where it is going and has an energy of its own. Eventually that awareness will spread out from the formal meditation and start to be present in more and more life situations and awareness of what Being is really about naturally emerges.
A meditator has one sure measure and it is this- that if they can be naturally aware even in the midst of distracting events, thoughts or feelings they are well trained.
Everyone in the journey of life owes much to the people who inspire, teach and support them and every one would probably think that there is one person above all others who has been their source of wisdom in their life. Some of the Tibetan Buddhists have a tradition of talking of their Perfect Teacher; perhaps we might not go that far, but who would we think of?
Some people might feel that it was one or both of their parents whose guidance early in life was a source of wisdom that they have been able to work with all their lives. Some might turn to a particular relative, a grandparent or perhaps and aunt, uncle or older sibling who gave them the inner strength they needed or is perhaps even still a person they can go to when life is hard or puzzling. I know, for myself, that my grandma, although I did not see a lot of her, remains visibly in my mind and I feel I know what she would have said or done in her wise way in many a situation.
Moving on I remember a teacher at school who treated us teenage boys as if we were adults and listened and talked about our many problems, dreams and desires at that age. He was an English teacher and he also made the texts that we studied relevant to our growing minds. It is to him that I owe a debt of gratitude for introducing me to the world of the arts that has in its turn been a great source both of pleasure and worldly wisdom. Perhaps you to can think of a teacher who was a great influence to you in your life and shaped some important aspect of your future development. I know some people went out into the world of work much younger than I did and might think of some person in the work place who took an interest in them, saw their potential and helped them in their life direction. Many years ago my son was languishing in a mechanical engineering apprenticeship when the IT consultant in the factory took an interest in him and realised that he had the sort of methodical mind that would appreciate computer programming. His encouragement changed my son's career path and he is now a top executive in a telecoms company.
Perhaps, however, like me, you have a spiritual aspect to your life which has led you to need to explore that aspect of life and, given the remit of these articles, that is the centre of thought for this consideration of teachers. In my case there is one special friend, called Ken some fifteen or so years older than I was, and now alas long dead, who came into my life when I was turning twenty. Ken was not of any particular spiritual school or belief but he was what is sometimes called an old soul and had extraordinary powers to help another person examine their own spiritual life if they were so inclined. I could write a book about what Ken did for me and I shall owe him a debt of gratitude all my life. But without his love and support, as well as the challenges that he set to my arrogance and self-opinionated-ness ,I would be even more immature than I am now But above all it was the spiritual vistas that he opened for me that set the directions that have been most important to me in later life Perhaps you, as my reader, can think of someone like that in your life or perhaps you wish that could have met someone like that. If you are in the latter position I would remind you of the saying that when the student is ready the teacher finds them. So you are already close to finding that person. It was certainly true in my case.
Finally I would mention the sort of spiritual teacher that many of us have met at some time in our life and whom you might, yourself, follow. I'm thinking of the sort of spiritual teacher who comes from some particular school or religion and has a following of a number of, or many, followers and often teaches by a mixture of talks and individual interviews. Over the years I have worked with several such people of different faiths and traditions and all of them, in one way or another have been helpful. Some people find that one particular teacher particularly resonates with them and they chose to work with the for a long period of time.
But; and now perhaps I am going to surprise you; non of any of these people is your Perfect Teacher. However well they know you, and in my case Ken seemed to know my every thought and desire, non of them know you better than yourself. Perhaps that idea may surprise, or maybe it does not. Maybe you say; 'But that is my whole problem. I do not know myself well enough.' But ultimately no-one is going to be able to know your better than you will if you persevere. Your external teachers and guides can only really do one thing for you, which is to wake up your own dharma, your own inner guru, and once awakened and listened to intently that will guide you through your spiritual journey. Remember you are already perfect Buddha nature (or whatever you like to call your soul) your only problem is you have forgotten it. But that inner nature will act as your conscience and will tell you if your actions and thoughts are true, loving and honest or not and even if the voice is not too clear or compelling right now, the more you listen the clearer that voice will be.
You are your own Perfect Teacher.
Over the past couple of days, I have had a number of very intense conversations with friends about our experiences and understandings of working with spirit. I think, when we first set out to 'understand' the working with spirit thing....we think about how cool it would be to be able to talk to dead people or at least that is what we often hear!
When we start sharing our knowledge with those that want to know more, we start with the premiss that we are spirit having an earthly experience. And to really understand spirit 'out there' we need to understand the spirit within us. We work on recognising the spirit in others around us, learning to connect on a level of empathy and compassion through love. When we do this, we start to see something quite extraordinary happening. We see friendships blossom that come from trust, openness, mutual respect and genuine love. I say this from personal experience of watching groups I work with bonding and working together for the good of each other not, just for the self.
In addition to this bonding and growing, is an awareness of the self. How we and we alone are responsible for the things that happen in our lives. We learn that we control, and I don't like that word but it does fit here, we control the way we live our lives. The energy of our thoughts keeps the physical self in any given circumstance, both the good and the not so good. Ordinarily, when things are not so good, we deflect the reasons for that onto others. It's because 'that' person said this, or 'that' person did that, or even 'that' person didn't do that...but the more we understand how our thinking controls what manifests in our lives, we realise we have a choice, we can transform a situation by the way we think about it. We can't always change situations, but we can change the way we think about them. This, gives us the control back, this gives us the opportunity to bring peace or understanding to every situation we find ourselves in.
Wednesday night, myself and a friend were talking about how something that had been said to us, separately, had brought up feelings within us, negative ones. But when we started to 'drill' down to what was the root cause of our feelings, we discovered that it really was not what was said that was the problem, but our reaction to it and where that came from within us.
How fantastic to have that awareness! Not fantastic in what it had done to us, but that we were aware enough to discern the root cause of our own reaction to what had been said!
Then this evening, working with one of my more advanced groups, the mutual love or affection, whatever they prefer to call it, was tangible. There was a genuine joy in watching each other's connection to spirit working so beautifully...I felt humbled to be able to witness this...and this was followed by seeing one of my other groups mutual encouragement and friendship moving on from just within the confines of their group work spiritually, to something they are doing together outside of that. Very special..
So what is the point of my late night muse....The more we understand about what is truly remarkable about our spiritual journey, the more we realise it is our own spirits journey. The being able to talk to dead people, is almost a by product of being able to connect to our own spirit, to speak from that awareness of our own spirit , and, being able to see others from that perspective.
When we do this, we become more compassionate, more understanding and, well, just more...isn't that amazing? To understand our true self, to see the beauty of who we really are, to know how powerful we are, how truly amazing we really are....we work towards not allowing ourselves to be affected by others views of us and the world around them. We, each one of us is perfect, we just need to re-remember that.
Although we cannot change others, through our own changes in perspective, we lead the way for others to follow. How can those around us who live in fear and negatively stay there when they see our light shining so positive and bright!
Like attracts like...as we shine brighter, those around us are drawn in. Those that live in darkness are drawn to the light and therefore transform themselves. Those that stay in the shadows, will move further away from you, your light blinding them. It's a fact that as we progress along a true and positive spiritual path, we will lose people along the way, but, we gain strong and amazing connections that can last a lifetime. Maybe, even finding our soul mates.
As always, my muses are just my personal account of what I see and understand as I walk my journey. I suppose I should call these muses...blogs? But then, I rarely do what I should! I love to share as often, when something hits me, it is something others are struggling with or questioning so if I touch just one person, there is my reason for sharing my thoughts.
I wish you all a day of loving who you are; of believing in the power you have within in you to be all that you want to be...and to enjoy knowing you are special, unique and very much loved by the world of spirit. Use your smile to radiate out that inner light to all you meet...it's good to share your smile, people cannot,help but smile back so for that one person, you could light up their day...others may think you have gone nuts, but even that will make them smile!
What a few weeks it has been. Planning and executing our open day was a mammoth task but so worthwhile on many levels. Personally, so many things are happening, personal, business, the centre, spiritually, family etc etc. Today I sat up at the centre with our June watching as one by one people came in to have a private reading with the lovely John Shaw. June is a true worker for spirit. Regardless of how she is feeling or what is going on in her own life, she is here, taking her position as guardian of our space. June is an inspiration to me and to many others. Her life is all about family and spirit is her family just as those who live here on the earth plain with her.
We sat and talked about many things, life, family, spirit...and we got to talking about how the centre started. How on earth did we do it we both said. We had no money, no real idea how we were going to run it, how we would find the money month on month. How did we do it? We did it from the point of view of faith. Faith that if we were meant to have a place such as this, it would happen. We didn't know how, but we trusted it would happen anyway! Don't get me wrong, it took a lot of hard work here but with the team in spirit pointing us the right direction, we knew all would be well!
Nearly 14 years down the road, here we are. Not just here but a better us. Our mentor had very strong views of where we should go and the way we could achieve it. Sadly after a year she decided that where we were was no longer for her, so the few of us left as custodians of this space, changed many things, including the name. It was a scary time but the changes made allowed the centre to grow, to breathe new life into everything we did including us.
As me and June were looking around our little haven, we commented on how the building has changed, decorations, things on display, layout etc. But the biggest changes are in us. We started out with a single vision. But as time has gone on, we have opened our hearts and minds to changes and those changes have allowed us to grow too. We talked about our mentors direction of what we needed to do, and she was an amazing visionary! But, she was focussed in one direction, and expected us to only go that way. However, because we have opened ourselves up to spirit to guide us, they have ensured we are still there, or here I should say, today. When we stop trying to control the natural flow of life, all that we need for our highest good and that of those around us, happens. We don't need to look for the change, it happens naturally. We grow and change without realising it happening. June and I looked at each other and discussed how we have changed and how that has been through trust and mutual support.
Change is scary. Change can be difficult. But if we keep getting the messages from the universe and listen, we just know it is all for the right reasons so you have to let go, and let spirit. How do these messages come to us? Do spirit knock on our front door and give us a set of instructions to follow? Do we wait for that knock to happen before making the changes we know we need too? Messages come to us via friends suggesting something, by hearing the lyrics of a song, by keep seeing the same message over and over again through social media or, picking up a book and it falls open to a page that draws you to a passage that confirms what you were thinking. If we wait for spirit to knock on our door, we could be waiting a long time! It's a bit like the story of God sending a helicopter to rescue a drowning man.....remember that story! If we just listen to the messages from the universe, through life, and follow them, rarely if ever would that guidance be for anything other than our highest good.
June and I sat there this afternoon trying to think what our mentor would say to all that we are doing. Once upon a time, we would have both worried that she would disapprove but today, we agreed that what we have done is the best we could be by listening to the guidance from spirit and very very proud of what we have achieved. We are not standing in that place saying we are all things to all men but through listening to that guidance of the universe, we have a place in the world and we can make a difference to some but not all, that find us. So the point of this late night muse is sharing the belief that to trust in the flow of life, not fighting it, not fearing the changes, just trusting that where we go is where we need to be for our highest good. If you feel you are being pushed into a place that you fear, stop, breathe and look at it, really look at it...take the emotion of fear out and look at it again...see the bigger picture and trust in the flow of life. June and I agreed that neither one of us are who we were when we started out all those years ago and for that, we are truly grateful.