Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"We have met the enemy, and they are ours"

There is great opportunity for practice while working in an emergency department.

For example, some of my greatest teachers have been people who come into the ED specifically requesting narcotics or other controlled substances. I learn more about my own biases with each encounter.

I do feel that in certain times and in certain people, these medications are necessary, or at least quite helpful to alleviate suffering. However there are people that come to us requesting them specifically either due to addiction to them, wanting to sell them on the street to make money (often for even more addictive substances), or for reasons unknown. There's nothing that sparks judgmental mind for me faster than a "drug-seeker", as they're known at work.

Having worked in emergency medicine for thirteen years, I can spot someone with unskillful intentions pretty quickly. My own anxiety kicks in as I anticipate the eventual confrontation that  comes about when I say, "No, I am not going to give you a prescription for xxxxx". Sometimes the person realizes they've been caught (as we have ways of seeing what prescriptions people receive) and gives up without a fight. More often, there's some sort of a fight. It may be lies, tears, or belligerence, or all of the above. Usually it's an uncomfortable situation no matter what.

So recently this scene played out at work, and I realized later that there was no compassion present in me at all at the time (and we won't even talk about equanimity). A teacher and friend had made a comment online about having compassion for a snake, and I realized that compassion for a snake arose much more easily than compassion for this particular person I had just dealt with. I can wish this person well without much difficulty, but compassion was much harder to bring to mind.

Looking at this today, I put myself in this person's shoes. What horrible kamma they must have to be addicted to a drug, and spend their time going to various emergency rooms (and waiting for hours in the waiting room) to attempt to get prescriptions they can use or sell for another. Each time risking getting caught, risking getting thrown in jail, or risking death if they take too much drugs. What a hell realm!

I also remembered that we all are looking for things that we think will make us happy. They may not be narcotics, but whatever conditioned things they are, they make us "high" for a period of time, but inevitably there's the crash, and all the suffering that comes from our unskillful ways of seeking them out. I realized that many of the things I've sought in life have been very transient, and that my unskillful habits of seeking them out have brought a lot of suffering in my life. For example, I think many of us have that desire to be liked by those around us. Where has holding on to that as something we "must" have brought us? I don't think I'm alone in suffering for that one.

So in a way, I am also a "drug seeker". I am this person, grasping for something that I think is going to make me happy. While I thankfully have the kamma to know that the unconditioned is there, and is a much better "fix", I still find myself in samsara.

As I reflected on some of these things, compassion began to arise. I'm not going to say that my compassion for the patient is yet up there with a cuddly puppy, but it's a start. Hopefully this process will come to mind the next time there is another patient like this at work. We shall see. I probably won't have to wait long...

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Ever notice that we keep getting the same lessons again until we get them right? Or just when you think you've got something down, life turns around and says "Nah ah ahhhh!"

Before I moved out here to the east coast I lived in an idyllic little house on the outskirts of a Mayberry-look-alike town. Occasionally I would hear the neighbor's chickens, or cars passing by, but things were generally pretty quiet. It was a wonderful place to practice.

Then I came out here and stayed with my folks. A blaring TV on for most of the day was certainly a challenge. I tried listening to white noise through headphones, ignoring it, even listening to music through headphones (yes, I know, so much for that not-seeking-entertainment precept). Sometimes I could manage to not let it bother me, but for the most part it was a constant source of irritation.

Fast forward a few months and I am now living by myself again. Initially, it seemed pretty quiet...until my neighbor moved in. Now I get to share his music, football games, and his late night arguments with his girlfriend.

So much for the quiet.

So I think this is something I'm going to have to work on. The craving for quiet brings suffering when that "need" isn't met.

I can hear Ajahn Chah saying "Why is your mind going out and bothering that noise? It's just doing what noises do."

I've tried sending metta to the neighbor, which sometimes helps. I also realize that I am so fortunate and have been a bit spoiled: there are countries where noise is constant, no matter where one lives, and that hearing local arguments is a way of life.

So when I can truly give up that expectation of quiet, and just sit with awareness of what's going on around me, I think there will be much less suffering.

I'll let you know if I get there, but suggestions are welcome.

As long as they're not too loud!^)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Presence

Recently, a friend of mine offered a sweet hope that I would receive lots of Christmas presents. And even before Christmas has arrived, I have.

I have the knowledge that my family is in relatively good health for right now. That of course, is subject to change, but for right now I am thankful for it.

I got to hear the voices of some friends whom I hadn't talked to in a while.

I found out that in a few months I will be able to spend some time with some dhamma friends whom I haven't seen in a while.

I am currently employed in a job that enhances my practice, and gives me many opportunities to practice compassion. It also will help to fund some stewardship and travel time in the future.

There are really countless things that have occurred in my life that could be considered presents. I feel well-gifted.

What I wish for this Christmas is...presence.

Presence to be aware right now to what is going on, without spending time worrying about the past or future.

Presence to be aware when a friend is feeling low and could use my help.

Presence to just be aware in my own body and know what it needs. To see how fickle the act of wanting and not wanting can be, and how much stress it can cause.

I'm sure we all can think of the benefits of enjoying the gift of now.

So for the upcoming holidays, I wish everyone lots of...


Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Month of Gratitude

As I was in the shower this morning, sniveling mind appeared and started whingeing about water pressure and sharing a bathroom. The absurdity of this hit me when I remembered that there are many people who have no access to clean water, let alone a hot shower. Sniveling mind disappeared right there and then, sad and disappointed.

It's so easy to listen and join in with the complaining mind, but it only makes us miserable. We focus on what's wrong with our worlds and compare the way things are with the way we want them to be. While there's nothing wrong with making positive changes in one's life, I find the complaining mind usually doesn't accomplish much other than to cause suffering.

In the last week, I've been sitting with the Bāhiya Sutta. Here's a link to Ajahn Thanissaro's translation for those who aren't famiar with it:
Bāhiya Sutta

For me it seems to say that when there's no more mental proliferation about what we experience, then we don't suffer. The mental proliferation may be grasping, going on about why we "need" something or how much we want it, or about how horrible something is and how much we don't want it.

To combat the aversive mind that goes on about the negative, I've decided to start a month of gratitude. For the next 30 days, I plan to write down at least one thing I am grateful for, and also to be mindful of when the sniveling mind appears, and show it the door. Especially with Thanksgiving coming up, I am hopeful that it will bring a more positive mind state. I've done it in the past, and it's always been helpful.

I'm open to ideas for the greedy side of mental proliferation, and figure December will be a good time to work on that one.

Anyone care to join me?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ajahn Perimenopause

As perimenopause has jumped with both feet into this life, I am learning more Dhamma lessons in a direct way.

After stopping hormone treatment, the cells in the body said "What? No more estrogen? Let's make FAT cells to replace what we're missing!" And they did so, with glee. Without any change in diet or exercise (other than maybe more exercise), the middle of this body has been expanding despite my wishes and or actions to keep it otherwise. Initially, I really struggled with this. I truly buckled down on my dietary choices, started exercising more, even considered doing crossfit (nearly impossible in this location). I railed and rallied, then whined and sniveled at the changes that were occurring seemingly out of my control. They still happened.

And then I remembered the Buddha using an example of impossibility:

"Would that my form be thus, would that my form not be thus."

Oh, right. Impermanence relates to this form as well, and the body I have at nearly 50 is never going to be the body I had at 30. I can still take care of it through healthy actions, but it will change and eventually cease whether I wish it to or not.

And of course, that which is impermanent is not me, not mine. It's just what this stream of Kamma is attached to in this round of samsara. I'm obviously still learning the full implications of that.

Lessons that I think I have already comprehened have an interesting way of coming back to be truly understood. While I no longer claim to have learned these lessons, they're certainly more on the mental radar.

As the body changes, I'm learning to be ok with what comes. Hot flashes, memory loss, etc. It's sort of an interesting adventure. And as I discover in a visceral way that I am of the nature to age, (and everything which that entails), it also is a good reminder of other divine messengers: that I am also of the nature to be ill and to die, and I have not gone beyond these. It's a great way of giving urgency to the practice.

So I am learning to think of it as a gift.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Draw close to that which inspires you"

The advantage of being unemployed is the availability to visit various monasteries and least while I have the funds remaining to do so. I returned a short while ago from Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in California, which was a wonderful and insightful visit.

Before I went, I had been looking into other communities for future residence, or even just for spending more time in the future. In my search, I kept returning to the unequaled inspiration I've had in Luang Por ("Venerable Father," in Thai) Pasanno at Abhayagiri. At the beginning of this recent visit, I mentioned to two friends that If I were a soldier in a war, and Luang Por was the commanding officer, I would go into any battlefield he asked me to.

Now as a Buddhist, I've long since given up my military leanings, and have no desire to harm any being (not even cockroaches). But I realized that there is a war of sorts against ignorance and defilements. Given that, I couldn't think of anyone I would rather have giving me guidance through that effort.

So towards the beginning of my visit, I asked for advice in being a "stealth nun" out in the world: maintaining a monastic life and practice as much as possible. Among other things, his advice was "Draw close to that which inspires you". And I realized....I was doing exactly that. Of course there are many other monastics who also inspire me as well, but coming to Abhayagiri felt like coming home.

My visit there was also a boost of community. Having the support of so many other practitioners was like having a warm snuggly blanket of Dhamma wrapped around me. I'm still feeling its warmth.

After this visit, and with the approach of fall, there is a continued sense of viriya. As Luang Por suggested, I look at all the leaves on the ground. Once they were living, now they're gone. Husks of what they were. As we will share the same fate, what is there to do but practice?

Red leaves on the ground,
Skeletons as we will be.
What were their worries?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Do not delay, or else you will regret it later

I've just returned from another ten-day retreat. It was a boost to my practice, but not in the way I was expecting (like so many things).

The place that I visited has been in my mind as a place of future residence; where I would someday ordain. I love the women there, but I have had some recent doubts as to whether or not it would be a good fit. Of course I'll visit again, and my mind may change...again. But right now, I'm not sure what will happen. Due to current circumstances, it would be a while before I would be able to join the community, and a lot can happen in the meantime.

But the visit helped greatly in another regard. I realized that I've been stumbling along a bit, waiting for this magical moment of joining a monastery or hermitage so that my practice could begin in earnest. In the meantime, I've been sort of trudging along in my practice, getting blown a bit here and there by prevailing winds. This time I had a real citta sensation that my practice can't wait. The ordination may not happen. But my real regret if I died tomorrow, would not be so much that I didn't ordain, but rather that my practice thus far had not borne much fruit. So I realized that my practice needs to begin in earnest....right now. Working towards the end of suffering with diligence at this and every moment. So the trip has provided a great boost of spiritual energy in unexpected ways.

I still plan to live in a community at some point, but my practice won't be waiting until that happens.