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Listening to My Heart , Surrendering to Pain – Part 2 June 21, 2013

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(This is part 2 of a series entitled “Listening to My Heart, Surrendering to Pain,” continued from my last post, part 1. The theme of the series is learning to listen to my heart by turning toward fear and trusting that I am aligned with the force of love.)

I felt intense fear because I was afraid of living without that self-image of my professional self. To be without all of those labels and self images onto which I had held for so long was scary. I wouldn’t know who I would be without them, they were the definitions by which everyone mostly knew me. To be without the self-image posed to much uncertainty, too much that would be unknown. It was as if I would have to reinvent a new self, and that was very scary and confusing.

Because I identified so strongly with my education and training and what I did, without them it seemed like I would be nobody. I wouldn’t exist. The message I had learned was that being a person or a human in my society is to live out one’s professional identity or career.

The possibility of letting my professional self die was also scary because it just felt wrong. I felt like it would be making a major mistake which I would later regret. It seemed that so much of what I had been told to do by so many people around me and so much of society was that letting my professional self die was wrong, it just was something people didn’t do. Following one’s professional training was how I was supposed to fit into society and follow the rules. If I continued to follow the messages given to me, then I would have no alternative but continue in my professional training. It was something I must do.

My fear at abandoning my professional self was related to my ideas of success. I had learned that a professional self and one’s career represents success in my society. A person succeeds at “life”, for the most part, when they succeed at their career. As a 21st century feminist, I certainly identified with that idea of not wanting to identify myself in relation to others or as a role I serve to others, such as girlfriend, wife, mother, etc. Instead, I wanted to be successful as an independent woman. If I didn’t use my professional training, I would not be successful as a person, and therefore I would be viewed as a failure by others.

Nevertheless, no matter how afraid I was at considering not living in the city, or how much I rationalized the logical sense of my decision, I still felt the pain of being separated from wilderness while living in the city. At what point does my tolerance for the pain give out, and I surrender to it by turning toward fear and the unknown?…

One cold winter day on the farm I went for a walk down the road and went off the road to walk into the forest. I came across a small clearing where some trees had fallen or been cut away, and there was an open space with the bright sun shining through. I spent some time standing and breathing, feeling the silence and taking in the white snow. A few feet away stood some young trees that were tied with ceremonial flags from my native neighbours. The once bright colors were now bleached from their exposure to the direct sunlight. The flags, left there intentionally and purposely in the space so long ago, added to the feeling of the space as sacred and meaningful.

I looked up at the trees circling around me, tall thick dark spruces amidst bare light-colored poplar. A breeze came up and suddenly the trees came to life for me. The wind gently moved the trees back and forth, swaying steadily side to side. Their branches rustled up and down like arms waving to me. The trees were dancing for me. Their arms moved in an urgent gesture to send me a message of encouragement. 

I knew what I had to do, and the Earth was speaking to me through the trees to give me the courage to do it. The Earth was giving me the courage to listen to my heart, even though to do so was scary and painful. I had to face my fears and do what I knew was right.

To be continued next post…

Facing My Fears with the Five Remembrances February 15, 2013

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The Five Remembrances are a practice which I have found incredibly powerful in helping me to face my fear and to try letting go of my attachments. I have also found the practice helpful in allowing me to recognize and appreciate the many conditions for my well-being that are already present.

The Five Remembrances were suggested to me by one of my teachers on retreat to help me to handle unskilful habits. I have been reciting them regularly for the past several months. I silently recite them to myself every day at the very end of my morning formal sitting practice. I find that starting off my day with the big perspective like this helps me to not get as lost or stressed out by the small details.

I have modified the wording and rearranged the order of the five phrases to suit my own preferences.

Illness

The first phrase I say is:

I am of the nature to become ill.

There is no way to avoid illness.

This phrase brings up fear of being in physical pain and of being disabled by disease or injury. It also helps me to recognize the many wonderful conditions that make up my physical well being when I see just how completely healthy and able-bodied I am. I feel incredibly lucky to have enjoyed such great health for so long—almost as if I have “cheated the system.”

On the rare occasions when I do experience an ache, pain, or infection, I remember that I am not immune to these experiences but that they come with being a living being.

This phrase has also helped me to recognize sickness around me, not only in my loved ones and other people, but also animals, plants, trees, and the living world. When I do recognize sickness, I feel a connection to these beings when I know that I share the same nature.

Aging

The second phrase is:

I am of the nature to grow old.

There is no way to avoid growing old.

This phrase helps me recognize the fears I have associated with old age, and to realize that the aging process is happening now and has been every moment of my life. As one illustration, I have a stronger eyeglass prescription and more dental fillings than I did 10 years ago!

The recognition that I am an aging living being is very humbling in that I feel a stronger connection to aging people, animals, and plants around me. I realize that that will be me one day if I live long enough.

The phrase helps me to recognize and appreciate the wonders and pleasures of youth. I see more and more how youthfulness provides me with power in an ageist society. Youth offers self-reliance and the ability to take care of myself with out the need for others to cook for me, or to feed, bathe, or dress me.

Death

The third phrase is:

I am of the nature to die

There is no way to avoid dying

I am able to face the fact a little bit more that my death is an inevitable reality, not just some vague idea that might happen one day far away. Death could be right around the corner, and human life is incredibly delicate and fragile. This one is a wonderful way for me to really let go when I see how impossible it is to make anything last or to keep any belongings.

Separation & Loss

The fourth phrase is:

All that is dear to me and everyone I love

are of the nature to change.

There is no way to avoid being separated from them

This phrase allows me to really look at what it is onto which I am holding on. Its a great way to wake myself up to unconscious assumptions that my current circumstances will continue into the future.

I see that I’m holding onto relationships when I am relying on the support and love of others in a greedy and needful way, assuming that these people will always be there for me.

I’m holding onto various circumstances and conditions for which I have preferences, such as my sangha, where I live, my job, arrangements for being outdoors and in wilderness, money, as well as my most cherished and prized possessions which I tell myself “I cannot live without” (this computer, my camera and photos, bicycle, etc.).

Karma

The fifth phrase is:

My actions are my only true belongings.

I am the owner of my actions.

My actions are the ground on which I stand.

Whatever actions I shall do,

whether for good or evil,

of that I shall be the heir.

The last set of phrases reminds me that, despite my inability to grasp the shifting and changing conditions that affect me, the one area on which I do have a firm control is my actions. I can decide whether to act for “good or evil,” although I prefer the terms positive/wholesome/skilful and negative/ unwholesome/ unskilful.

This phrase is a daily reminder to turn myself toward embracing the wholesome qualities within me, such as generosity, lovingkindness, and interbeing. I am reminded that unwholesome seeds, such as far, craving, greed, isolation, self-pity, and materialism lie deep in my consciousness, and I can take efforts to transform them into more beautiful qualities.

The phrase says actions, but I don’t consider “actions” to be limited to physical behaviour, but encompasses thoughts, speech, and actions. This phrase is empowering because it allows me to see that every single moment is an opportunity to practice the path and nurture positive qualities.

The Five Remembrances have been a very powerful practice for me, and I’ll continue to use them probably for some time as long as I find them effective. I would highly recommend them to anyone who wants to work with fear, help to let go of attachments, and to be grateful for the good conditions you enjoy.

Its HARD Being Gentle November 23, 2012

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The past few months I have been paying a great deal of attention to how I am gentle with myself, or rather as is more often the case, how much I am not gentle with myself. I am harsh with myself in a number of ways, which I am sure I share with many people:

– I have very high expectations of myself, kind of an all-or-nothing attitude. If I can’t achieve a self-image or value all the time to the best of my ability, then I shouldn’t do it at all. I get quite idealistic about how I “should” be.

– I am harsh with how I spend my time. I can get quite caught up in paying meticulously close attention to how much time I take to do certain things, and I can get quite rushed and impatient.

– I am harsh with my energy levels, where I push the limits of how much energy I can drain out of myself in order to accomplish a task. I tell myself at certain times that it doesn’t matter how hard I have to motivate myself, I have to push my energy to get a task done.

– I am harsh with my body when I find myself a large amount of the time holding onto at least some degree of physical tension, usually in my upper shoulder/ lower neck muscles.

What I have been trying to cultivate is a great deal of self-compassion and love for myself. I try to use the phrase as often as I can “May I be gentle with myself.” The way of self-compassion is the way out of the suffering caused by harshness with myself.

What I have been trying to practice is gentleness, by trying to relax tension in my body, slow down, and ease up on the harsh expectations. Nevertheless, as simple as it sounds and as clear and effective an answer it seems, I am finding that it is hard being gentle. So why am I finding this so hard to do?

Perhaps it is because I have a great deal of very strong habit energy built up that is still playing itself out. Even when I can see myself being harsh with myself and I have a deep desire to live in a state of more gentleness, the habit energy still plays itself out and I feel powerless to stop it. I know I mention it frequently, but I spent six years as a full-time university student, and I know this experience has shaped who I am today.

Perhaps it is because I am becoming more familiar with wanting mind and wanting mind still has a strong hold over me. I am greedy for more “stuff”, “things”, tasks, events, achievements and accomplishments. I am seeing more clearly lately how I can be caught up in “creating a self” where I am still identified with what I do. I feel a need to “prove myself” because it simply isn’t enough to just be.

Perhaps it is because I find it so difficult to be flexible and make exceptions to my “rules”, because this means admitting defeat or failure and falling short of my ideals of perfection. It makes so much sense, but can be so difficult to do, to say that a task can’t be done because I am ill, not feeling physically or emotionally well, stressed, running late, I have low energy, or I made a mistake or simply forgot with too many other ideas on my mind.

Finally, the more I reflected on the question of “Why is it so hard to be gentle?” an answer I came up with was maybe having it all come down to feeling that I don’t deserve to be gentle with myself. I am not worthy enough of a person just as I am to deserve some rest, some relaxation, some imperfection or mistakes. Related to this is a feeling that being gentle means being a lot slower with myself, and that a perception that slowness would lead to a number of things: failure (I cannot be “successful” as in material success and status), lazy (and therefore being slobby and wasting away one’s time), and irresponsible (as in carefree and forgetful).

What does it look like to be more gentle with myself, when I actually am able to achieve it on the rare occasion? I find it requires a great deal of diligence and mental effort to maintain that state of mind, as well as compassion. I slow down and fewer tasks seem to get done, that is, the unimportant ones—accompanied by feelings of failure and disappointment. And there is a constant running thread of “no” being said: no, not now.

How I Came to the Practice: Part 7 – Finding Sangha November 20, 2012

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(This is the final post in a series on the full story of how I came to meditation practice. Click on the links for part 1 – My Christian Rootspart 2 – Why Meditation Came Naturally To Mepart 3 – Asian Exoticism and Zen for Dummiespart 4 – Religious Studies and Meditation Instruction, part 5 – Running From The Darkness, and part 6 – Seeking Spirit).

Some time after receiving meditation instruction, I received an e-mail list from the local meditation community list for which I was signed up. The e-mail let me know that a weekly meditation group was starting up again for the year, and it happened to be very close to my house. I saw this as my chance to check out a nearby meditation event to see what it was like.

I had never heard of the teacher, but I later learned that the teacher was someone who had taught meditation classes for some time. The teacher held the Buddhist weekly meditation group for people who either had never tried meditation, or those that had taken the classes and still wanted more instruction and guidance.

I biked over on a fall day and just showed up to the meeting place, a nice quiet little room in a basement of an old church. I really didn’t know what to expect, and I felt quite awkward and shy to meet complete strangers. There was only one or two other people there on that first day because it was one of the first sessions of the year. More people would show up gradually as the year went on.

The teacher led a half hour guided meditation. I found the meditation very easy to follow, in contrast to my own silent sitting periods. Afterwards, there was a dharma talk, and I forget the exact topic but I think it touched on suffering caused by attachment and clinging. This dharma talk really resonated with me, because I had the distinct feeling that this was true and applicable for myself: I knew that I was attached and clinging to certain things, and I knew that it was causing me suffering. Up until this point, I had been able to experience the relief and freedom of being able to let go of my anxious, worrisome thoughts during my own attempts at formal meditation.

Whether it was this first dharma talk I heard from the teacher, or whether it was during the few upcoming sessions I would attend over the next few weeks, I eventually had the very powerful feeling of truth. I felt that the teacher was speaking my truth, they were providing an explanation that described how I experienced the world. It was the sense that there was words being put on what I had always known, or known so long, but hadn’t been able to express it myself. Never before had I come across someone expressing these types of ideas that provided me with a sense of truth.

The discovery of the dharma was a very exciting moment for me, because I felt a shared understanding between myself, the teacher, and all the people who were following these teachings. I had the first taste of the dharma, and I needed to know more. I was eager to seek more knowledge to gain a better understanding. It was the sense that my truth was out there and I would be able to find it.

Being able to attend a regular meditation group provided me with the support to begin a regular daily formal meditation practice. Where I had gotten discouraged and given up before, I was now more determined to “get it” and master the meditation techniques for myself. There are likely a number of reasons why my practice was supported by the group.

First, I had the guidance of an experienced teacher, a real live person who I could ask questions if ever I needed. Not that I did seek the teacher out for questions very often, but just the fact that the teacher was regularly available was a big reassurance.

Second, I had the support of a group of people who shared similar goals with me and had a great deal more experience with meditation. I was supported by the group because I didn’t feel that I had to measure up to them or compare myself to them in any way. They were all very humble in how they described their own personal practice. Over time, I was able to gain the sense that, even when people had been practicing for a number of years, they still had challenges and struggles, too, in many different ways. What a relief not to have the expectation to be perfect.

Third, there was a social aspect to it that provided a sense of bonding. These people who regularly attended the group together took the time to get to know each other as friends. After the meditation sessions, there was always tea, where everyone had the opportunity to just sit and visit with each other. I felt very welcome by the group because it seemed that people were genuinely interested in who I was and where I came from. It was a nice feeling to have a very friendly group of people wanting to get to know you more.

Some time after first attending, I approached the teacher asking for suggestions on a book to read for more information about meditation. (I think the first dharma book I read was Happiness is an Inside Job by Sylvia Boorstein). The teacher would also make announcements about upcoming retreats in the community, and, along with others in the group, would encourage people to attend retreat to deepen their meditation practice. I was quite intrigued, and very curious to see what a retreat was like. After attending my first retreat, there was no going back.

And the rest is herstory!

Being in Conflict With Myself November 12, 2012

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I had a very challenging experience last week that left me feeling quite upset for a while. It happened during the weekend where I sat down to do my formal sitting practice in the morning. As I sat, I became more aware of a general feeling that had been building up throughout the previous day. The entire practice session seemed to be quite difficult to get through, and I had a vague sense of some unpleasant feelings happening in the background. By the end of the session, the full force of these emotions hit me and I was left feeling quite rotten.

It seemed that I was feeling the full, burdensome, and heavy weight of a force trying to push myself to get a lot of tasks done (clean, organize, exercise, write, etc.). I felt impatient and rushed to be busy, so sitting still was in direct defiance of that drive, and therefore quite uncomfortable. It seemed I was holding onto a whole set of rigid expectations of what I “should do” and was “supposed to do.” But at the same time, there was another part of me that didn’t want to do any of the tasks out of a forced, almost violent, obligation.

It was as if there were two parts of me in conflict. The practice session felt difficult because these two strong energies were constantly battling each other out, dragging me along with them. The feeling of a forced compulsion to do did not feel wholesome, but instead felt rigid and forced, with negative motivations behind it (namely fear or anxiety and unworthiness). On the other hand, the other part of me wanted to be free of the constant burden of self consciousness. I wanted to be free of the weight of someone monitoring my behaviour to see if I measure up to my ideal self-image. In opposition to the need to do was the knowledge and wish that I am happiest when I have nothing in particular I “have to do” at any specific time. Instead I can just enjoy being in the moment, free from any rigid obligations.

I should mention that a difficulty I have had for some time now is this unwholesome compulsion to do as much as possible in a set amount of time. It seems this habit was continually reinforced in the six straight years I was enrolled as a full time university student. That environment required me to set my own schedule and plean ahead for deadlines in the far-off future, months in advance. I had to hold myself accountable for my own behaviour whether I accomplished tasks or not, so it was all very self-directed. …But that was then and this is now.

So how do I resolve this conflict? What I have been relying on as guidance for some time now, at least as often as possible, is a quote from a dharma talk by Gil Fronsdal on lovingkindness. First, the teacher revealed that in order to be kind to others, we have to have the time. Gil described how many people used a lack of time as an excuse not to be kind, or not to cultivate lovingkindness. The teacher countered that excuse by posing this question:

“Do you want to be really productive and get lots of stuff done, or do you want to be a more loving person?”

This way of posing the conflict really hit home for me. Even if I put happier or more free in place of more loving, I find that all of these qualities are what I really desire. This perspective allows me to let go of the desire to get lots of stuff done, and remember my deeper aspirations for my spiritual practice. Then letting tasks go undone and being less productive are worthy sacrifices in exchange for peace, happiness, love, and freedom.

The Story of My Stuff July 10, 2012

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“The things you own end up owning you” – Fight Club

I like to think that I don’t own that many possessions, or that I am not very materialistic and don’t get attached to “things.” For the past two years I have tried my best to either delay buying certain items until I was finished another move, or to not buy items altogether.

Well, I started packing my things in preparation for another big move, and found out—surprise, surprise—I do have a lot of possessions. This realization was a bit of a shock to me, maybe because it showed how much the trait of ‘anti-materialist’ had become part of my identity, or how I saw myself as a person.

The moving process took an entire week altogether. It was a very laborious, sweaty, and at times stressful week for me, because I had a deadline when I had to be done. By the time I was getting closer to the end of the moving process, the phrase I quoted at the start of this article started to come to mind.

As much as I didn’t want to admit it, apparently the things I owned had started to own me. I was spending a great deal of time organizing, arranging, and planning moving my possessions not to mention the mental energy and effort keeping the whole process under control.

During that week there were so many things I wanted to do instead of moving (go outside for a walk, go pick wild berries, visit friends, go to music shows, go to meditation groups, go to a pow-wow, the list goes on), but instead I was confined to my hot, sweaty, non-air-conditioned apartment for much of the day, fitting things into cardboard boxes.

When I realized just how many items I was trying to pack into boxes and move back to the west, I decided I had had enough. This was ridiculous. I went through a frenzied process of throwing out a lot of items I had kept after considering whether I really wanted them or not. Turns out I didn’t want them that bad. I knew I was doing the right thing because I felt free and lighter after getting rid of the items.

Goodbye.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

I don’t care.

I don’t have to think about you any more.

Get lost.

A few days later, my boxes arrived at my parents’ home, and suddenly I was stuck with the task of fitting the boxes into storage in my bedroom. My parents’ home is a trailer, so my bedroom is one of the smallest rooms I have ever seen. So I had to get rid of some old items that were being stored in my bedroom in order to move the new items in.

By this time I had been doing the process of purging and de-cluttering for a few weeks already. At the start, the decision to get rid of something was painfully slow, as I deliberately made a mental decision whether to keep it or junk it, weighing the pros and cons.

By the end, the drawn-out mental process had become an easily-identifiable feeling upon looking at an item:

I feel heavy, burdened, and/ or irritated = I get rid of it. I don’t really want it in reality. (Or the only reason I am keeping it is because someone gave it to me and I don’t want them to think I got rid of it. If they truly love me, then they wouldn’t want me to be burdened by something they gave me, so I still get rid of it.)

I feel energized, or excited, or have longing for it = Its a keeper, its something truly valuable.

I noticed these feelings coming up as I unpacked my boxes from the move. The feelings were similar to “Why did I bring this back?” or “Oh, its so great that I still have that!” Clearly, there were a few items I still should have ditched that I didn’t.

The moving process was a real awakening for me.

I realized just how much stuff I do own.

I learned how to identify the feeling of being burdened by an unused item.

I saw how I keep things that aren’t truly of value to me.

I saw how easy it is to shove possessions away into storage and forget about them for years.

I saw how easily and quickly my collecting items that never get used can get out of hand (“I might use this…one day…maybe…”).

On a lighter note, I realized the joy of giving unused or no longer wanted items to friends who would use and appreciate them.

Maybe these lessons and insights will stay with me a while as I continue to be tempted with buying or collecting new things to bring into my home, as is inevitable in a materialistic, consumer culture. Maybe they won’t stay with me. Maybe I will just have to keep re-learning these lessons all over again…

Thesis Defense as Practice July 4, 2012

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I recently had to prepare for and complete my master’s thesis defense/ oral examination. I had a good friend of mine say to me how much they were anxious and worried about the defense, so much so that they were unable to even think about the future event. At the time I was talking to my friend, I had a few pieces of advice. But I wanted to write up a more complete account of how I used my mindfulness practice, and all of the tools I’ve been developing these past few years, to get me through the event.

From the beginning of my preparations, I had quite a bit of fear, stress, and anxiety about the defense. As much as I could, I tried to cultivate self-compassion toward myself  for experiencing these unpleasant, and even at times painful, emotions. I tried my best not to judge myself for being afraid or anxious, or to tell myself that I shouldn’t be experiencing these emotions. I have been practicing lovingkindness daily toward myself and others, so I spent my usual time practicing lovingkindness to instead cultivate a lot of self-compassion: “May I know freedom from fear…anxiety…stress…worry”

The fear that I was experiencing around the anticipation of the defense was quite constricting, I could feel myself closing up and shutting down (“I don’t want to do this, I want to get as far away from this as possible, I’m sick of this…”). What I tried to do was act out of love, not fear. Instead of motivating myself from this place of constricting fear, I tried my best to act out of love and abundance, telling myself that I would succeed, and that there are many people supporting me and wishing me the best.

One practice that I try to use as much as I can (but really have a difficult time with) is non-attachment to outcome. I try to work on a task just for the sheer joy or satisfaction of putting my effort into it, with no (or as little as possible) expectations for what will be the results of my efforts. I tried not to place attachments on the success or failure of my thesis defense. In other words, I tried not to say that my happiness will only be possible if I succeed at this task.

Another tool I found particularly useful was practicing non-self, or trying to see how there is no permanent, separate self. A phrase came to me that I remembered from a similar situation a few months ago: “This does not contain me.” I realized that who I am is not contained in my success or failure of a master’s thesis defense. In other words, my identity as a master’s student was not my complete identity.

If someone were to describe me by saying that I am a master’s psychology student, it cannot come close to capturing the totality and complexity of who I am, of my being. Instead, I realized how much bigger I was than this single event in my life, and how many other parts of myself are still present in me, and will continue after my defense.

My usual lovingkindness practice towards others was targeted specifically to the people involved in the event. I cultivated lovingkindness to the professors who would be examining me and to everyone else in the room. I tried my best to imagine the situation with as little hostility or judgement, and instead with a calm and peaceful atmosphere. This is a practice I have found really useful applying to my situation at work, so I thought it would help for this specific event.

Finally, I felt quite a bit of social pressure to perform perfectly, or to the best of my ability, for the sake of everyone there (my supervisor/boss, my professors/ instructors, my classmates, my friends and acquaintances). I felt quite anxious about being judged by others as being incompetent, or not as smart as they might think I am.

I remembered a phrase that one of my dharma buddies uses and who has passed it along to another friend of mine: “The people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t mind.” If people want to judge me for not trying hard enough or not meeting their expectations, then that is fine, I probably wouldn’t want to have anything to do with them. And their judgements don’t concern me, I know how hard I worked at it so that is all the information I need to evaluate how I will do. If they truly are my friends, they will still be my friends even if I fail miserably and make a fool of myself.

These are all of the tools that I can think of, but I am sure there were many more that I wasn’t aware that I was using at the time. I still found the event quite stressful and anxiety-provoking, but I managed to get through it. I’m happy to say that it was a success, I did very well and managed not to make a complete fool of myself. Everyone who was there complimented me and said I did a really good job.

All I can say is a phrase I have heard my sangha members say time and time again: Thank goodness for the practice!

Freedom from a “Career” April 21, 2012

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The other day I was contemplating some of the things that I am attached to: “Can I let go of money? Can I let go of planning? Can I let go of a social life? Can I let go of productivity?” I see how I have been attached to them for a long time and am not sure if I will be completely unattached from them anytime soon.

Later on, I had a spare moment at work where I was finished some of my other duties and had some anxious thoughts about how to spend this time. I had some very anxious and urgent thoughts that I should do some more career research. Lately I have been spending quite a bit of time researching career options, job titles, salaries, and informational interviewing, but I still feel like I have a lot of work to do before I enter the “real world.”

I was able to notice how the thoughts about my career were filling me with quite a bit of impatience, anxiety, and dread. It wasn’t until later, while I was out for a walk or a bike ride outside, that the thought suddenly popped into my mind:

“Can I let go of a ‘career’?”

In my mind, a career represents a certain classification that I fit into based on my years of training, my previous work experience, and a job leading towards some promotion or advancement in a field.

This thought was quite new and quite exhilarating, while at the same time being quite scary. I’m sure it has come up before, but not lately, and not since I have been doing more preparations for applying for jobs. It seemed to give me quite a bit of happiness and peace, because letting go represented freedom.

I think the thought represented freedom because it gives me the freedom to work at whatever interests me. I am not constrained specifically to what I have had training in.

It also gives me the freedom to leave a job I don’t like. For some reason I anticipate this happening because I seem to get bored with subjects I work on easily.

It gives me the freedom from trying to earn a promotion or advancement at a job, where I don’t have to be attached to an outcome. I wouldn’t be working to get a promotion, I would be working just to work.

Finally, I think it gives me the freedom of trying to meet others’ expectations. Fulfilling others’ expectations of me is a surprising one to come up, because I tell myself that I am completely independent in how I arrange my life. Apparently not, because in the back of my mind there is a need to find a good job to impress others.

Of course, freedom from a career also fills me with anxiety and dread, because it might mean I don’t make enough money, I don’t get enough prestige or advance anywhere in my field, and it might mean a lack of job security. In all, I guess I’m not sure what exactly it means, maybe because I’m trying too hard to look into the future.

Maybe its just good to have the idea of freedom in the back of my mind while I am doing my job preparations, just to be able to touch it and feel like there is a way out from this rigid, anxiety-filled activity.

Book Review: Beyond Happiness March 22, 2012

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A book I recently finished reading is called Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment by Ezra Bayda. Ezra is a Zen meditation teacher from San Diego. I just happened to stumble across this book at the public library, and have been drawn to Zen these days so I thought I would check it out.

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I really, truly enjoyed the book, every moment of it. I read through it twice to take notes because it was filled with valuable knowledge. I noticed while reading it that I think I have a lot in common with the author, which may explain why it seemed like the book spoke directly to me.

One of the things I loved about the book was it contrasted personal happiness with genuine happiness. Personal happiness is associated with positive emotions, feeling good, satisfying desires, etc., but these fulfillments do not last and are not truly satisfying. Genuine happiness, on the other hand, is being at peace with things as they are, not needing to change anything, regardless of whether you are feeling positive or negative emotions. I loved that the book talked about how personal happiness is only temporary and based on a benevolent environment that supports the state of happiness, while genuine happiness is available to us all the time.

Some practices I picked up in the book that I am trying to implement as much as I can are the practice of breathing into an unpleasant emotion to return to the breath, the physical body, and the immediate surroundings. In particular, I will be trying my best to take the advice to avoid analyzing or intellectualizing why the negative emotions are present as a way to avoid being present with the emotion itself, which is something I’ve noticed happens often if not most of the time.

I particularly appreciated the descriptions of how the thinking, analytical, intellectual mind is a component of the ego, and an aspect of survival that is bent on controlling our world. When we let the minds consume our experience with thinking, the thinking takes over and “shuts life out.” This is something that I found to be completely true for myself.

I also appreciated the criticism of some conventional self-help techniques that are aimed primarily at changing thoughts instead of changing behaviour or cultivating new habits.

Some favourite quotes:

“Genuine happiness is our natural state when all of the things that impede happiness–expectations, judgements, attachments, fears–no longer get in the way.”

“Whenever we seek special experiences to bring us happiness we are caught in striving, in the self-centred pursuit to feel a particular way, which undermines any aspiration to feel our true nature.”

“Formulas for happiness can only give us superficial fixes, they can’t deal with the complexity of human emotion and behaviour.”

“Changing our attitudes works primarily on the mental realm, but real change must address the deeply seated conditioning in the body.”

Feb 16: Smiling to Planning Thoughts During Sitting March 3, 2012

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Two more sleeps until a week-long vacation and my sit this morning was filled with planning thoughts. I felt like much of the time I was on alert or on guard, trying to predict future problems or trying to foresee what could go wrong. Despite consciously deciding to try my best to stay concentrated during my sit, these thoughts still were arising. I saw that being in this alert, on guard state is really not pleasant at all. But it seemed there was a part of me that felt I had to be doing it, so it was very hard to let go of this need to plan.

Somehow I managed to slow the thought process down enough to notice these patterns in slow motion: Planning thought arises. Awareness of planning thought. Judging thought arises. Smiling to the self-judgement (“Yep, this is what happens”). Returning to the breath.

I noticed today how much a calm body is so helpful to calm the mind. I can try to concentrate on my breath in order to calm my mind at first, but it isn’t until my body becomes calm and still as well that my mind can start to truly relax. It is as if my mind can’t be calm or still unless the bodily state is corresponding to that. It was a very good illustration of the mind-body connection.

When the bell went off today, I was lost in thoughts about how I value the trait of honesty in others.

I also wanted to mention that the past two previous days I was pushing myself quite hard at work, trying to get as much done as I can before I leave on vacation. Unfortunately, when I got home in the evening, I was too tired from the day’s exertions to do anything else (I usually end up just lying in bed or on the couch, maybe reading). This happens very often for me but somehow I keep trying to push myself during the day. It’s quite unfortunate to see how the rest of the day is unproductive when I am trying to be too productive during the day. Hmm… maybe the problem is being attached to productivity in the first place?