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Where Did My Breath Go? July 19, 2013

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These past few weeks have given me a few challenges to continuing my mindfulness practice, and I am able to see what these challenges are. As a result, my mindfulness practice isn’t coming as easily to me lately, and I feel that I have lost my breath and my present moment awareness. I am trying to motivate myself skillfully to restore my mindfulness without shame or fear or guilt.

I lost my breath. While it seemed not so long ago my awareness of my breath came so much more easily to me, recently it seems that awareness is largely gone. I’m going through my days these past couple of weeks almost completely in my mind, lost in thought, oblivious to my experience of the present moment within and around me.

I suspect losing my breath may have happened as a result of recently spending five full days out of town visiting relatives. Also, I’m sure my preparations for my upcoming trip are contributing to the tendency to be lost in planning thoughts. Finally, an important factor is that I’m working a new part time job that requires me to be rushing and keeping track of multiple objects of attention at once. I find it difficult to get out of these tendencies even after I’m off work.

I have been paying attention to what it is like to have less awareness of my breath, and I am finding that the state of mind in which I have been lately is not all that enjoyable. I feel that I am just rushing or moving from one task or duty to another. I can’t really sit still or be really comfortable with not doing anything but just being. I feel like I am missing out on life, the life that can be deeply experienced and enjoyed. I feel quite agitated and restless, and like I am mostly up in my head and disconnected from my body.

I can go great lengths of time without remembering to return to my breath. When I am rarely able to return to my breath, my mind is soon off wandering to thoughts and plans. My sitting practice sessions have been difficult when I see my mind wander off so easily and so often. It requires a great deal of effort not only to return to the breath but to stay there.

Unfortunately, I’ve also been making up a story about what this means for myself as a practitioner, including details about what I think has happened in the past and will happen in the future. I’m using my mindfulness practice as a criteria for self-judgement and applying labels of lazy and bad. This story only adds to the difficulty and the challenges posed by my present circumstances.

As an experienced practitioner, I know that motivating myself through shame and far is a very negative and unskillful way to be diligent in my practice. Instead, what I want to do is motivate myself positively and skilfully using confidence, faith, and patience. I want to get out of the story I’ve created in my mind about what a bad practitioner I am. I’m remembering a joke my dharma teacher said at a recent retreat: “I’m a little piece of shit and I’m the centre of the universe.” Its exactly that type of thinking that I would like to avoid.

The fact is, losing my breath or my present moment awareness has happened before. This is not the first time. All it means is that different conditions have arisen that do not support my mindfulness practice. And I’m able to see what some of these conditions are.

Therefore, I have been putting quite a bit of effort lately into restoring my mindfulness, my breath, and my present moment awareness. In my sitting practice especially, I have been trying so hard lately to be really interested in my breath. What’s breathing in? What’s it really like, not just my idea of what its like? What does it feel like? Where exactly do I feel it in my whole body?

I’m also reminded continually of some meditation instructions given to my by a recent dharma teacher on retreat: “Be present for this moment. Not regretting how much you weren’t present in a past moment, or plans for how much you will be present in this moment, but completely present, right here, right now.” When I heard my teacher say this, I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh! She’s reading my mind! How did she know that those are the exact thoughts going through my mind when I am practicing mindfulness!”  Her instructions are a helpful reminder to just be in the present moment without the added stories I contribute.

But I know that I’ll regain my present moment awareness, and I will reconnect with my breath and my body. I know I will because I have absolute faith in the three jewels. I know that when I sit on my cushion and I return to my breath and my body, centered in my safe island of mindfulness, that I am home. I have felt that feeling of groundedness and at-home-ness enough times that it has become internalized.

These past few weeks have offered a few conditions that aren’t supportive of my mindfulness practice, and I’ve noticed my breath and my present moment awareness is not as strong as it has been previously. Nevertheless, I am continuing to practice in order to cultivate and restore my awareness, but I need to remind myself to do it skillfully without shame and fear.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go practice sitting meditation!

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Quote: Meditate in the Forest July 12, 2013

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“Now I have given you the teaching, there are the trees, there are the roots of the trees. Go meditate there, seek solace in the forest, lest you regret it later.”

– Buddha

Be Still and Heal June 9, 2013

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I have experienced incredible healing from deep suffering in my meditation practice, and the healing process is a challenging one to handle skilfully. First, I have to create an environment of stillness and stability in order for past pain to arise on its own. Then I have to turn toward difficult emotions in compassion. Perhaps the healing happens on its own, its not really me, Andrea, doing it. I just create the conditions for it to happen.

In my last post I described how I experienced a great deal of healing from past suffering using my mindfulness practice. When I wrote that post, the section describing how I experienced the healing process had become quite long, so I decided to write it as a separate post.

calligraphy

At the moment, my meditation “altar” consists of a paper copy of the above calligraphy by Thay taped to my bedroom wall. I truly treasure this calligraphy as an altarpiece because I do believe my meditation practice is the work of healing. Healing is making whole, as the word heal comes from the root word meaning restoring to wholeness. I am restored to wholeness when I can transform past suffering into peace and freedom.

The first part of these instructions is to be still, and stillness needs to happen first before healing can take place. I need to be still in body by sitting and not moving around. I stop interacting with and reacting to stimuli in my environment. I need to be still in mind by considerably slowing down the endless tracks of discursive thought that keeps me going around in circles, accumulating anxiety and tension along the way.

When I am still, my mind-body-heart knows that I am safe. I am free from potential dangers, free from self-judgement, self-criticism, and harshness. I am in a place where I feel supported and protected. In this safe place, I can truly rest, and my guard is let down.

These are the conditions I create in order for the healing to take place on its own time. It isn’t really me doing the healing, but I let it happen on its own accord. When my guard is let down, suffering that has been accumulating will suddenly resurface, out of nowhere and without warning.

This suffering has been accumulating from past circumstances when I didn’t have enough awareness or resources to take the time to deal with the suffering. Past suffering have could been caused by an experience where I was overwhelmed in despair or confusion.

In a safe place of grounded mindfulness, I can see that a moment of despair is not the whole truth. It was just a moment, and I can take refuge in a place of clarity and stability. I rest in a new moment where despair or confusion is no longer present.

The suffering resurfaces because it needs to have new meaning made out of it. It needs to be expressed in at atmosphere of mindfulness and compassion. Past suffering resurfaces in the form of difficult emotions so that it can express itself and be released.

Emotions of fear, grief, sadness, or despair will arise, sometimes with a past memory attached to it, sometimes not. When these emotions arise, the real work of meditation practice takes place. Usually, when a difficult emotion arises, my first instinct is to run away or close down. “It hurts, its too painful, I want it to stop, it feels wrong.”

On the contrary, the solution lies in turning toward a difficult emotion. I move toward it, open up my awareness in interest and curiosity: “Oh, fear is arising. Fear is present. What’s this like? What’s happening here?”

A very important ingredient, perhaps the most important ingredient, is compassion. I have to make very sure that turning toward difficult emotions is done out of love and compassion, not out of sadistic self-torture or to fix my broken self. It is very challenging to skilfully make this distinction. I have to make sure that I do it because I love myself and I don’t want to be in unnecessary suffering. I care about myself and I take good care of the difficult emotion.

To skilfully handle difficult emotions, I have to stay grounded in the present moment. I try to only handle one moment at a time, to slice up the stream of experience into a razor-thin slice of moment by moment experience. This is what is happening now. I try to steer clear of adding the dimension of time to what happens, which only adds fear and exacerbates the hurt. I try to avoid thinking about how this emotion has happened before or has been with me for so long. I try to avoid thinking about how the emotion will stay with me “forever” or at least a long time into the future.

To me, healing is real, I have experienced it as a reality. Interestingly, images can come to me that perfectly illustrate the healing that I feel is happening internally. I’ve had images come to me of a closed lock being opened by a key, or of jammed gears loosening up and turning. I will state what I have been taught and now accept as true for me: suffering can be transformed into freedom, liberation, happiness, and peace.

My meditation practice has offered me the opportunity heal a great deal of past suffering. But before healing can take place, I need to be still in order to have a sense of stability and security. Stillness is a condition I create in my meditation practice, and once difficult emotions arise, I have to know how to handle them with great compassion and care.

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 4 May 24, 2013

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(This is part 4 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 3 here.)

Then something unexpected happened.  I had expected that letting my mother know I had forgiven her would bring a great deal of relief. I assumed I would feel better and that energy being held up inside would be freed.

Instead I felt noticeably worse for a good week or two. I was quite emotionally upset, bearing through waves of great sadness, grief, and fear. My mood was depressed, and I lacked my usual amount of energy. Seeking solitude, I stayed in my room at home to try and deal with what was coming up. I was starting to get worried about what was happening, and wanted to know what the cause was.

It didn’t take long to see that the difficult emotions were a result of opening up a part of my awareness that before had been hidden for so long. A very vivid image came to me that best illustrated how I felt. The image was of a light being turned on in a large room to reveal an entire corner of the room previously cloaked in darkness. The light was the light of my conscious awareness seeing clearly and directly. The room was my mind or my consciousness, and the hidden corner was my storehouse of memories. The sudden change in my awareness seemed to be as explicit as the switch of a lightbulb.

I now had access to an entire block of memories from very long ago that were memories of my mother. Somewhat surprisingly, these memories were pleasant memories, or if not pleasant than at least neutral. The memories were far different from the painful ones that I used to be convinced were the only memories I had of my mother.

Why had these memories come to me so suddenly? They were tied up in the pain I had felt at an earlier age, pain that had left a lasting effect on me. The anger and hatred had been keeping the pain locked in place, hidden safely in forgetfulness so I didn’t have to face the pain. As long as the pain was still there, as long as I refused to face it, the memories were invisible as well, as if they never existed.

As soon as forgiveness entered the picture, the anger and hatred could dissolve, and the pain was opened up. The sadness, grief, and fear I was feeling were from this pain being exposed.

So if these were pleasant, or at least not painful, memories, why was I still feeling such difficult emotions? It was as if I had to reprocess each one of these memories one at a time. When these memories came into my awareness, I re-experienced the pain associated with each one that I had felt at the time when the memories were locked away.

I was being healed, or perhaps more accurately, I was allowing the healing to happen on its own.

What was so absolutely amazing to me is that there actually are real happy and warm memories of my mother. A few years earlier I would have been absolutely convinced beyond a doubt that such memories weren’t possible. I couldn’t believe how much mental energy was being used to keep these memories hidden! My mind was trying so hard to tell me the memories weren’t there, and trying to prevent me from facing reality.

A huge insight from this whole process was that memories are not real. They are only constructed images of the past meant to serve a purpose at the time that they are remembered. If I am in a depressed mood when I try to remember what has happened in the past, depressed memories will be brought up. On the other hand, if in the moment I am in a happy mood when I look back on the past, happy memories will be brought up. The more time spent in one of these moods, and these memories are brought up, the more these memories begin to shape our perceptions of reality.

This insight into the non-solidity of memories has allowed me to let go of the past more and embrace being grounded in the present moment. I am also more likely to qualify what I say, as I have throughout this series of posts, with “or at least, that’s how I remember it,” because I know that my memories are not the absolute and final truth.

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 2 May 10, 2013

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(This is part 2 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 1 here.)

When times were shitty, I directed all of the energy of blame for all of what I saw to be going wrong in my personal circumstances to my mother. I hated her. In fact, as far as I was concerned, she was the one person who ruined my life. Most or all of my problems were because of her, either directly or indirectly. I would fantasize about how much my life would be better if she wasn’t in it.

I disowned my mother. As far as I was concerned I had an idea or an image in my mind of what a mother was supposed to be, and she didn’t fit that image. She didn’t deserve to be called my mother. I stopped calling her mom and referred to her by her first name, not only when addressing her directly, but also when referring to her when talking to my friends and relatives.

I grew up—sorry, I mean I grew older—and moved away from home. I had a chance to, as I saw it at the time, fix my life by taking control over it myself. I distanced myself from my parents, but especially my mom, and went off on my own.

Not long after, depression revisited, and I had to do the long, hard work of pulling myself out of that big, deep, black hole of self-pity. And this time, the self-pity focused on my mental illness, or the story of it. By the story I mean that depression wasn’t just something that happened to me, I was depression. I was a depressed person, and because I had been depressed before, I must therefore be doomed to this for The Rest Of My Life.

So my self-pity turned to blame for my parents, especially my mother. It was my mother’s fault I was depressed because, among other well-validated and intelligently-argued points, my mother didn’t fix her own depression. She passed on her depression through me. She made me depressed. She did this not only because of, as I was now learning in my university psychology courses, exposing me to seeing someone else with that same illness, but also because of my genes. Depression was built into my genetic makeup. I was doomed. And it was all her fault.

As you might expect, these thoughts and feelings of self-pity only led me to further dig myself into that dark hole of despair. After some time, I was finally shocked into summoning enough energy to take charge of my own recovery. And the type of self-pity thoughts described above absolutely had to go if I wanted my well-being back. I took that approach that I could only take responsibility over what I had control. I couldn’t control my family history or any past experiences, but I could control my thoughts and how I responded to what had happened to me.

When I began to practice meditation regularly and learn the dharma, I was able to take care of the pain leftover from my episode of depression. I was encouraged by the open acknowledgement of the first noble truth that suffering (or dissatisfaction or unease) exists. I was also comforted by the confirmation that suffering can be transformed into understanding and happiness. Strengthened by the practice, I could turn toward the leftover pain of depression and heal myself, and transform the suffering transmitted to me by previous generations.

In transforming some of this pain, I became more aware and understanding of the pain of having a mental illness, and this gave me a great deal of compassion for myself and others in this same situation. I was completely able to deeply feel the pain of mental illness and depression, and have profound compassion in response to that type of pain.

Therefore, when I was eventually exposed to forgiveness in the context of an actual meditation practice, my path to forgiveness was understanding. I took on the forgiveness practice because I decided I needed to forgive my mother. Part of it was a motivation to simply grow up. I wanted to stop being the whiny teenager who had such a sense of entitlement for what people were supposed to do for me. I wanted to be responsible for my own life and happiness.

Continue to part 3 here.

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 1 May 3, 2013

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This a story of how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. You might not think it is a particularly unique story. In fact, you might even be able to guess how it unfolds. But its my story, and that’s all that matters. And its my story, so I get to tell it.

My relationship with my mother has changed dramatically over my life, but perhaps the most dramatic change has occurred at the same time as—like many of my other relationships—beginning my meditation practice. To tell this story, I’ll start at the beginning.

My relationship with my mother was quite good when I was younger—or so at least I remember, and so I was told by many people around me. My mom stayed home on the farm to raise me and my sibling, so I got plenty of attention. I was looked after and taken care of. I had homemade clothes, home-cooked meals from the garden (including home-canned fruits and wild berries, and homemade bread), and a home that was kept mostly tidy and well decorated. I also had many family camping trips, and was taken to activities and to visit friends. These early years would become the standard or ideal to which I would later compare my circumstances.

By the time I was in middle childhood, many of the attention and duties provided to me were taken away. It was then that I started to notice and be told that my mom was suffering from the mental illness of depression. It followed that many of the circumstances I had enjoyed at an earlier age started to slip away, and some of them disappeared altogether. The activities mom used to do were more and more replaced by her lying in bed, sleeping.

Consequently, the lack of attention affected our relationship, and I became more distant from her. I had to start making my own school lunch, and cooking my own meals. I had to clean up after myself and my family, and the pantry wasn’t as well stocked with fresh food from the garden or groceries anymore.

As a child, I adapted to the changing circumstances. I made do with what I had. I still had my dad looking after me as best he could, and grandparents next door on the farm to which I could go for lots of attention and support, not to mention other relatives. I had other ways of coping. What’s more, I learned the valuable lesson that would become deeply instilled in me for many, many years:

If I want something done right, I have do it myself.

I seemed to be making out just fine. And then I became a teenager. Ah, yes, those oh-so-fun times of adolescence. And with adolescence comes the ability to think more abstractly beyond my immediate experience of childhood awareness into ideas of what my circumstances could be. As I said earlier, my memories of my early childhood with my mother became the ideal with which I would compare my current circumstances.

And also coming with adolescence is a great deal of idealism of thinking how things could be in a better version of my reality. So thinking idealistically was what I did—and oh, how I did it. So my relationship with my mother became idealized into how it should be, and my personal circumstances at home and my mother’s role in creating those circumstances became idealized. I wanted the good times back, or at least my memories of the good times.

But I didn’t get the good times back. I wasn’t about to any time soon, by all signs. And so we know that another characteristic of adolescence is anger. Anger, aggression, and violence when their idealized versions of reality don’t match up with their actual immediate reality. Plus, although I’m simplifying the story a bit here, there were other aspects of my overall personal circumstances that weren’t working out well for me (school, friends, etc.), so I felt that I had other reasons to be angry. But, not surprisingly, my anger and blame was directed at my parents, and my mother in particular because she was an easy target, and partly because that’s what I was learning to do from others.

(Continue to part 2)

Quote: Thinking Not Thinking April 26, 2013

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You might say there are two basic kinds of thought. There are thoughts that pop up unannounced and uninvited in our brains for no reason we’re able to discern. These are just the results of previous thoughts and experiences that have left their traces in the neural pathways of our brains. You can’t do much to stop these, nor should you try. The other kind of thought is when we grab on to one of these streams of energy and start playing with it the way your mom always told you not to do with your wee-wee in front of the neighbours. We dig deep into these thoughts and roll around in them like a pig rolling in its own doo-doo, feeling all that delicious coolness and drinking deep of their lovely stink. To practice “thinking not thinking,” all you need to do is ignore the first kind of thoughts and learn how not to instigate the second type.

– Brad Warner, in Sit Down and Shut Up

Cultivating the Paramis: Reflections from Weekend Insight Meditation Retreat March 15, 2013

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Last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a weekend insight meditation retreat organized by my sangha. Overall, the weekend was very beneficial, and I feel that my practice has definitely been strengthened. I enjoyed the teacher’s wonderful presence, her unique contributions to the effects of meditation on physical health, and of course, her dharma talks around the theme of cultivating the paramis.

Presence

The presence of the teacher herself was one of the most valuable parts of the retreat for me. Usually I feel threatened by a new teacher and don’t like them initially. I was drawn to this teacher immediately. I absolutely absorbed her presence of joy and lightness. I think that this is because I’m drawn to what I desire most in myself.

For me, the teacher was a living Buddha, an example of the teachings in practice. She embodied incredible lightness and a wonderful sense of humour. She was very gracious and light, and her teaching style was incredibly gentle. I absolutely loved being on retreat with her because my own practice is usually harsh and rigid so her approach was very balancing.

I especially appreciated her humility and willingness to openly describe her difficulties and challenges. I think I had a misperception that teachers and long-term practitioners are immune to these types of struggles. But, reflecting on my own practice, I see now I was sorely mistaken.

Meditation and Health

The teacher is actually a practicing medical doctor, so I appreciated the physical health piece she brought to her wisdom. Several times she was able to complement her wisdom teachings with more recent evidence in neurobiology. I was glad to have the reminder of how meditation is so directly linked to the parasympathetic nervous system and can counteract the harmful stress response. She was able to masterfully blend the descriptions of the teachings in practice with what these effects looked like as patterns in brain activity. I will admit that I take this “scientific evidence” with a grain of salt. But she reminded me that I myself have a unique appreciation for the neurobiology aspect of meditation given my psychology background.

Paramis

The theme of the retreat itself was cultivating the paramis, the qualities of character to be perfected to awaken our Buddha nature. While we didn’t go through all of them in detail, there was some discussion of the paramis overall. I didn’t spend too much energy on the retreat working with the qualities about which she taught. I did appreciate the mention that these qualities arise organically as a result of the mindfulness practice itself. In fact, when the teacher went through the list, I found this to be true. I have never formally familiarized myself with the paramis, but I recognized that some of them had naturally been strengthened as a result of my practice.

A theme I discovered in all of her talks about each of the paramis was that we cultivate them by recognizing and exploring their opposite. We build each quality by noticing when its opposite is presence. Its not only recognizing that its there, but getting in touch with it, looking deeply into it, and most importantly, holding it and myself in compassion.

This may sound counterintuitive, but after some reflection I saw that it was certainly true for me. I believe that this applies not only to the paramis, but to any Buddhist quality to which I aspire. only when I move toward what was causing difficulty for me did I find the solution or the solutions found themselves. As Thay says, “No mud, no lotus.” Only by recognizing and embracing my suffering can I transform it. The only way out is through. It sounds harsh, but I believe it to be the truth.

The teacher’s presence as a living example of the teachings, her experience in healthcare, and her instructions on the paramis were just a few of the many benefits I received on this weekend retreat. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this event. Now I am looking forward to putting the teachings to practice!

The Sun as Love March 1, 2013

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The sun is part of me. She is so essential to me that I need her as much as I need air to breathe. When I am cut off from the light and warmth of the sun, I feel as if I am suffocating.

To me, there is nothing more amazing and glorious than to stand outside in the sunlight and feel her warming my skin. This is love, bathing in the sun’s rays. I feel embraced and loved and whole. This brings me so much joy, and I try to take the joy of the sunshine with me and spread it wherever I go.

Standing in the sun’s rays, I know love directly. The sun’s power is clearly felt in the midday sun of a hot summer day. It feels to be the most powerful force I know. The sun is everlasting, burning constantly every moment I have been alive. Even in the darkness of my night, she is still burning bright on the other side of our Earth. The power of the sun is infinite, eternal, everlasting, and unchecked.

 

The sun is my outer heart because when the sun goes down, my heart aches for the light. As soon as the sun is gone in the evenings, a little bit of my own light leaves me. My energy sags, my mood dips into a more sullen tiredness, and I feel lonely and cut off from my plant and animal sisters and brothers. In the darkness I retreat into myself. I turn down the lights, get ready for bed, and curl up in a corner with a book to lull me to sleep.

Mornings are the happiest time of the day for me. My energy is highest and I am awake and open to the possibilities of a brand new day. The sun’s lightness and energy is my energy. My body, mind, and whole being respond to her rhythms in ways I cannot control.

November is one of the most difficult months. Our Earth dips into darkness and the sun is leaving me for a long cold winter. The leaves on the trees are gone and there isn’t enough snow to reflect what little sunlight I can enjoy. The holidays are too far away to which I can look forward. The brightness and warmth of spring now seem so far away, and I brace myself for the months of winter.

The sun is love and warmth not only when I am directly in her rays, but every moment of my life when I am protected by other indirect forms of her warmth. The fuel to heat indoor spaces comes from the sun’s energy, keeping me comfy and cozy all hear round. The warmth and light of the fire is the energy of the sun released from its storage in the wood of the trees.

The warmth of my own body is the sun. She feeds and grows the plants and animals I eat, and my body takes in this fuel to burn every moment I am alive. What could be a more direct example of the love of the universe: The sun’s energy that touches every living being, creating and sustaining all life, and supplying me with every amount of energy I have ever enjoyed.

The sunrise is awakening for me. The sun rising acts as a mindfulness bell. The day begins and the light starts to gradually glow brighter and brighter, incrementally and so slow and gradual I can’t visibly notice it. But I wait and the sun’s rays start to touch the high clouds, bathing them in warm, glowing light. Finally, the sun rises from the horizon, bringing light to our Earth and casting aside the darkness of night. She bathes everything around me in permeating, glowing light. Her rays shine directly onto our Earth, touching everything in light. Suddenly what was covered in darkness and imperceptible during the night is illuminated, visible and clear. With the sun, I can see everything around me. She reveals our Earth to me. A new dawn is a call to awakening: “Wake up! Look and see what is before you! The whole world available in every moment underneath your feet.”

When I see a burning red sunrise, I see the process of awakening. At first before the sun comes, everything in black and hidden in darkness. The sun begins to show herself and reveals a sky of red clouds. Awakening happens with the First Noble Truth: Suffering exists. The red of sunrise is the burning red of hurt and pain that causes suffering. But only when the suffering is brought into the light of awareness does release happen. After the glowing red sunrise, the morning sun comes and shines white and clear, filling the entire sky.

Leaving Facebook to be More Loving February 22, 2013

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After years of dedicated use, I recently got rid of my facebook account because I noticed that it was negatively affecting my relationships. Being off of facebook means I am more able to pay attention and offer my true presence to someone. And offering my attention is a form of love.

A few months ago, in the midst of a big transition of a new job and new place, I got off of facebook. For good. It was a decision I had been considering for some time, because I could see many advantages and disadvantages of my account.

Facebook was great to have for keeping in touch with friends and relatives, especially while I was living so far from home. In fact, I told myself that the only reason I kept it was to message my relatives who lived so far away, and who I only saw once per few years at best.

The disadvantages were numerous as well, and I’ll only talk about a few of them. A big disadvantage was that it was a huge source of distraction. At any time while logged in, I was likely to go off on what I call an “online tangent,” or clicking on one link after another for large amounts of time, despite alternative intentions.

Another disadvantage was that while I did have access to people’s accounts, my attention was dispersed when I tried to interact with multiple people at once.

And a final disadvantage was I ended up focusing on quantity over quality of friends. I had so many “friends” on my account, but most of them were not my true friends because I didn’t really care about them all that much.

I got off facebook in order to exchange one form of communication for another. Facebook is not the only way to communicate with the people I love—just as my prairie grandmothers! (Another form of communication I prefer is phoning, when I can actually interact with a live person in a give-and-take conversation and hear their voice.)

I wanted a more real form of communication: to be in the real presence of a person, to see a living, breathing human being in front of me. Real communication is more loving because I am able to pay attention to the person. In fact, when you get right down to it, attention is love: (to quote Karen Maezen Miller) what we pay attention to grows and thrives, while what we neglect withers and dies.

Thay teaches that the most loving thing we can do for another person is to be able to say, “I am here with you,” (no, you don’t actually have to say it out loud!). We have to be completely with someone in the present moment, body mind and heart.

Attention is related to meditation because meditation is the practice of cultivating the ability to pay attention. The less time I spend on facebook, the less distracted I ams, the stronger my ability to attend, and therefore the move loving I become.

So I decided to trade up numerous micro-instances of internet attention for rare periods of intense attention in the real presence of someone.

I think by being off facebook altogether, I am not only encouraging love to grow in others, but I am able to receive love more from my friends and family. If being with me in person is the only or best way someone is able to get in touch with me, then they are going to make sure to pay attention to me while they have the chance. Also, my facebook absence means that I can attract my true friends, thus gaining “quality over quantity.” My true friends want to be with me and will be willing to take the time to meet with me in person.

It was a difficult decision to make, but getting off facebook was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I have no regrets! I find that I can be a more loving person when I am able to devote all of my attention to someone when I am really with them. Being able to give my full attention in the present moment is, I believe, one of the most loving things I can do.