Sunday, November 30, 2008
Laughing at Impermanence
Have you ever seen a sand mandala being made/experienced by a group of Buddhist monks as a ceremonial practice? The mandala is so intricate, beautiful and impermanent. They carefully feed the colored sand to its specific design location, lift their robe sleeves to prevent brushing the sand, and they cover their mouths with cloth to impede their breath-wind from disturbing the mandala until the spiritually significant concept is finished. Upon completion, it's all swept into a vessel and poured into the sea; a final meditation on the impermanence of life. I think anyone who writes on computers has an opportunity to practice the impermanence of life. Just now, I wrote an extensive comment that disappeared. Actually, I wrote it, checked the preview, then the computer made a rather loud rude noise, like a belch, and seemed to gobble up the comment! In reaction to the hungry ghost, I will write here in response to Hector's questions about journals, deity yoga and meditation but I will address the answers to anyone (experienced or not) who wants to start a regular meditation practice.
I do keep journals; one for health where I write my yoga, mantra, and reading practices, sleep and stress (hormones!) patterns, and my weight. I usually update this weekly/monthly unless I am under stress or am trying to institute a new pattern/routine. I keep another first-thoughts journal inspired by Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) where I write (stream of consciousness) for ten minutes, five times a week during ordinary work weeks. My meditation routine is based on various yoga practices, which can be connected to Pantajali's Eight Limbs of Yoga, serious practitioners might say loosely connected but I see the connections/intersections. No deity has directly presented her/himself to me; but I do practice mantra connection with energies that are associated with deities; the force of nature (Kali), the heart-centered/ fun-loving compassion (Krishna), and especially the energy of transformation (Shiva). I think the deity yoga practice, where you dissolve your ordinary self into emptiness and follow specific techniques to immerse yourself into the qualities of a particular deity is useful but I have not learned this method from my meditation teachers or another guru. The whole system of deities in Tibetan Buddhism is complex and highly nuanced; I have studied the Tibetan Book of the Dead with great attention but failed to connect to the complex visualization/deities as presented in this important work. I think that this is not my path.
The Dalai Lama details his practice in the Spalding Gray interview and here is a brief summary: first, he re-establishes his connection to be reborn until all beings are free, recites mantras to commit to non-violent speech, does prostrations and other Buddha remembrance practices to earn merits, conducts a meditation on the impermanence of life focusing on birth, death, and rebirth; finally, a meditation on emptiness and non-conceptuality completes his practice. No matter where he is, he does a four hour practice from four in the morning until eight -regardless of the time zone change. I think that the most important factor to a meditation practice is to develop and establish a routine-a place in your life for meditation. It is also important to acknowledge your practice and commit yourself to the feeling that it is happening through you but is not about you. I think that is why the Dalai Lama says he is a "simple monk" -so that he is not fooled into mind-game thinking that he is above the temptation of breaking his monk's vows. I have noticed that the ego/mind attracts attention down side-roads even in meditation -when this happens I just return to my practice. When I awaken, I fall into a mindfulness routine that reminds me that I will sit for an hour. I remain silent until my practices are over; first, I give the animals food and water, wash the dishes, clean the floor where I will meditate and set up the cushions. I mention these details because they have become my karma/service yoga. I light candles and/or incense in offering and do several sun salutations. Then I sit for one hour; I recite devotional chants until my awareness of energy begins to flow; I keep my attention on two points- the center of my forehead and the crown of my head. If I experience a flatness of energy during the meditation, I usually visualize energy rising from the base of my spine to the top of my head or I practice a pranayama breathing exercise (breath of fire). I accept disruptions to my practice easily; sometimes the half-asleep kids wake up and trip over me/or hit my knee. Junie, the cat, rubs my mudra (hand gesture) and tests out the softness of my lap while she decides if she will sleep. Sometimes, I begin too late and the regular morning routine of I-can't-find-my-keys starts. Usually, I continue to practice without difficulty-even if I have to get up for a moment. A warning though, emotions may be unleashed when you first start to seriously practice (in the early months/years) so it's better to be alone and out of the way-or else you may become unduly angry about normal interruptions and at an unsuspecting house-mate! At the end of my practice, I cultivate goodwill and send thought energy to anyone who appears in my mind while recognizing that we are all connected.