Here and there.

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Previous weeks (and especially last few days) weren’t very pleasant and joyful. I had to fight off few demons, deal with unskillful behavior of others, and my own foolish and childish actions. When I’m in trouble and under a lot of stress I generally don’t meditate. I guess the same way sick person (whose body desperately needs strength and nutrition) – loses appetite and refuses to eat. I was also bit disappointed with my meditation practice: why am I still affected by thoughts, emotions or even external factors if I have seen so many times that thoughts have no substance, there is hardly anything I can pin down and call a self, and that external events derive their power from my own attitude and thoughts? Of course, it doesn’t work that way: developing habit of meditation is not like accepting Jesus into ones heart (which apparently solves all the problems – I was told on various occasions).

Evidently eloquent person stated here:

Meditation is often most difficult when it’s most important.

So I’m back on meditation cushion, sitting once or twice per day, not over concerned about the duration of the sitting, about the body posture, about the breathing, about this or that technique, focused instead on what I have described already in detail in my older post “Digging for water” here – and that is seeing vast distances separating here and there. “There” being place filled with thoughts, worries, emotions, stories, expectations, past experiences and “here” meaning pure awareness of the breath and the body. It really seems to me that those two don’t mix, that we are either there or here, in hell or in heaven; and don’t mind the huge distance between them – with the right view and some practice changing places is just a matter of choice.

At this – very early stage – of my meditation practice I can forget about experiencing tranquility or quieting my mind for longer than few seconds (not to even mention more advanced states which, to be honest, I never really cared about…). What I can be focused on instead is the process of detecting when my mind is drifting away to “there” and bringing it back to “here” – over and over again – from time to time asking myself: where are now all those thoughts and recollections that ravished my mind just a second ago?

That sounds like a pretty reasonable goal to me.

Life outside prison.

Prison Visitor Fee

I have found an interesting post called “10 Ways to Adapt to Prison” here (Danner Darcleight, who wrote and posted this, is serving 25 years in prison and is an author of a book titled “Concrete Carnival” published this month, here you can follow his Facebook page and blog page). I have read the article and it honestly terrified me. Not because how brutal and cruel reality inside any prison is, but because so many of the problems I have brought on myself in my day to day life as a parent, neighbour, employee and co-worker could have been avoided if I followed those rules (not literally of course)…

Without further ado – here are some tips from Danner Darcleight on how to survive in prison… or – as it appears – in work, among peers, among neighbours, among family members without developing excruciating stomachache or severe sleeping disorder at the end of the day:

  1. Say less. When in doubt, say nothing at all. Listening, really listening, will educate you to the lingo and to what’s happening around you.
  2. Look, but don’t stare. Be mindful of what’s going on around you, without appearing to be paying attention to anything in particular. Don’t look in someone else’s cell — you might see something you don’t want to see.
  3. Choose your words wisely. Take care. Much weight is placed on what you say and how you say it. Refer back to №1.
  4. Blend in with your clothes. Be neither the best nor worst dressed. Go for basic colors and clothes, and keep them in good condition. Be mindful of gang colors: red, yellow, blue.
  5. Stay off the gate when you’re locked in your cell; don’t join the chorus of conversation. You can easily be played for a fool in this forum, and play easily turns to drama.
  6. Keep your own counsel. Your problems are your own. Most of your peers are dealing with similar issues, so they don’t particularly care about yours. No one in here owes you his time and patience.
  7. Be mindful of the doors you open — lending, borrowing, giving, and receiving can all lead to unforeseen consequences. Check for any attached strings. Find a few good friends.
  8. Don’t gamble or use drugs — there’s a sucker at every table, and if you can’t easily pick him out, it’s you.
  9. You are always on stage in prison, and people-watching (and ear-hustling) is taken very seriously in the land of the perpetually bored.
  10. More than any other outside influence (peers, staff, prison conditions), you can make life in prison harder on yourself. The time is what you make it. Get past self-pity, take accountability for your actions, and be receptive to good breaks when they come your way. If you’re not careful, prison can ruin you. But this can also be a place where you square yourself away, and actually learn how to live.

There you go… rules to live by in any highly developed, cultural, sophisticated society… as they used to say in Russian gulag in 1940s: “Ne Ver’, Ne Boisia, i Ne Prosi.” – Don’t trust. Don’t be afraid. Don’t ask.

Or at least so it seems on some days…

The only sutra I will ever need to know.

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Anyone who is even remotely interested in Buddhism knows that reading Buddhist scriptures can be as captivating as reading central heating installation manual in the middle of exceptionally hot summer. Endless repetitions that obscure meaning of each sentence completely diminish my enthusiasm for that kind of read… I just don’t think that in my current family and professional situation I have enough time and determination to climb through countless levels of similes and to jump over pointless repetitions just to get to that one grain of truth and beauty. I would rather spend that time sitting on a meditation cushion.

There are however two sutras – at least I’m aware of at this point in time – that stand out from the crowd: first one is very well known “Heart Sutra” (with its beautiful long list of things that don’t exist, and phrase “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form” that sounds like a subject of impossible homework essay assigned to students by half drunk and half crazy teacher), the second one is called “Vipallasa Sutta”. If I had to choose only one Buddhist scripture to read in my life, the “Vipallasa Sutta” would be it – not even the whole thing, just those few words that in my opinion express perfectly the essence of the Buddhist teachings:

Perceiving permanence in the temporary,
Perceiving pleasure in the stressful,
Perceiving as personal what is not personal,
Seeing attractiveness in the unattractive,

destroyed by wrong-view, people go mad, out of their minds.

I find myself recalling those words on various occasions throughout the day… and they do bring me relief. They also take me closer to understanding what Buddha meant when he said that true reality of life is bliss, and it is only due to our faulty habits of perception that the world appears differently.

The more time I spend just sitting and observing how thoughts arise, try to leave a mark on my body, try to influence my perception of the world, and then disappear just to be immediately replaced by brand new mental constructs… the more I reflect on my past experiences… the more evident it becomes what the sutra is really trying to teach me:

  • Whatever unpleasant or pleasant situation I’m in will eventually pass, so I may choose to spare myself the embarrassment of getting too emotionally charged about it.
  • Things that cost money and bring immediate relief, will eventually bring pain as nothing is sustainable forever.
  • I am never more victim of unfair fate than any other person – my misery is not unique, it is not special, my misery is not mine.
  • Whatever I desire and think I can’t live happily without is already in the process of deterioration or decomposition.

No meditation.

Mist

Half an hour after midnight. I can’t fall asleep. I have no cigarettes at home since I gave up smoking nearly 3 months ago. I’m checking my neighbor’s status on Facebook. She is still online. I could send her a message, put my clothes on and bum a smoke or two from her. But I start to feel sleepy, so I switch off my phone, close my eyes, open my eyes, switch on my phone. I can’t fall asleep. I wish I had few cans left in the fridge. But I have nothing. My neighbor is now offline. It is nearly 1 am. I’m tired and stressed out. I can’t stop thinking about unpleasant situation I found myself in yesterday involving my kids and my neighbors. Nothing huge, but my brain makes it big. A motion picture “A history of my Calamities” is just starting in HD and 3D and I have a seat in the front row and I can’t leave the cinema.

I haven’t meditated properly for over 2 months. What a pity – my meditation practice accelerated and became consistent at the end of last year when I was going through some difficult times in work and could not fall asleep. And here I am: a year later I’m in exactly the same place except for I know few things about Buddhism I didn’t know about last year: about Layman Pang, Dogen, Third Patriarch, history of Zen, koans, encounter dialogues, Heart Sutra, Yogacara, shikantaza and few more. Words, words, words. I would gladly exchange them for few days of solid sitting. Another reason Zen appeals to me that much: nothing will replace sitting.

No smokes. No beer. No meditation. Racing thoughts. I would say it’s pretty tough night alright. It is end of summer in Ireland which means it is already fall in Ireland. Did you notice that grey color is the only color that has a taste, smell and texture: taste of mushrooms, smell of wet leaves and texture of a mist. Dark night after grey and unpleasant day is bit too much to handle.

But that’s ok… It becomes evident that returning to sitting should be my priority. If not for the sake of seeing ultimate reality then at least for the sake of a good night sleep.