Buddhism, Zen, Zen practice

Eat a Dog!

I love Costco hot dogs!  They are delicious.  Sometimes, when I walk by the snack bar window at the store, I smell them, and I want to eat one.  There is nothing much worse for my health than to eat a Costco hot dog (processed meat, fat, calories, sodium–heart disease and diabetes).

Sometimes when I walk by the window, I smell and eat one. Sometimes, I smell and walk away.

I know that when I walk by the Costco snack bar and smell the hot dogs, I become conscious of them and either I feel the desire to eat one or I don’t.  I notice that happening. I know that the desire to eat a hot dog comes from my mind, through my nose and my sense of smell. The sensation through my mind creates the desire, the craving.

Because I am aware of how desire comes up or does not come up, I can be mindful of the present moment without these desires, and other hindrances, such as anger, aggression and aversion, restlessness and anxiety, laziness and lethargy, and doubt, taking me out of the moment.

The more time I spend uninhibited, present in the moment, the freer I am and the happier I feel.

Buddhism, Mindfulness, Zen practice

Podcast: Inner Journey


Above is the link to the podcast of my live radio interview on KX 93.5 with Greg Friedman on his program, Inner Journey. Greg and I had a great conversation. #livinginblueskymind #innerjourneywithgregfriedman

Buddhism, Mindfulness, Zen, Zen practice

Case of the Startled Stallion

I felt Molly Poodle tug on her leash. I looked and saw her rear like a startled stallion. There’s a dog around, I thought.  Molly gets aggressive toward other dogs when she is on the leash. I looked across the street at a man standing with a seated Golden Retriever beside him.  Molly leaped and barked. You might think every poodle has a soft, petite bark.  Molly’s bark is thunderous.  As I pulled her along, I was aware of my thoughts and feelings.  They clicked by as if on a screen.

I watched the man to see if he was moving away.  He stood, looking side to side.  Why don’t you move? I thoughtI called to him, “She just wants to play.”  The man ignored me, swiveling his head as if he didn’t know which direction to go. You’re ignoring me?  I watched my feelings rise. I felt slighted and offended.  I’m trying to be friendly and lighten the situation and he acts like I’m not here.  I pulled Molly by her leash, past the man and his dog.  She barked and lunged.  Cars passed along the busy road.  “Leave it. Leave it,” I told Molly.  I didn’t feel anger or embarrassment.  I was calm and in control. When I first took Molly on walks and she got loud and aggressive at other dogs, I felt humiliated, and my anger rose with her boisterous, conspicuous display.

As we moved away from the man and his dog, Molly calmed.  She stopped looking over her shoulder and forgot the distraction.  We continued along the road on our morning walk.

Our awareness of our thoughts and feelings, as they pass by, is a foundation of mindfulness.  We realize that our mind is not permanent; it is not set in concrete.  We notice a fleeting sequence of mind states with elements of form, sensation, perception, mental construct, and consciousness in each state.

In the beginning of our mindfulness practice with feelings and thoughts, we pay particular attention to the arising and falling away of the three poisons that lead to dissatisfaction-greed, aversion, and delusion.

I noticed in my experience with Molly that my mind contained aversion in the moments that the man ignored my predicament and my attempt at conciliation.  My mind filled with delusion when I thought that the man could have helped by moving his dog away.  My mind also contained aversion when I returned home with Molly and remembered her behavior.  I was cool with her for a while.

As we practice mindfulness, we notice more feelings and thoughts in our passing mental states. We see our mind filled with, or empty of, sloth and torpor, distraction, agitation, the ethereal or sensual, quiet or unquiet, and whether our mind is freed from, or filled with, defilements (every mental state that arises from aversion and attraction).

Witness your sequence of mind states in an experience or circumstance, be mindful of the content, and cling to nothing in the world.

Buddhism, Mindfulness, Zen, Zen practice

Pleasant? Unpleasant? Neutral?

I feel that the smell of a gardenia is pleasant.

I feel that the looks of a maggot are unpleasant.

I feel that the taste of water is neutral.

When practicing mindfulness, we become aware of our feelings.  We notice or take a look at our feelings.  We think about what is happening outside and inside of us, in our mind and our body, and around us.   These feelings that we notice are simple and basic.  We look to see if something that we experience through our senses (what we see, hear, smell, taste, or touch) is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.  We just notice.  We don’t judge and say that is good or bad.  We don’t slip into a story.  We ask ourselves, “Is this pleasant?  Is this unpleasant?  Is this neutral, neither pleasant nor unpleasant?

When I hear a bird singing, I notice in the moment that I feel that the noise is pleasant.  That is all.  I just notice that I find it pleasant.  When I walk on the street and a loud motorcycle goes by me, I feel that the noise is unpleasant.  When I hear a noise that I feel is not pleasant and is not unpleasant, I notice that it is neutral.

That is the practice of mindfulness with feelings.

Buddhism, Mindfulness, Zen, Zen practice

Let’s Get Physical

When I was seven, I had plans to go see my first movie at the theater.  While my cousin and I waited out on the front porch for our parents to get ready to leave, we played chase with a broom.  My cousin pulled the broom behind him and I tried to catch it.  At first, I used my foot and tried to stomp on the broom’s bristles.  When my cousin pulled the broom away and my first strategy failed, I came up with a second:  I dove for the broom.  I had one obstacle.  The corner of the concrete step on the porch got in my way.  I caught the corner square in my forehead.  My cousin screamed and my dad and aunt came running out of the house.  They brought wash cloths to try to stop the bleeding.  My father carried me to the car and we rushed to the emergency room.  I left the ER with three stitches in my forehead and an awareness.  I realized that my physical body was an important part of me.  When it was injured or sick, I, as a person, suffered.  My body, in and of itself, is what is.

When we chant the Heart Sutra, we say “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” Form is our body.  Our body is form.  While in practice, we don’t identify as our body, we do realize that our body is an integral part of who we are: our body and our mind.  As a foundation of mindfulness practice, we pay attention to our body through our breathing, through our posture, through clear understanding of every thought, word, and action, and through our anatomy-our body parts.

Buddha said that we reflect “on this very body, enveloped by the skin and full of manifold impurity, from the soles up, and from the top of the head-hairs down, thinking: “There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidney, heart, liver, midriff, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, nasal mucus, synovial fluid, urine.”

We take stock, without projection or judgment, of our body content.  We reflect on our body and its parts.  We contemplate the body in the body.  We are mindful through our awareness of the true nature of our physical body.

Buddhism, Zen, Zen practice

Drink in the Face

When I was a teenager, I saw at a birthday party this guy named John who stole my girlfriend from me.  Even while she and I were going together, he started hanging out with her.  He knew we were together, and still he moved in and stole her.  She went with him and I was crushed.

I heard that John would be at this party, and I was nervous.  I didn’t know if I wanted to face him.  When he came in, he acted as if nothing happened.  He walked up to me, smiling, and said hello.  He acted like he was happy to see me and that he actually cared.  He took no interest in, or responsibility for, the pain that he caused me.

I felt like throwing my drink in his face.  I thought about doing it in that moment.  But I didn’t.  Something stopped me.  I thought better of it.  On one hand, I wish I had thrown the drink in his face.  On the other hand, I’m glad that I didn’t.

I knew, even as a young person, that striking back at John would not be appropriate or helpful. It would not have brought back my girlfriend. It probably would not have changed John.  It probably would not even have made me feel better.  And it would have ruined someone else’s birthday party.

When talking about establishing mindfulness in our practice, Buddha instructed that we observe our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and the objects of our minds, with clear understanding.

As part of clear understanding, when we face a situation in the moment, before we take action, we are mindful of four questions.  We ask ourselves why we are taking this action.  Is it in my best interest and in the best interest of others?  Does it lead to growth of my Zen practice?  For me with John, I might have thrown the drink out of bitterness and revenge, but I would answer no to all the questions of mindfulness.

We ask ourselves if what we are doing is appropriate for the circumstance.  Is it appropriate for the time and place, and does it fit into my personal capacity as a mindful and loving person?   Does it apply skillful means?  As I said, with John, I knew that it would not have been appropriate.  It might have felt good for a second, but it would not have been particularly skillful.  Even when I left that party, I knew, with just a little misgiving, that I had done the right thing by restraining myself.  As it was, of course, I went on to other relationships that opened my heart and developed my wisdom as a loving person.

We ask ourselves if the action we take is appropriate for our Zen practice. In essence, we can decide whether what we do in the moment is wise and compassionate.  Throwing my drink in John’s face would have been neither.

We ask ourselves if what we do separates ourselves from the reality of our innate and intimate connection to the whole of existence.  Is it mindful of the fact that everything is impermanent and always changing? Does it help stop suffering?  I can see that my awareness in that moment at the birthday party of the need to let go of my anger and hatred toward John best served myself and everyone else, including John and my ex-girlfriend.

With clear understanding, I know that if I had it to do over again, I would put my drink down and walk away from John.  I would wish him well and move on with life.

Buddhism, Mindfulness, Zen, Zen practice

Paying Attention Step by Step

We are careful when we carry an egg across the room.  We stay alert when we cut up an onion with a sharp knife. Clipping our fingernails, threading a needle, walking on slippery cement, scratching an eyeball itch:  these are all times that we pay attention.  When we are careless or distracted, something unfortunate or even painful can happen.  When we practice mindfulness, we bring this same awakeness and awareness to everything we do.  Everything. We.  Do.

When Buddha described mindfulness, he said: “When we go forward or backward, we apply full awareness to our going forward or backward. When we look in front or look behind, bend down or stand up, we also apply full awareness to what we are doing. We apply full awareness to wearing our robe or carrying our bowl. When we eat or drink, chew, or savor the food, we apply full awareness to all this. When we walk, stand, lie down, sit, sleep or wake up, speak or are silent, we shine our awareness on all this.”

People talk about being aware and mindful.  People talk about being in the present moment.  But Zen practice is not talking about things.  It is being completely present in every moment and mindful in everything we do.  Every-thing!

When we practice and live this way, as Buddha said, we overcome grief and sorrow, end pain and anxiety, travel the right path, and realize nirvana.”