Would you rather be read to?
In August 1947 Mahatma Gandhi, the father of modern India, led my country to freedom from centuries of tyrannic British rule. Not with an army, instead with the first principle of yoga – Ahimsa or non-violence – defeating the most powerful nation in the world. GandhiJi, as we refer to him respectfully, devoted one a day a week to meditate and investigate his own behaviour.
These days there are plenty of strong emotions, from rage to helplessness that arise in me, as the current events seem to get worse with each new event. Some have been lucky enough to not have been directly affected by injustice, violence, sickness or the economic hardship that many face. But even those people are beginning to feel the effects of life interrupted – the uncertainty of sufficient reform, whether justice will prevail and when normalcy and freedom will return.
From daily minor irritants to the evening news, while things are making us miserable, can we pause and look inside and ask ourselves why? It’s been said that we carry psychic irritants in our mind – the source of suffering that are triggered by events or thoughts. We tend to hope the events around us change so the pain will stop.
There is an ancient story of a man who wanted to cover the earth in leather so that he could walk comfortably. It would have been much easier to make a pair of sandals. Similarly, instead of hoping for the world to change so I can have peace, I am going to work on making sandals to reduce the psychic irritants. For this I have to train myself – to not just read or think about it. Even meditating won’t do it, if we don’t practice the entire path. If I dwell on anger all day and ruminate on worry and despair – I could be spending 30 minutes on the cushion doing the same process. Ashtanga yoga or the 8-limbed path of yogic philosophy, that led to Buddha’s 8-fold path, instructs us to practice saucha or purification of our inner world.
One way of purifying the inner world is by practicing continuous mindfulness. My first intention for this week is, from when I wake up until I go to bed, to pause every hour for one minute (which is about 15 breaths) and focus on my breath. I have an alarm set for this.*see note below.
My second intention is a daily practice of metta or loving kindness meditation.
The two wings of mindfulness practice are wisdom and compassion: May I have the ability (wisdom) to see the other in me and me in the other (compassion).
Traditional metta phrases are:
First we send these wishes towards ourself.
1. May I be well, happy and peaceful
May no harm come to me
May no difficulties come to me
May no problems come to me
May I always meet with success
May I always have patience, courage, understanding and determination to meet the inevitable difficulties, problems and failures in life.
Now the same wishes towards all beings:
2. May all beings, without exception, be well, happy and peaceful
May no harm come to them
May no difficulties come to them
May no problems come to them
May they always meet with success
May they always have patience, courage, understanding and determination to meet the inevitable difficulties, problems and failures in life.
~ Mark Arthur, a black Buddhist author and meditator from the UK
My tender heart trembles,
the mind spins
this way and that…
Looking for escape.
I cannot accept this.
I can’t breathe….
This is the legacy of suffering
The wisdom, as always,
is about turning towards this pain.
A deep, deep wound.
Admit it’s there
Feel the feelings in this heart
Don’t look away
This is compassion for oneself.
with the steadiness
that comes from unflinching,
Speak and act from the heart.
Let it be known
Protect and Serve
Don’t look away
This is compassion for the world.
A radical acceptance.
That sacred space between the out breath
and the in breath…
Death and Rebirth
This is a prayer for all beings
The benefits of the hourly one-minute pause:
First: I am getting an extra 15 minutes of meditation just from this ritual.
Second: I hold a simple yoga posture for that minute (such as arms raised to shoulder level with the elbows bent at 90 degrees, making a fist with the thumbs pointing back, palms together at the heart (namaste)) or tree pose (open one knee outward and place the heal on the other ankle, calf or thigh – switch legs after 7 breaths).
Third: The time is enough for me to say these metta phrases one time for all beings and myself.