Friends of Godwin Samararatne

Learn to be your best friend and also to be a friend of others. Learn to forgive yourself and others and then heal any wounds that you are carrying.

Month: June, 2014

Work with Stress

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Let us consider how meditation can help us to work with stress when it arises. One thing is that stress sometimes arises because of the thought, I might make a mistake: what would others think of me? So in this case what happens initially is that a thought comes and it is just a thought, but then we give reality to that thought and we become victims of the thought. You see the importance of awareness in daily life? So when such a thought comes, if you have awareness you can catch yourself and realize it is just a thought and it is not reality. Stress is created when we give unnecessary reality to our habitual and obsessive way of thinking. This is one way of working with our stress.

Another way is that when stress is there, what actually happens within us? Is there a particular sensation that you feel which you can work into what is called stress? Or as I said, is it always related to a thought? So you can really explore this, investigate this, find out for yourself what it is that we call stress and what really happens to us when we experience stress. It’s a very interesting exercise to be with the sensations, to be with whatever is happening in your mind and body, without the word stress; take away the word stress and just be with the actual experience, what is happening to you. So I’d like you to experiment with some of the tools, some of the suggestions that I am offering and find out for yourselves which ones will help you.

Another tool is trying to be aware of the breath. Because as we found out, sometimes our thoughts, sometimes the way we relate to sensations and so on, can really build up the stress that is arising. And it’s interesting that mostly stress is created by thoughts about the past or especially about the future, anticipating anxiety, failure and so on. So if you can really be with the reality of breathing, because that is happening right now, then you realize that even in the few minutes you spend with the breath, there is a complete recovery from any emotion that you have been having.

Another point is, what is the opposite of feeling stressed? I would suggest it is when we can really relax with whatever is happening; if you can really learn to feel at ease with what is happening, that is the complete opposite of stress. So it shows that modern man, unless one is a meditator, has not discovered the way just to relax with oneself. So how can we learn to relax with ourselves? Here again, one way is that if you can really make a connection with your breath and as I sometimes like to say, if you see your breath as a friend, then no sooner do you become aware of the breath, just relax with the breath, then stress and tension can just drop away.

Another tool will be to watch how the stress arises and how the process, the mechanism continues. What normally happens is that we are resisting something, and this can really give rise to stress. So if you can, really be with the stress and tell yourself, as I often like to say, I feel uncomfortable with the stress or whatever I am experiencing but it is okay not to feel okay. If you can really do that then this continuity, this vicious circle, one condition giving rise to another condition, can be stopped and you are just being with whatever is happening.

Maybe one last point to explore or to discuss is that I know some meditators suffer from stress when they meditate. How does stress arise in relation to your practice? Here again, it is through your having strong expectations of what should happen or what should not happen when you’re meditating.

Another cause is your wanting something different to happen from whatever is happening. So you are really resisting what is happening in meditation, especially resisting the distractions, the so-called distractions and disturbances, and sometimes we relate to them with stress. So it’s interesting that how stress arises in everyday life and how stress arises in meditation, it is the same principle that is involved.

You Can See for Yourself

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When we have strong pre-occupations, when our mind is full of thoughts, we can hardly see anything externally. You might be passing through the most beautiful place but you hardly notice the beauty because your mind is full of these pre-occupations and thoughts.

In the same way we can’t see what is in our own mind because there is no space, there is no clarity. This is why I also encurage an exercise of learning to awaken the senses by seeing things very sharply, hearing things very clearly. Then that can create space in your mind. And then you can learn to see things very sharply, very clearly. You’ll be able to hear things sharply and clearly. You’ll be able to feel things very clearly, and also there’ll be clarity and space in our mind.

However much these things are told, they may not make any sense until you have a glimpse, a small experience of these matters. So this is the beauty of meditation, that you can see for yourself, not because someone says so, or because something is mentioned in the books. So the whole emphasis in meditation is for you to see it, for you to experience it for yourself.

Sensitive to Suffering

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An area where you can develop motivation with the practice is that you can really become sensitive to the suffering of others, and you can also develop a sensitivity to your own suffering. What normally happens with people who are not meditators is that when they experience suffering, they have no method of working with it, they just wallow in that suffering and they continue to suffer in this way. And when they see suffering in others, they don’t have the space, they don’t have the time even to take notice of the suffering of others. So there is a beautiful quality that you develop, where you learn to have compassion for your own suffering and also to have compassion for the suffering of others. And when that happens, in certain situations where you have to act, you will be acting very sharply, very clearly, doing what is necessary in such situations.

So I would suggest that you develop a real motivation for relieving your own suffering and the suffering of others. And you will translate that compassion into action. Please realize that with meditation one does not become inactive, one does not become passive; rather you’ll be acting, but again the quality of acting will be different.

There are two interesting English words which highlight the difference: responding and reacting. So with meditation you learn to develop this quality of responding to situations, acting without reacting. Reaction is an emotional state: when you see suffering in others, you can’t handle it. But here I suggest you learn to develop this beautiful quality of responding, and therefore react less. As we are still human, in certain situations we might be reacting also, but that in itself can be a learning experience – to find out, to enquire, why did I react in that situation?

Material Things

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Most people believe that material things are important, that happiness lies in material things. In fact, the more material things you get, the more dissatisfied you are; and the more dissatisfied you are, the more material things you want to get! Buddha has given a very powerful simile to describe this condition. He compared it to a dog with a bone. So the dog won’t let go of the bone and is just holding on to it, and is still hungry and still dissatisfied, and still suffers from fear of losing that bone.

Related to this serious problem of materialism is another aspect, another manifestation of this, called consumerism. It’s a real challenge for people to live in consumer societies and yet not be affected by the consumerism around them. Consumerism has many aspects, but I see two dangerous aspects in consumerism. One is that people are not clear about what they actually need and what is just their greed. According to the Dhamma we need certain things: food, clothing, shelter, and medicine – they are called the four requisites. The four necessary things are things that human beings really need. So there’s a place for material things, but then when they become our goals and when we are confused between greed and need, this is where they can lead to dissatisfaction and suffering.

Another dangerous aspect of consumerism is that the society that you live in starts manipulating you, and the danger is that you don’t know that you are being manipulated. So you become like puppets, puppets in the hands of a society that creates desire, creates greed, and this all leads to more and more frustration. So isn’t this a sad situation when human beings have the potentiality of becoming free, of becoming enlightened? We have the Buddha-nature in us, but this aspect is not recognised and instead we become victims of the society that we live in.

Knowing, Shaping, Freeing

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The idea of meditation has been expressed by a writer in these terms: knowing the mind, shaping the mind, and freeing the mind. I would like to repeat the words: Meditation is knowing the mind, shaping the mind, and freeing the mind. So knowing the mind is understanding how the mind is working. If we do not know our mind we are really just like machines. Therefore it is extremely important to know and to understand how our minds work.

And when we know the mind, then we can shape the mind. Shaping the mind is developing mastery over the mind. If we do not develop mastery over the mind what happens is that we become a slave to our own mind. So when we become slaves to our mind then thoughts and emotions control us and that results in more and more suffering. Therefore it is very important to learn to shape the mind, and when you learn to shape the mind then you can achieve a mind that is free. So the importance of meditation is learning to achieve a mind that is free, a mind that is happy, a mind that is peaceful, a mind that has loving-kindness.

Friends with Unpleasant Emotions

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We all have selective memories. If someone has a very strong self-destructive aspect he or she will be carrying only the minuses, only the failures. Only the wrong things others have done. It is natural, as we are human, that some of our past experiences have had a deep effect, so unlike the mirror we hold on to them and do not let them go.

We have to learn to let go of things that we are holding onto, that arise from our memories. When they arise from our memory we start judging them, especially by giving minuses, and then we push them away. In the technique of the mirror-like mind we are there with all these things, allowing anything we are holding onto in our memory to come up. We are just being a passive observer, allowing these things to come and allowing them to go. Things that arise can be in the form of emotions, they can be in the form of memories, they can even be sensations in the body. We don’t realise what we carry in our body, but we carry all our past experiences in our body. Tensions and unpleasant sensations sometimes are related to repressed emotions. When pain and unpleasant sensations arise in the body, just like the mirror you learn to observe them, just to create space for them, just to make friends with them.

Abused

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I have been trying to help some people who have been sexually abused, and people who have been raped. So I will share very briefly how the medicine can be given in this situation.

One thing I realised from the victims was that they were very angry at the person who was responsible for that incident. When I worked with them, I did not tell them about the second noble truth. I told them: Yes, you are suffering. All this has been created by the other person. I can understand your anger. I would tell them: Please go somewhere and show your anger, express it and bring it out.

Another thing I experienced with them was that they felt guilty. They felt responsible for what the other person did to them. Here again I would tell them: It is natural that you feel guilty. But let us work slowly, gradually, gently to find out how far you can let go of the guilt. I did not tell them that the guilt is their own creation. I said: It is okay that you feel guilty, but see how far you can forgive yourself. It is not easy and it takes some time, but slowly, slowly the medicine may start to help.

Another thing I realised was the way they related to their body. Because of what had happened to their body they hated their body. Sometimes they felt alienated from their body, as if it was someone else’s body. So when they told me: Well, I feel as if this body is not mine, I did not say to them: This is the Buddha’s teaching, this body is not yours. I told them: It is natural that you should feel this way.

Moments of Freedom

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There are two meditation techniques which are connected with awareness. One is being aware of our breathing itself; and the other is using general awareness while the body is breathing: we can be aware of our thoughts coming and going, and come back to our breath as an anchor. In this way we can learn to have some mastery of our thoughts, otherwise they can control us. And we can do the same with our emotions.

We can use the breath and awareness to experience the present moment, the here and the now. It’s interesting to reflect that most of the time in our daily life, we are either with something which has happened in the past or we are thinking about something which is going to happen in the future. And this happens mechanically, without our knowledge. So if for even a few seconds, a few minutes, we can be in the present with the help of the breath, those moments are moments of freedom.

I often like to speak of using our breath as a friend. And the breath is a very good friend because every time we are with the breath, it reminds us of the present moment. And breath is the only friend who is with us all the time; even when we are sleeping, the breath is there. So until the last moment, the friend is always with us, and our last breath we spend with our friend. So in this way, if we can make a connection with our friend, the friend will always help us. Another aspect of this technique is that once we have developed awareness with the help of our friend, then we can continue to have that awareness in our everyday life.

Another meditation which is related to the use of awareness is to meditate without an object. In this technique you allow any thought to arise, any emotion to arise, even the emotions that you don’t like. You allow any sensation to arise from your body and just know what is happening from moment to moment in relation to your mind and body. It is simply allowing our minds to do anything they like and just knowing, just being conscious, just being aware of what is happening in our minds and bodies. It is like a very friendly mother allowing her child to do what it wants and she just watches, just knowing what the child is doing. In the same way, we watch and know what is happening in our mind and body.

A Lot of Bliss

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Now, why do I emphasise loving-kindness so much? It is based on a very simple model of what I consider Buddhist meditation. It is something very simple, very practical and very direct. What we need to do firstly is to develop a lot of loving-kindness – loving-kindness to oneself and loving-kindness to others. And if we can really do that, then we experience a lot of joy, a lot of bliss, a beautiful lightness both in the mind and the body.

And when you experience that, the moral aspect or the ethical aspect is looked after by itself. Because when we have loving-kindness, when we have compassion, it is not possible to harm oneself or to harm others. It is not possible to be destructive to oneself or to be destructive to others. Thus a kind of natural morality or natural ethical behaviour arises..

There is a beautiful phrase emphasising this connection in the Dhamma. The two Pali words are anavajja sukha, which means the bliss that comes from harmlessness. When you never harm yourself nor will you harm others, and that can really bring a lot of bliss, a lot of joy. This is the first step, and I must say, a very important step.

And after that, as you go deeper, you realise that even loving-kindness is anicca, or impermanent and constantly changing. And that loving-kindness does not belong to anyone. There is no I or me that is practising loving-kindness. So you experience emptiness. This is my simple model of what I consider Buddhist meditation. And I feel that every human being who is motivated in this way is capable of achieving it. Only the other day I was thinking that we all have the necessary qualities of freedom and enlightenment. But these qualities are covered up, or as it is said in the Dhamma, they are obscured. But with more and more loving-kindness, these qualities arise..

What You Can Change

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You should be clear what you can change and what cannot be changed. One area where change is possible is ourselves. Beginning from there, we can also see what can be changed outside. And to be realistic as far as possible as to what cannot be changed. We have a saying in this connection displayed at the Nilambe Meditation Centre: May I have the courage to change what can be changed, the patience to bear what cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.