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: March, 2015

They Pop Up Just Like That

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Thoughts often arise involuntarily, mechanically and habitually. What is happening, if we observe our thoughts, is that they just come up. They pop up just like that. They arise because of our habits and our conditioning. After they have arisen we get hold of them. A self-destructive person will give himself minuses, or remember the minuses that other people have given him, in a mechanical way. Someone with a self-destructive aspect may occasionally have a positive thought that comes up, but because of their habits they let it go, or just ignore it. But they hold on to their negative thoughts. It is really funny to see what we do with our thinking.

There is another thing we do with our thoughts: we create stories. We then give reality to the story that we have created, and even though the story is not real, we become a victim of the reality that we have created ourselves. This is really a destructive and dangerous mechanism. These stories can give rise to uncertainty, insecurity, anger, guilt, and so on. I think that all our so-called monsters can arise thanks to the stories we create. This is a clear example of how we create our own suffering without realising it.

This shows the importance of awareness. If you analyse the different meditation techniques, you’ll see that most of them are an attempt to be with something factual. Maybe it’s being with the breath, being with the sensations in the body, or being with the sounds that are around. It is an attempt to distinguish reality from unreality.

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To Walk Fast

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When you have awareness, when you want to think quickly, when you have to act quickly, you should be able to do that. Sometimes in the retreats that I give, I ask the meditators to walk fast. And sometimes they tell me that when they walk fast, it’s easier to develop awareness. And with more awareness and with more meditation, your mind becomes very clear, so with a mind that is very clear, you can really act quickly when you want to.

In Sri Lanka I have a friend who is a lawyer who is practising meditation in a very serious way, and because of his meditation he has been doing very well as a lawyer. It has helped him to think quickly and act quickly, so that even other lawyers realize the change in him and they are also asking how to meditate. So please realize and remember, meditation is not only slowing down, but when you want to, you can act quickly and you can think quickly and you can respond quickly. When I walk in the streets of Hong Kong, I have to walk very fast!

Just Letting them Be

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Please spend some time with your body. Feeling the body, becoming conscious of the body. Feel the different sensations and all the movements in your body.

Learn to gently let go of your thoughts and come back to your body. Learning to feel the body. See the difference between feeling the body and thinking about the body.

Let us learn to feel friendly, gentle, tender and soft towards the body. Just accepting the body as it is.

Learning to listen to the body. Allowing the body to tell us what it likes. Just listen to it with gentleness, like listening to the wind or the birds.

Just feel what it is to sit in this posture. Just feel what it is to sit completely still.

When the body is still, the mind may become still, and you may feel the stillness around you. Just allow the body to breathe naturally.

Please spend some time allowing the body to breathe the way it likes to breathe. Not controlling it. Not manipulating it. Not directing it.

You don’t have to do anything. Learning non-doing with the help of the breath.

Now please become aware of the different sensations, the different movements in the body as the body is breathing. Do you feel any sensations in the area of the nostrils, the area of your chest, or in the abdomen? Just be with those sensations and movements with each breath.

When the body inhales, you know that the body inhales. When the body exhales, you know that the body exhales.

Experiencing the present moment, the here and the now, with the help of the in-breath and the out-breath.

You hear sounds, you have thoughts, you feel other sensations. Don’t try to exclude them. Just let them be there, but the awareness is more and more on your breath.

Let us now let go of our awareness of the breath and learn to be aware of whatever is happening in our mind and body from moment to moment.

Just allow the mind to do what it likes. Like creating a lot of space for a child to do what it likes. Like a friendly mother, just watching, just knowing what the child is doing from moment to moment.

Sounds. Thoughts. Emotions. Sensations. Just letting them be.

No plus. No minus. Learning to see things just as they are. Having a mirror-like mind. Learning to reflect things just as they are. Not as they should or as they must be.

In the seeing just the seeing, not ‘I’ am seeing.

In the hearing just the hearing, not ‘I’ am hearing.

In the thinking just the thinking, not ‘I’ am thinking.

In the feeling just the feeling, not ‘I’ am feeling.

Concentration and Insight

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I’d like to say something about the connection between samadhi, deep concentration, and vipassana, insight. One practical thing which you can do is that when the mind is reasonably calm and stable, then you can investigate, explore any situation in life. So in everyday life when suffering arises – when conflicts arise, when unpleasant emotions arise – you can learn about it, you can explore it, you can investigate it and see how it is created by yourself. And then you can discover tools, how to work with these emotions, how to learn to be free of them.

So the idea is that when you have these pleasant, calm states of mind, not to hold onto them, not to identify yourself with them, but rather to use them in developing insight. I came across a very interesting quotation in one of the Buddhist texts where it says that sometimes calm can come first and insight later, sometimes insight can come first and then calm comes later; that’s a very interesting point. They can also sometimes come together. So sometimes this strong distinction we draw between calm and insight doesn’t seem to apply because they are really interconnected, interrelated.

What does it mean that when there is insight, calm can come? One way of understanding this in relation to developing insight is that you can allow any thought to arise, any emotion to arise, any sensations to arise; and whatever arises, you just observe, you just watch, you just know. So from that practice sometimes calm can come naturally without your wanting to have calm and tranquility. And sometimes if calm is not there and you are unable to really develop insight in that way, then you can focus your attention on the breath and try to develop some calm and clarity and again start investigating and developing insight.

We Cannot Leave the Breath Alone

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It is very interesting that we are so used to doing things, controlling, manipulating and interfering. Because of this strong conditioning, we cannot leave the breath alone. Some meditators come and tell me that they are really controlling their breathing. It is sometimes not very easy to get them to let go of the control. But what the breath is teaching us is to leave it alone. And then that helps us to experience this non-doing – just doing nothing. Allowing the body to do what it likes.

It is certainly true that we are so busy now, we are so active, that we have no time to stop and reflect. This is one of the greatest challenges human beings have in this modern age where there is such a lot of activity, where one has to be extremely busy otherwise one is left behind. And in this activity, in this being busy, how does one create some inner space? How can one create some inner stillness? That is a real challenge. Because if you are doing a job – I mean, a picture came into my mind of people who get down from a train. They walk and run from the train like a horde of ants. But someone has to do the job. So if you are doing a job you have to be like the ants. Otherwise you arrive late at the office. In Sri Lanka there is a register people have to sign, and if you come in too late for work there is a red mark. So you cannot do slow walking meditation from the train. The red mark will be there!

That is the challenge we have – how to function in such a society, how to do things quickly, and at the same time have this inner space, this inner friendliness. This is a real challenge we have. I will talk about this on the last day – how to be like ants and still be a meditator when you go back to your place in society.

If Everything was Permanent

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Before Prince Siddhartha became a Buddha one of the things that he encountered was the fact of death, old age and disease. When he encountered them there was a need for him to find a way out of them. Death and impermanence are very important in our lives, although sometimes we are not very happy to look at them because change or impermanence can be a source of frustration. We may be very attentive in one meditation session and perhaps we give ourselves a plus for it; but in the next session we are not attentive, we are not present, and we give ourselves a big minus. This kind of suffering can come from such comparing.

But if everything was permanent, how could a flower grow? How could the sun rise? How could I speak? How could I be silent? Changes which do not create suffering for us are no problem. But changes like death, like sickness, like old age, like the break-up of a relationship cause us suffering. Yet all these things can be seen equally as change. For example, when you have a relationship and suddenly the other person leaves you, or does something that disappoints you, you forget about the fact of change, and you want that person to live up to the fixed image you have of her or him.

Just Come Back to Your Mind

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In everyday life when we lead a very busy life, one thing we can do is not to learn to focus but generally have awareness in relation to thoughts that we have. Don’t try to be aware of all the thoughts during the day, it won’t be easy; but during the day as often as possible just to come back to your mind and realize, now what are the thoughts that I am having. The second suggestion is in relation to the thoughts, just find out during the day as often as possible, what are the emotions I am having, am I anxious, do I have stress, do I have fear; just to know, especially the emotions in relation to your thoughts. And the third suggestion is to be conscious, to be aware when no unpleasant emotions are there. So during the day there are times when we are free of these unpleasant emotions so unless we have awareness we even don’t know that our mind is free. And the last suggestion is during the day try to come back to the present, just to when you are doing something to really be present with what you are doing, not every action you do but even some actions, this will enable us to develop this quality of being in the present. So in this way we can use awareness to integrate in our way of living daily.

The Idea of Ownership

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It is funny how we have this idea of ownership. We start owning everything: thoughts, emotions, sensations, persons, possessions. And when we start owning things we don’t like to let go of the things we own. This is why we find it difficult to let go of emotions because we think this is my anger, my fear, my anxiety, my sadness; so whatever we consider mine we don’t want to let go. This is the deeper aspect of the Dhamma, to indicate to us actually there is no owner. There are just thoughts, there are just sensations, there are just emotions.

It is this sense of ownership which is creating our suffering. Nothing should happen to my mother – anything can happen to other people’s mothers. Nothing should happen to my body, but other people’s bodies – there’s no problem whatsoever. And then in the same way we have this identification with possessions: my cup, it should stay with me; but other cups, there is no problem. We even draw the same distinction about animals. This is my cat; this is the neighbour’s cat. So the neighbour’s cat should not come and attack my cat. How can the neighbour’s cat do that? So it is an interesting question to reflect on: what happens at the time of death to all the things we think we own? If we really own them we should be able to take them with us even after death, but we can’t.

These are really very deep, profound aspects of the Buddha’s teaching. To see the connection between our sense of ownership, with the sense of I and me, and how that is creating suffering. So these are some areas, some aspects that we can find out about for ourselves in the practice of meditation in everyday life.

To Keep our Mind Healthy

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One interesting point to reflect on is the fact that we have to do so many things to keep our body healthy. We never say that one has to forget these things. We never say that they are difficult. We have given such priority, such importance to keeping our bodies healthy.

But what will we do to keep our mind healthy? And when medicine is offered to keep your mind healthy, then you might forget it. Sometimes we give reasons, but it is interesting to find out, why is there this difference? Why don’t we consider them equally important or consider the mind even more important? Sometimes I invite friends in Sri Lanka to come to the meditation centre, and they have many reasons why they are not able to come and so on. But if a doctor tells them: You have to enter the hospital immediately, you need to take some very important tests, they would not tell the doctor: No, no, I have so much to do, I cannot come!

So what we have to do is remember the priorities that we have made in life. We have to be very clear in our minds about this. The priorities we have in life – it is okay to have different priorities – but what is the priority we have given to the spiritual life? So I would say, everything revolves around that question.

Another aspect of this is to explore the question: How to find a motivation, an interest for meditation, in everyday life? There I would say, I think much depends on the way we relate to meditation. If we can find meditation interesting, if we can experience meditation as discovering, learning, experimenting, exploring, then we have a different relationship to meditation. Because if you are enjoying something, if you find it interesting, then naturally you feel like doing it.

One thing that prevents us from having this connection is having strong expectations about results. In this connection the Buddha has said something very beautiful, very interesting. He says: When a gardener plants some trees, if he is a good gardener, he should enjoy what he is doing and he should not be concerned or worried about when the flowers will bloom, thinking: Are the flowers coming? Are the vegetables coming? Because then he loses that joy and liveliness and the fun of it. But if he can really enjoy what he is doing, find it interesting, find it challenging – that is good enough.

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.