My first posts were about my Pretzel walks. I remember writing about what I had seen and experienced as I walked. So a return to this today.
I have been forgetting to be mindful – present as much as I can in all I do. So for the past few days I have been making an extra special effort. Whether it be eating my dinner, washing up, talking to a friend, watching “Eat, Pray Love” (Julia Roberts – Always a winner), I have tried to be more present in them. Not letting my mind wander off on to other things, not checking Facebook, not looking at my “To Do” List.
So this morning I tried extra hard to be “in” my morning walk with Pretzel. It is amazing how much I noticed. There are a few brightly coloured flowers out in some plots which are just lovely to look at. The trees with the sky as a backdrop were so crisp and present this morning. Some of the plots on my morning route are so beautiful to look at – their owners obviously spend a lot of time tending them. Being present makes even the mundane more interesting. I do the same Pretzel walk every day – and usually I am cold and half asleep, The walk was so much more enjoyable this morning. I had snuck in 20 minutes Meditation before Pretzel woke up (yes she is a dog not a baby) and was very chilled and present as a result. I had actually felt good after that meditation – meditation does not come naturally to me so I take that as a win.
So this morning I stopped to say “Hello” to a couple of people with their dogs – a lovely lab and a small bichon frise in a brightly coloured knitted jumper. I gave my usual greeting to the gold coloured Buddha in a plot not far from here. I took a detour to smile at the skeletons on the battered decking owned by an older, rather eccentric man (a very kind and friendly person),
I didn’t take my phone with me as I walk around the site so no pictures of this walk…. But maybe tomorrow. So instead – a photo of Pretzel my Pug / Chinese Crested Cross (Pugese).
I have been thinking more about mindfulness. Mindfulness in the Buddhist context – what it means for me, for my life. The part that mindfulness plays in my Dharma Life, in my journey. I wrote about it a few days ago ( https://teejordan.co.uk/index.php/2019/07/16/mindfulness-a-poem) but last night’s Sangha Evening led by the newly ordained Akāśhanandi on the Four Reminders (see below) inspired me to explore further.
The Four Reminders This human birth is precious, An opportunity to awaken, But this body is impermanent, Ready or not, one day I shall die.
So this life I must know As the tiny splash of a raindrop, A thing of beauty that disappears Even as it comes into being.
The karma I create Shapes the course of my life, But however I act Life always has difficulties; No-one can control it all. Only the Dharma Can free me and others From suffering forever.
Therefore I recall My hearts’s longing for freedom, And I resolve to make use Of every night and day To realise it.
The first noble truth is that to be human is to suffer. Suffering (Dukkha) is inevitable. We all know that – Buddhist or not. Every human being experiences pain, suffering and loss. A lot of our time and energy is spent trying to relieve, cover or forget this suffering. Sometimes we choose good ways of relieving suffering – talking with friends, meditation, going for a walk etc. But some of the time we choose less skilful methods. Addiction is often seen as a way of coping with suffering – Russell Brand has written and spoken a lot about this. We can become addicted to anything – food, Box sets, exercise, online shopping. Addictions are unhealthy habits and attachments. Many activities which we do for long periods of time may not be addictions as such, but we do them to fill time, because we are bored, because we feel tired and lethargic – Eating a packet of biscuits, watching endless box sets, flicking through FaceBook …
So there is suffering which we all try to deal with or avoid in many ways. But human life is precious as is shown by the first line of the Four Reminders. It is an opportunity which should not be missed. Life does have difficulties, there is always suffering but it is also a thing of beauty. We must make the most of it as this life is fleeting like the tiny splash of a raindrop. We never know when it might end. So – in comes mindfulness! Am I being mindful about how I am living my life or am I just drifting along with no purpose? Am I wasting precious moments? Am I engaged in looking for true freedom from suffering for myself and others or am I just covering it up with mindless, possibly harmful activity?
The way to freedom is the Dharma – “only the Dharma can free me and others from suffering forever”. The Dharma is the teaching of the Buddha – but it is not a set of laws and commandments which are written down and must be followed to the letter. It is a teaching which has to be internalised and lived by each individual Buddhist. The Buddha just said, “I am a human being, and I’ve had a certain experience. Listen to what I have to say, by all means, but listen to it critically, test it in your own experience” (Sangharakshita – the founder of Triratna Buddhism) – There is a story of the Buddha’s aunt / foster mother coming to him very hurt and upset because the Buddha’s disciples were giving out different versions of the Dharma. The Buddha was unperturbed – and said (in a much longer and more poetic way), whatever you find conducive in practice to finding the goal of Enlightenment – do that. The Dharma is a raft, a means to the other side of the river, it is a finger pointing to the moon. The Dharma is not an end in itself. As one of the Order members said to me – I have to discover what the Dharma means to me and live it.
I am still in the midst of exploration and discovery – but I do know that mindfulness is and will continue to be central to my practice, to my life. One of the five precepts which I follow as a Mitra concerns mindfulness – not being clouded by intoxicants (which, to me, can be anything which stops me from being fully present), “With mindfulness pure and radiant I purify my mind”.
Human life is precious and fleeting – so we must appreciate every precious moment. There has been much written about living in the present moment. One of the first books I read on it was Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”. The present moment is all that we have – it is not a stepping stone to another moment. The Now is the most precious thing there is. To be present in the Now is to be extremely mindful of what I am doing and not to be distracted by regrets from the past or dreams of the future. I also need to take advantage of every given moment – is what I am doing at this very moment serviceable / beneficial to myself and / or to others. I need to take heed of the last lines of the Four Reminders – recall my heart’s longing for freedom and resolve to make use of every day and night to realise it. Now that does not mean that I have to be busy every moment of the day and night! It does not mean that I can never sit down and watch television. Rest and relaxation are important physically, mentally and emotionally. For me, being mindful and being in the present means that I need to know why I am doing what I am doing in a given moment and to be fully committed to that activity. Am I watching NCIS Season 3 because I am actively interested in the story and the characters or just because I cannot be bothered to get up and do anything else? Am I actually watching it or am I flicking through my phone looking at Instagram, responding to messages etc at the same time? Have I sat here watching it all day (not very likely at the moment to be honest as my mobile WIFI is a bit unreliable)? Am I taking time in the day to develop myself? Am I reading, learning about the Dharma? I want to hone my writing skills which were a little rusty but are coming back slowly – have I done anything to achieve that today? I lost the creative side of me for a while so what am I doing to get that back (another blog post coming in a couple of weeks). Have I been in contact with my friends and family? Have I done my daily meditation? And what have I done today to be of service to others – and how can I do more? I am intensely aware that, as I am not working at the moment, I could easily waste my days doing nothing in particular – which would be a great shame as I am so fortunate to have this time.
Before I end this post – I do need to make it clear that I am a work in progress! I am trying my hardest to practise mindfulness in the way that I have described. It’s hard! Even writing this, I have found myself distracted by the bleep of a text message which I answered… and, having picked up my phone I saw that I had a FaceBook notification… well you can probably see where I am going with this! I would say, however, that being more mindful does make me feel happier, more fulfilled and calmer.
This poem was the the result of a project I did for my Dharma Study Group. I looked at the fifth precept:
“With mindfulness pure and radiant, I purify my mind”
It began with a mind map which is the main picture at the top of this post. I love mind maps. I first came across them when I was teaching in Milton Keynes. Tony Buzan has written several books on the subject of mind mapping – well worth a look. Mind mapping is a great technique for brain storming any subject and organising your resultant thoughts. It also lets you use all of those colourful pens!! Then there was a stage when I tried to organise my thoughts in a more linear way. I was bored by that though and it didn’t seem like a good ending for the project.
In my mind map and more organised writing, I looked at mindfulness as being multi faceted:
being present, in the now, in the moment. Not worrying about the future or being anxious about the past. No regret, no fear. Be in the moment, enjoying whatever it is I am doing without distraction
knowing the purpose of the activity to my life, my goal, my direction. Is this activity beneficial to me? Am I benefiting myself or others by doing this? In the words of the Olympic Medallist, Ben Hunt Davis, “Will it make the boat go faster”?
being vigilant. Guarding against unskilful actions of body, speech and mind. Am I acting with metta? Am I being generous? Am I being truthful?
And whatever I am doing, even if it does not seem to be a “good” thing to do; it might be a frivolous thing, just fun or something to do at that moment. But whatever it is – am I actually noticing what I am doing? Am I actually watching Netflix? Am I actually tasting the bar of (vegan) chocolate? Am I actually listening to my friend? We all seem to spend so much of our lives multi-tasking!
Somehow – I am not sure how exactly – this turned into a poem. I haven’t written a poem in years – probably since school. And at school, there were always rules to follow – make sure it rhymes or “write it in the style of….”
So here it is – the completed poem.
This moment is a precious gift. Imagine a butterfly drifting in and perching gently on your hand. Use your eyes to photograph her beauty. Be gentle …. Don’t move your hand or make sudden movements. This is a special moment. This butterfly trusts you to do the best by her Don’t harm her Don’t scare her Treat her well. This butterfly will never come back to you again… Her life is short as it is. She will fly off – don’t try to stop her. Do not chase after her. Just let her go.
This moment is a precious gift. A present given to you by a special friend to use well. Open the present with attention and care. Read the hand written card. Notice the beautiful wrapping paper and ribbon. Fold the paper carefully so that it can be treasured and used again; Tie the ribbon in your hair. The present is fragile; it will not last. But is given with such love and devotion. Use the present wisely. Use the present with love. One day that gift may be broken – do not weep. Do not cry. Your friend loves you still.
This moment is a precious gift. Imagine a special bunch of flowers ready to be placed on the shrine. They have been picked with loving care. Look at their bright colours; notice their green leaves. Arrange them with care Show them to their best advantage. Treat them gently – they are delicate. When they begin to fade, remove them from the shrine Do not mourn their death They were never going to last more than that brief time. The shrine will be beautiful again.
This moment is a precious gift. Use it well. Use it wisely. Use it with intention. Use it without distraction. This moment is a precious gift. Use it, be deep within it then…