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Lions Roar : January 2010
70 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2010 life and Death in Every Moment by JuDiTH liEF The practice of mindfulness is a way to become more familiar with that undefined territory where past and future touch. Through meditation practice, gently, step by step, we learn to make friends with death as it arises in our immediate experience. We begin to reconnect with the immediacy of life and death here and now. On that cutting edge, death is our constant companion. Practically speaking, if we want to be more at ease with our own death and better able to help others as well, we need to develop our awareness of this moment-to-moment encounter of life and death. Mindfulness practice is a powerful tool for doing so. birth and death are close at hand, not just in the distant past and the distant future. They can be seen in the birth and death of each experience as it arises and dissolves. at first it is difficult to stick with the experience of the immediacy of death; it is a little too close for comfort. but as we become more familiar with this experience, our awareness begins to expand so that our personal experience of the reality of birth and death is ongoing rather than sporadic. Mindfulness practice starts very simply, with what is closest at hand, the breath. What is our experience of each breath, as it comes and goes? The breath is our simplest, and perhaps most profound, connection with life and death. Our life begins with an in-breath and ends with an out-breath. so our breath has weight; it is fraught with meaning. it is not just dead air. With each breath we can feel that contrast of life and death, that slight edge of discomfort. When our breath goes out, it just goes; it doesn’t come back. Every time that happens there is a subtle threat, a tiny flicker of doubt: “Wait, i’ll hold a little bit of breath back, in reserve, just in case. i need you. Don’t just go!” and when we breathe in, we think, “Thank heavens! you’ve come back! i’m still alive!” it couldn’t be more basic. MaRcH 2000 Not Too Tight, Not Too loose by cyNDi lEE aND DaviD NicHTERN “it seems so easy—just sit and watch my breath. so why am i still having so many thoughts?” “i’ve been doing yoga for six months and even though i’m trying so hard, i still can’t do a full backbend!” “i had a really good meditation—my mind was finally clear!” “i can’t do that pose. Never, no way!” These are all examples of how we can over-exert or under- apply ourselves in these practices. in order to have a balanced approach toward our effort, we need to recognize that equilib- rium is dynamic and fluid, not at all a static process. as we go deeper with our practice, we can begin to let go of what we think we are supposed to experience. Every meditation session is going to be different. The key is to cultivate disci- pline and exertion, and at the same time relax our agenda. impermanence is a fundamental fact of our existence. What- ever we experience seems to morph constantly, and it seems like every event, every perception, every thought, every situation is slipping away just as soon as we feel we are getting a handle on it. Our meditation practice is really a way to attune ourselves to this ever-changing experience of the present moment. it is training in the art of living as our life unfolds from moment to moment, like developing balance while standing on one leg on a windy cliff. This approach is summed up by the slogan “Not too tight and not too loose.” as we pay attention to our breathing, we use a light touch of awareness rather than a riveted and stiff kind of effort. On the other hand, if our effort is too loose, we simply wander around in a distracted state of mind, without develop- ing any insight or clarity about how our mind works. Developing equilibrium means that we ride the energy of our mind like a surfer rides the waves. if the surfer holds too tight, she will fall. if she hangs too loose, she will fall. sometimes she needs to hang ten, sometimes none at all. likewise, riding the energy of our mind is a dynamic and ongoing process. MaRcH 2007 The Power of loving-Kindness by sHaRON salZbERG When we practice mindfulness, we open to the full range of feel- ings within ourselves. We know what we feel in each moment, not denying some feelings while clinging to others. Knowing our own pain, we build a bridge to knowing the pain of others. That bridge is empathy. Knowing how it feels to suffer can lead us to live in a way that is harmless, lead us to resolve to walk upon this Earth in a way that brings love and compassion in- stead of pain and distance. With empathy as a bridge, true morality arises. Knowing someone will suffer if we do a harmful action or say a hurtful word, we don’t do it. it’s a very simple and heartfelt response. Rather than morality as a set of rules, it is morality arising as a natural expression of the heart, morality as an uncontrived reluctance to cause suffering to others. Turning away from causing suffering, we turn toward the com- passionate urge to bring about happiness and well-being. in the formal practice of loving-kindness we declare, “Just as i want to be free from pain and suffering, may all beings be free from pain and suffering. Just as i wish to be happy, may all beings be happy.” im- prisoned in her own house, aung san suu Kyi lived daily with the contrast between “the effects of metta” and the effects of “natures lacking in metta.” While lack of metta gave rise to suffering, the power of metta, both within her own mind and within the minds of others, gave rise to courage and peace in the face of pain. JaNuaRy 1997