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Lions Roar : September 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2009 54 being who we are begins with being where we are. being where we are is easy when the experience is pleasant. When we are in the bahamas, lying down on a nice beach or going for a swim, it is easy to say, “oh yeah! i can be here. i don’t want to be anywhere else.” We can be present perfectly in that situation. however, it is more diffi- cult to be where we are when we don’t want to be there. that’s when we have to try our best to experience reality and be where we are. When we encounter adverse circumstances, we often take the situation personally, and we lose confidence and faith in our- selves. yet, when we can work with unfavorable circumstances, that is the very time when the quality of our life as a path, rather than a fixed destination, can manifest. in these moments, we can take full advantage of the situation by turning it into an op- portunity to reconnect with our basic heart and see the inter- dependent nature of our existence. of course, when we are in situations of joy, of pleasure, of appreciating the beauty of the natural world, we should be there as well. if we miss those mo- ments, we are missing another big opportunity. the sunset you see will never reoccur. the sky you see will never happen again. the formation of clouds, the waves, the tide, whatever you are experiencing now, will not come again. it only happens once. appreciating and being fully present for each moment without either hanging on to it or rejecting it is a powerful practice. it’s not a question of whether we have opportunities to work with our mind. We have plenty of opportunities, which is why in buddhism we talk about a “precious human birth.” When the bud- dha taught the practice of reflecting on our precious human birth, he didn’t mean that we should just be grateful for having a human body instead of some other physical form. from the buddhist per- spective, not every human life possesses the same opportunities. our birth becomes a precious birth only when we possess the skills and wisdom to understand and apply the instructions for taming and training our mind; in other words, when we have an opportu- nity to realize the true nature of our mind, which is in the state of primordial buddhahood. in this sense, we have in our hands a rich treasure. once we realize the preciousness of our opportunity, we should definitely take advantage of it. We have two choices, always. We can just sit around and do nothing as our mind slips under the influence of one disturbing emotion after another, or, when an opportunity presents itself, we can relate to our experience and make the best use of it. that’s what we call “working with the thought of impermanence.” When we realize how ephemeral each moment is, how quickly it comes and goes, never to repeat, then we’re inspired to make our time meaningful, rather than wasting it. in this way, our emotions become useful; we are not wasting them. When a confused thought or emotion arises and we make use of it, instead of throwing it away, we become a real practitioner. We are genuinely practicing, because we are working with our mind. then our life is meaningful. We are not caught in a vicious cycle of Meditation taKes us just as we are, with our confu- sion and our sanity. this complete acceptance of ourselves as we are is a simple, direct relationship with our being. We call this maitri, loving-kindness toward ourselves and others. there are four qualities of maitri that are cultivated when we meditate: 1. Steadfastness. When we practice meditation we are strengthening our ability to be steadfast with ourselves, in body as well as mind. 2. Clear seeing. this is another way of saying that we have less self-deception. through the process of practicing the technique day in and day out, year after year, we begin to be very honest with ourselves. 3. experiencing our emotional distress. We practice dropping whatever story we are telling ourselves and leaning into the emotions and the fear. We stay with the emotion, experience it, and leave it as it is, without proliferating. thus we train in opening the fearful heart to the restlessness of our own energy. We learn to abide with the experience of our emotions. 4. Attention to the present moment. We make the choice, mo- ment by moment, to be fully here. attending to our present- moment mind and body is a way of being tender toward self, toward others, and toward the world. this quality of attention is inherent in our ability to love. these four factors not only apply to sitting meditation, but are essential to all the bodhichitta (awakened heart) practices and for relating with difficult situations in our daily lives. by cultivating them we discover for ourselves that it is bodhichitta, not confusion, that is basic. ♦ From Comfortable With uncertainty: 108 teachings on Cultivating fearlessness and Compassion, by pema Chödrön. reprinted with the permission of Shambhala publications. For more on practices for Difficult Times, go to www.shambhalasun.com. Meditation for Difficult Times Pema Chödrön on four ways that meditation helps us deal with difficulty