Category Archives: Determination

The 2 Minute Meditator

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It’s the classic mistake: we resolve to do something, set the bar too high, smash into it, and give up.

We do it with food: Not one chocolate Hob-Nob will pass my lips ever again! And exercise: I will somersault off my mattress at four every morning and perform one hundred Sun Salutations! And writing blogs: I will write at least one post a day, and always have ten in reserve! And Hardcore Himalayan Hermit meditation programmes: I will meditate for three hours every morning before work, and every evening before bed, sitting full-lotus… Without moving… Or scratching… Or breathing…

Now I am exaggerating a little here for dramatic effect, but I don’t think that these examples are too far off the mark. We tend to make these grand determinations, without much thought for how realistic they are. The enthusiasm for transforming our sherbet-slurping, sofa-slumping, monkey-minded selves grips every atom, obliterating common-sense, and we leap out of our armchairs and leg it to the nearest Holland and Barrett to spend all our money on spirulina and Jane Fonda exercise manuals.

Of course we know that we need to eat healthily, and burn at least as many calories as we consume, and that it’s good to write a blog on Buddhist practice. And we also know that if we really want to change ourselves and be free of suffering a solid meditation practice is imperative. But the need to Do Something often becomes an all-or-nothing decision. Then we either do nothing, or we dive head-first into an elaborate, unsustainable scheme, only to crawl back out not long afterwards looking sheepish and feeling thoroughly disheartened. Thus we find ourselves once again slumped in the sofa – Coke in one hand, pizza in the other – while the X-Factor sucks all clarity and calm from our minds.

It’s like we’ve been zooming along on our very own habit motorway. It’s wide, and smooth, and easy driving. But it’s a bit meaningless, and we’re not happy. And so, seized by a desire for change, we veer sharply to the left. We crash through the metal safety barrier, plunge into the undergrowth, and tear through the snagging bushes, trees and brambles. But it’s all so difficult and unfamiliar. ‘Damn this changing lark!’, we think, ‘I’m going back to my motorway!’

But what about the slip roads, and roundabouts, and other motorways? There are plenty of those to choose from. Changing direction doesn’t have to be dramatic. These new roads may not at first be familiar, but they are gentle, and the views can be great, and they often lead to better motorways – motorways that are as smooth as the first, but which are composed of skilful and meaningful habits that will lead us on towards enlightenment.

So change doesn’t have to be a violent revolution. Revolutions have a habit of fizzling out and giving way to the old order. If change is gradual, and systematic, then it will put down roots and gradually become the norm.

I should note that once in while a dramatic change may be required. Never mind bashing through the safety barrier; we’re talking about rearranging life’s tectonic plates. This kind of change heralds initial friction and uncertainty, as well as deep long-term alterations to our personal landscape. That’s what going forth into the monk-hood, for instance, is all about; Siddhattha Gotama did it over 2,500 years ago, and it’s what men and women have been doing ever since. You will also feel the need to shake up things in your own life from time to time. Perhaps you can no longer tolerate the shaky ethics of your employer and you decide to leave; or you move abroad; or you end a damaging relationship. Even just establishing a dedicated Buddhist practice and keeping the precepts in your particular circumstances (like pressure from friends and family) can be a bit of an earthquake in itself.

But, aside from these examples, for the most part we try to find a balance. We eat our sprouts and the odd piece of chocolate; we do a dozen Sun Salutations at a sensible time in the morning; we write a blog post every one or two weeks. And we establish a meditation practice that is effective, flexible and, most importantly, sustainable.

Now it’s none of my business how many bags of crisps you eat, or what your heart-rate is when you’re puffing and panting up the stairs. But I have two suggestions about meditation. Firstly: Do it every day. And secondly: Aim to meditate for two minutes.

Two minutes? Yes. If we determine to meditate (or exercise, or write, etc.) for just two minutes then we bypass the most difficult part of achieving the thing itself: starting. Two minutes is nothing, and so we think nothing of it. ‘Oh, I’ve got a few minutes to spare’, we say to ourselves, ‘I might as well do my two minute meditation.’

The Two Minute Rule actually requires us to meditate for at least two minutes. That’s the minimum. So, before we start, we say to ourselves that if, after two minutes, we want to stop, then we will. That’s fine. There is no compulsion to continue. If, however, we reach two minutes and find ourselves in the groove, we are free to simply carry on. It’s an achievable daily practice that becomes as easy as checking our email. And just as habitual.

And that’s the point. It’s not so much about the act of meditating for two minutes as it is about establishing a habit. Meditating for two minutes will of course help you, even though the mind may not settle much during that time. Just the act of pausing, of breaking the momentum, of stopping the snowball of stress and tangle of thoughts from squashing you, is a powerful and fruitful practice. Taking those two minutes out to meditate will refresh you, even if you spend the whole time wrestling with your errant thoughts. But in the background a habit will be quietly forming; and habits are difficult to break.

And here we see how the Two Minute Rule is really a decoy, a Trojan Horse of Transformation. Because before long you will have established a daily meditation practice. And, what’s more, you will be consistently mowing down the 120 second marker. You’ll naturally extend it to five minutes, or ten, or fifteen, and you will hardly notice. Let’s refer to Newton’s Law of Motion to prove it: ‘An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion…’ Once you’ve started, it’s actually difficult to stop.

And you will start, because it’s only for two minutes.

 

Some time after Full Moon Day: Those three words…

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The first few weeks of my life at this monastery were not the easiest I have ever experienced, to put it mildly. The difficulty was by no means a result of ‘outside’; it was what was going in ‘inside’ that hurt. But I can tell you now, I am glad I am still here to tell the tale. Who knows what a troubled human being I might be were I not in robes.

On the 3rd of September 2000, with my soon to be lopped locks, blue jeans and beloved guernsey jumper, and not the faintest idea of what lay ahead, I stepped through the monastery gate armed with a pot plant, a colossal old-fashioned all-hell-breaking-loose alarm clock, and my brother. But he wasn’t staying.

After a few days word got back to me that some residents thought I had begun to resemble a startled rabbit. It was an accurate description. After three weeks I had planned my escape several times (my home was only ten miles away); fantasised about living on a desert island with my mother, a deck-chair and a book; turned from taking ¼ of a teaspoon of sugar in my tea to taking ¼ of a teaspoon of tea in my sugar; dreamt of the next meal as soon as I had finished eating the last (it was a mere 23 and ½ hour wait); and I was walking around in those same work-tired jeans, a once white tea-shirt, a bald head, and green flip flops – waiting for October 14th, the day I was to become a novice. In short, it had been a turbulent time for me.

But it was a test. And I passed it. Because I am still here. I was there for the meditation, and I knew that there were no other options open to me – if I was to be happy, that is. So my survival was down to a devotion to my meditation practice, a firmly entrenched disillusionment with the world, exemplary support from my fellow strivers, tea that contained so much sugar it actually made me giddy, and a few words from Luangpor that I will never forget…

One day after the meal it became very apparent to all present that the startled rabbit was not a happy bunny. There was Luangpor heading the line, followed by the two novices, and myself sitting in the corner in front of the glass doors where the cold draft used to remind me that I wasn’t wearing anything but a white sheet. And boy was I going through it. Now, I’m not sure what the expression on my face was but Luangpor was clearly concerned for me: “Are you all right?” he asked. Then, without restraint, I exclaimed: “It’s HORRIBLE!”

Then those three immortal words fell upon my ears, three words which in my mind now are spaced well apart to relay their significance: “….It ….will ….pass.“

And it did. Two months later and it was all gone. The despair, the escape plans, the Mach 4 emotional roller coaster: it seemed now to have been just a dream. Did I really go through all that?

But when I was clinging on to my little plank of wood for dear life in the throes of the raging ocean that was my experience I couldn’t see how it would ever be different. It all seemed so REAL – the despair, the self-pity, the longings – they were rushing in at me from all angles as I tried to stay afloat. Why did I stick it out? Why didn’t I run?

Well I didn’t run, and it passed.

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The next teaching will hopefully be on:

The new moon day, Monday, 22 June

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Full Moon Day: Overcoming Doubt

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Inside Venerable Ajahn Chah’s stupa on January 16th

– the anniversary of his passing.

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Overcoming Doubt

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Doubt is the fifth of the five hindrances to the development of meditation and wisdom. Of the five doubt is in many ways the most disabling. Its milder form is easily waved aside; its most virulent is like a disease: it can spread to every part of your mind, undermining every positive thought and crippling every effort. So be careful, and keep it in check.

People new to Buddhism naturally question doubt as a hindrance: “ Surely if you are saying that doubt is an enemy to progress on the Buddhist path you’re promoting blind belief?” That’s not the case and that’s why it is very important to make the distinction between a healthy scepticism and the cancerous doubt that prevents you from doing anything at all.

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New Moon Day: The Secret of Success

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The other day a man asked me how he could close the seemingly vast gap that lies between his current level of practice and something verging on substantial progress. I detected a slight air of despondency.

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New Moon Day: Turning Coal into Diamond

‘Insignificant is the loss of wealth, relatives and fame:

the loss of wisdom is the greatest loss.

Insignificant is the increase of wealth, relatives and fame:

the increase of wisdom is the highest gain.’ *

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Coal

Let us bring that black and dirty substance coal to mind: it is coarse, it is bland, it is nothing special. We don’t want to handle it more than is necessary. True, it’s invaluable to us, but it’s still a very unrefined material. The black stuff is, putting aside its usefulness, one of the less desirable substances on earth.

But, given the right conditions, what happens to coal after a certain period of time? It turns into the most precious material on earth. It turns into diamond.

Our suffering is like coal. It is dirty, it is unrefined, we don’t like to handle it; we’d rather put it down. There’s also plenty of it.

But, being like coal, it has the potential to become something very special. This is because, given the right conditions, our suffering will eventually be transformed into the most precious thing – material or immaterial – on earth. Our suffering will transform into wisdom.

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New Moon Day: The Five Hindrances Part III

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The Five Hindrances Part III,

Sloth-and-Torpor

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While pursuing the Noble Eightfold Path with commitment and diligence a sublime peace will eventually begin to establish itself within. As you see the various phenomena that appear in the mind as being impermanent then a sense of relief arises – relief due the fact that what had once caused you so much suffering – the feelings, the emotions, the regrets, the worries, the resentments – are not as real as you had thought them to be. On probing these mental events you unveil them as being “void, hollow, and insubstantial”*, and subsequently they lose their weight and the mind is relieved...(*SN 22:95)

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Half-Moon Day: Training the Mind

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Training the Mind

With our meditation and mindfulness practice we are training to develop a mind that remains firmly in the present moment. It is in this present moment that the work is done and it is in this present moment that we will emerge victorious over our suffering.

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Full Moon Day: Watch out for that lawyer!

 

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DETERMINATION

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“Even if my flesh and blood dry up… I will not leave this seat until I have attained Full Enlightenment.”

The Buddha-to-be, prior to his enlightenment.

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Here we look at determination – one of the Ten Perfections – both in general terms and in relation to our meditation.

DETERMINE!

I recall a time on personal retreat when I was struggling somewhat. I was sat cross-legged in my kuti feeling particularly down – I had little enthusiasm to do anything and this negative state of mind felt like a sumo wrestler sitting on top of me. In Thai they have an expression meaning he or she is ‘in hell‘; that summed up my state of mind. Never-the-less, when it was time to go outside to do walking meditation I peeled myself up off the floor and dragged myself to my path.

Continue reading Full Moon Day: Watch out for that lawyer!