Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'Cause Waking Up is Hard to Do!!!

Precious Practice

Greetings, dharma friends, fellow parents and others.
I've been quiet for the last few months, for no good reason. Combination of holiday busy-ness and just not much to say, I guess. Still mostly-unemployed except for helping out a few hours at a friend's shop. Still have a roof and food, so unlike so many others out there, I can bring my attention to spiritual matters.
Working on discipline and organization, to make the most of my day. I think I mentioned before, my goal of 4.5 hours on the cushion. Right now I get a consistent hour-and-a-half to two, but the "reasons" for doing other things still assault me and my selfishness daily.  ;-)
I've never been a very disciplined sort, but have always been able to get done what needs doing, so it stands to reason: I'm just not convinced that this needs doing. And so it comes back once again to bodhicitta versus laziness. I confess to acting like I'll live forever!!!
I know I'm not alone in the struggle to find more time to practice, but it's never helped me to be hard on myself particularly. Gentle pushing.

"Pillow to Four"

There's an online runners' training program, called "couch to 5k" that aims at getting people off the couch and running consistently within 3 months. Apparently it works well.
So then, I'm going to make a "pillow to four hours" program, during which over the next three months I'll slowly bring more practice time into the day. If you'd like to join me, please let me know and I'll include your experiences, struggles, and advice, so that hopefully it'll be of use to more than just myself. Otherwise, feel free to watch and laugh.
I'll start this coming Sunday, just for a nice round number. The big idea is not to push the time, but push the regularity, so starting small but consistent seems better than just sitting as long as you can or even as long as you feel like it.

If you're doing this yourself, I recommend coming up with a "dream-day" schedule that honestly includes all of your responsibilities, and see what's left. Perhaps for some, a better goal might be "double my practice time," or something like. My perfectly-run day allows for four hours, but that's about max. Before you say - "but hey, you don't even have a j-o-b!!" I should tell you that as a "house-husband" I'm committed from 7:30 to 5:30 except for about a two-hour break to eat, goof off on the computer and read. (Not everyone gets a two-hour lunch-break, but at my last job I got 45m and used about 20 of it pretty consistently for sitting.) And as most parents will agree, there's no real "clocking out" at the end of the day: dinner and cleanup, homework, playtime, hugtime, MAYBE a few moments with your spouse....

My goal is to have a strong schedule in place so that when I find work I can keep it up, with whatever necessary adjustments. Everyone's circumstance is different, so if we're going to get anywhere we need to be honest about things (like how much sleep we really need) or we end up either setting the bar too high and failing or simply not reaching our own goal — whatever that is.

The sessions will be shorter than normal at first, and I'll be sneaking in sadhana practice but we'll ignore that for now, until I have enough time for it in one of the three sessions. I hope the schedule is light enough so that some of my friends trying to do the same thing will be able to jump in regardless of how much they currently practice. It may in fact be easier to start with what you have and grow, making the number of sessions the important bit rather than time.

Here's the program:
Week one:
Fifteen minutes (only!) each morning and evening for three days; then adding ten minutes anytime in the middle of the day for three days; final day thirty minutes three times in the day.
 Week two:
Twenty minutes three times a day for three days; then adding another ten minutes to the morning and evening for three days; finish with another day of three-times-thirty.
Week three:
Thirty minutes, three times a day for three days; then adding another ten minutes to the morning and evening for three days; finish with forty minutes three times in the day.
Week four:
Sunday, forty-five minutes three times; Mon-Fri forty-five morning and evening with thirty in the middle; Saturday forty-five times three again.
[That's 2:15 within a month.]
Week five:
Repeat week four, deal with any obstacles.
Weeks six and seven:
Forty-five minutes three times, all week.
Week eight:
Same, but Sunday and Saturday's morning and evening are extended to ninety minutes.
[3:45 in six weeks.]
Weeks nine and ten:
Same as week eight's Saturday all week.
Week eleven:
Sunday and Saturday middle session increased to sixty minutes.
Week twelve:
Same as week eleven's Saturday all week.
That's 4hr/day. I think I can do it.

I'll be sure to check in once a week and let everyone know how it's going, with an eye out for cheerleaders. And to all of you out there looking to balance worldly duties and practice, good luck! It's rarely easy.

Monday, November 1, 2010



I'm such not a fan of passing out sugar to kids. It's hard enough most days to be in touch with what you want and how to get it, without jacking up glucose levels and making everyone's eyeballs spin backwards.
Nonetheless, my kids do love it, and we weren't able to come up with an acceptable substitute to the ritual. After about six streets, our little devil, batman and ballerina-princess-mexican-wrestler reconvened with us at a friend's house, to proceed wading through the booty: Nothing with artifical colors or gluten for this one; nothing with egg or dairy for this one; and this one - well, she can eat most anything but that's just way too much, so pick out your favorite half of it.
I did enjoy seeing my wife (the Naturopathic Dr) in rare form, having decided to throw up her hands and let fly, suspending almost every food rule for 24 hours. And as the kids got crazier, and wilder, and more out of control, she just kept on exuding patience and calm, reigning them in only as much as was needed to keep them from running out in the streets.
[I on the other hand was done with the event before it started, and had to keep almost constant watch over myself, forcing myself to have fun with them. "There's just so many OTHER ways!!!"]
One of our friend couples have introduced their kids to the "sugar fairy," this poor fairy lady with a ton of kids who all basically live on sugar over the winter, and never quite have enough to satisfy them. I forget the details, but it has something to do with sending them a message via the moon, and leaving the candy our where they can get it and leave you a present in exchange. Seems like a pretty good deal, but our 9-y.o. is so close to breaking the code on the whole fairy/bunny/santa thing that we can't risk "discovering" a new one.

Bodhisattva Activity

Once again we find ourselves sitting on three large sacks of variously shaped and colored sugar junk, which we hardly ever have in our house other than this time of year. And once again I find myself forced into the position of consuming as much of it as humanly possible without my kids noticing. It's not fun, but for them, I will accept the burden. (Especially after having trained them to choose Reese's when there's an option.)

Do you have a clever way of handling the Halloween craze other than throwing up your hands and wearing earplugs for two days?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mr Mom

Scene One, Take One

My wife is away for a three-day conference, so Mr Mom is pulling all the stops to make this a fun weekend. I usually end up clearing my schedule almost wide-open to play, so it's kind of a "break" for me as well.
...in  a way.

Smoothie, pancakes and eggs on the table, twenty minutes to eat before teeth and shoes and off to school. Then, basically the first full sentence I hear this morning comes from my 9 y.o.: "No offense, but it's a lot easier when you're gone than when mom's gone."
Nice. She left about twenty-five minutes ago.
I later confirmed by phone what I thought that very moment: "There's no way in hell she's more accommodating when you three are climbing all over her flying solo."
And anyway, how did such an awesome Buddhist practitioner come to raise such a little shit? Need to look into that.
"I said 'no offense,' didn't I?!" Yes. Yes you did. None taken. Would you like another pancake?

I've been really digging this whole "teach your kids to hold you to bodhisattva ideals" thing. Not only because it really pushes me to raise the bar in terms of generosity, discipline and patience, but because at the same time it shows them the real measure of what it takes to be on the path. They are learning what a bodhisattva "ought" to act like, and that's a good thing, even if I don't measure up.

Day Two

We carved pumpins today. I took the opportunity to remind them of how things don't always go according to plan. What's the Japanese saying? "One pumpkin, one cut" or something like that. My oldest quotes her art teacher that sometimes a "mistake" turns into a masterpiece. I agree, but add that some mistakes end in a pile of rubble, so we need to be careful at the same time we're open to medium-influence.
As it turns out, all three pumpkins are mighty fierce and everyone is pleased. I'm happy to postpone the lesson. ;)

Afterward, we played a little more with the watch-your-mind-for-thoughts game. This time, after a few moments of the "say THOUGHT" bit, we changed it to waiting and watching and when a solid worthwhile thought arose, we were to sing "om mani padme hum" and imagine the thought turning into butterflies and dried leaves, blown away by the wind, and then return to watching.
I was amazed at how interested they were in the whole thing. We didn't spend as much time as the other day, maybe ten minutes if that, but it was pleasing just to feel that I'd given them another bit of exposure to the world of training the mind.

Maybe it makes up a little bit for me wanting to sell them to the lowest bidder just hours before, when for reasons beyond comprehension they decided to test how annoying and sarcastic they could be to one another in the car.

What is the seasonally adjusted market value of a three-pack of monsters?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don't Fence Me In (Boredom pt 1)

I'm BORED!!!

I'm convinced kids are not built to be inside an enclosed structure for more than about 20% of their waking hours. If I can manage to get them fed and clothed and physically out the door they are perfectly content watching bugs, climbing trees, raking leave (yes really!) or "helping" in the garden.
For some strange reason once there's a roof and walls involved, it does not matter how many toys or activities are at their disposal, they have an amazing skill for finding "nothing to do." In my town there's at least 300 days of sunshine, and very few of the other days where there's not "some" sun shining; getting them outside for part of the day is not usually a problem. But with a three-year-old I do have to be present, and I can't always be outside, so there are points where they (gasp!) have to come in. Understand, with three children, our house is rarely very clean for very long, and I think that's part of the reason things seem so uncreative - there's just too much going on. (It is not lost on me the striking similarity to own mind and hesitation to sit down among the clutter.) Outside there's room, freedom. Everything has space to be its amazing self without being shouted down. But sit inside for long, and everything is somehow not just uninviting, but downright unwelcoming!

Mind Games

I tried a little something the other day, with all three of them. [Keep in mind: 9, 5 and 3 years.] We sat in a circle and took a few breaths... ("oh boy, here comes another one of Daddy's weird exercises; admitted, sometimes they're fun) and tried to see how long it took one of us to have a clear thought. "Swirling mushy thoughts don't count." When a thought arose, we were to shout "THOUGHT!" at the top of our lungs.
At first they all just wanted to shout, but then they started to sense the challenge of holding out the longest, and the ever-present sibling competitiveness kicked in. Somehow the tension between wanting to hold out and wanting to shout kept them somewhat honest. We spent most of the time giggling, but once that got old I changed the rules a bit: instead of shouting, we were to gently say what the thought was. I was amazed at how similar their random monkey-thoughts were to my own: "How long are going to do this?" "I'm hungry." "Poopy Butt Penis Head!"
[Well, okay, maybe they aren't exactly same, but qualitatively there's not much to pick between.]
We did this for about twenty minutes before they'd had enough and I cut them loose. After that they seemed a little more content to run off and play — maybe because they were more tuned in, maybe because their creative juices were flowing, maybe just to keep from being wrangled into another weird experiment. Regardless, the results have motivated me to come up with more interesting "games" to try out on them, to help them be more aware of the space in and around them, but also to give us a chance to study our inner world together.
I'll keep you posted on the progress.

Do you have any ideas for kid-friendly meditation exercises?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Perfections (1 of 6)

Heart and Soul

Yesterday I brought up the issue of attachment to homeland and family. It's a potent topic, especially for those of us that think it's not.

The question I've been playing with is:
To what extent if any can family ties transcend worldly attachment to "me and mine?"

Anyone with children knows the profound feelings of cherishing another, of being fully responsible for their safety and well-being and of simple adoration that arises naturally as part of making a human. These feelings are part of our nature, even more so it seems for the mother than the father. Call it part of being womb-born, like having to eat and shit: there's no sense aggressively fighting it off, and anyway it would seem to be a subtle form of asceticism to reject these feelings.
What we can do however is apply what we know about interdependence and shunyata, suffering and non-focused compassion so that our place and meaning within the family is seen as the immediate, particular example of how we beings are all "in this together," and need to help one another.

Dāna what t'do?

Dāna, generosity, is the first in the list of six pāramitās in the Mahayana tradition. Despite being first, it is actually quite difficult to practice. [There are loads of excellent articles written by authentic teachers on the net about the outer, inner and subtle aspects of the six perfections, so I won't bother trying to explain the details. If you need some direction, please let me know and I'll point you there.]
We're charged with practicing the six pāramitās within the so-called "three empty spheres," being the awareness that the person acting, the act itself and the person/being receiving are all three empty of inherent nature, and so the effectiveness of our practice is immediately gauged by our understanding of the nature of things, which understanding is of course always deepening — but we start where we are.
It might make immediate sense to think that parents have a knack, forced as they are, to give generously... but I haven't seen it. Taking care of your own is not particularly a higher deed, it's standard samsaric M.O.  Every creature takes care of its young.
Just because I hand my paycheck over to "the family," and take the small glass of morning smoothie when I don't make enough, and take time to read to my kids at night...I won't say I'm not a decent dad, but these aren't the actions of pāramitā. What we need is to translate that caring and generosity to all beings, and again our relationship with our children can give us a solid starting point.
I feel like my relationship with my spouse is, in a sense, a bridge from that relationship with my kids as provider, to the relationship I have with others in the world: she's in charge of her own fate, and yet I care for her deeply and find it easier to give for her happiness than I do for a stranger. It's like my kids are showing me this precious and fragile egg, which I can then carefully bring to show my wife, and from there have an easier time taking it out the door to share with others. (Does that make any sense whatsoever to anyone else?!)

Quid pro quo

With this pāramitā in particular, there really is a sense of giving to get. I wonder if it's part of why it's listed first. The other five are easier when we "get" that the losing-its-opposite is actually a treasure. When we give, people treat us better, we have more energy, and we gain stability beyond these temporal collections we lean on. This in turn helps us clear the way for understanding this "emptiness of the three spheres" in a way that's not just intellectual theory. But first we have to appreciate that the having and keeping are the problem, and the giving is actually the treasure. That little bit of figuring is why we listen, contemplate and meditate on the teachings.

Is the need to support and provide for your children an obstacle to practicing generosity in the world?
How can this be overcome?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Married With Children (pt 2)

Fine, and You?

I was thinking about daily life vs. that of a wandering yogi. The deeper truth seems to be that we are all wandering, it's just the the yogi manifests it openly while most of us live in denial of it. We keep ourselves very busy, frantically trying to erect order, and then spend any spare time spackling all the cracks in the walls as the ground moves.
As much as we like to think our job will be there tomorrow, and our insurance will cover"it" whatever that might be, the closest we can ever get to "security" is making friends with insecurity. As a parent and husband, there's lots to want to protect, but as a follower of the Buddhadharma I see there is really no way to avoid the suffering that pervades life, and (in fact because of that) nothing actually to protect and nothing to protect from. It would be lovely if everyone - my family included - could have a long and happy and healthy life, but it doesn't always happen. Much of the "tragedy" in any tragedy is the destruction of that fantasy, that things are fine.
On the one hand, things are fine: we have food, our health, etc. But on the other hand, there's no getting out of here alive, and the causes for our current relative comfort are many and uncertain, as evidenced with the recent economic downturn shuffling countless out onto the street without much warning. The recent fires here in Northern CO are another reminder of how quickly things can "go south."
Most people avoid confronting the possibilities of tragedy lurking around every corner, because it would simply make them upset. But it's not such a good trade-off if you ask me. When you realize just how precious your situation is, then you can find the motivation to do something worthwhile in life. And then the "safety measures" that life does warrant can be taken without either tip-toeing around in fear or strolling off a cliff in denial. I have fire insurance on my house, but I'm not scared or worried about it burning down. I also have two extinguishers handy, and keep an eye on their pressure.
When look into my kids' eyes, that terrible preciousness of having a human birth, unbearably and inevitably transforming from present to past, is a steady reminder that none of this is "mine." I will not choose to ignore that, but it doesn't make me want to grab a bowl and wander off; quite the opposite.

On his blog "Treasury of Ati," Malcolm Smith translates a bit of  (I believe Rigdzin Godem's) terma The Ten Steps of Profound Critical Points:
The Guru said, “Lady Kharchen, all ordinary activities of married couples in samsara are like unclean shit, piss and semen. One vomits as soon as they are seen or remembered, so get far away from the karma of misguided thinking."
Trusting Malcolm's translation here (I haven't seen the Tibetan, but I do trust his abilities) we can ask what these "ordinary activities" are, and what might be "the karma of misguided thinking." (I'm not sure why he chose the Sanskrit word here, which can easily be translated "actions" but also "fate.")
Is Guru Rinpoche here saying that there are extraordinary activities one could enact within a marriage when we stay away from the actions of misguided thinking?
Or is he saying that the activities of married couples are inherently ordinary and samsaric, and we should not let misguided thinking on this matter seal our fate?
Before we think too much on it, I want to keep in mind that he is here giving advice to Yeshe Tsogyal as his personal student, regardless of what we might glean about our own situation and what Guru Rinpoche might think of it.

Can a yogi-reared child develop a healthy sense of self and place in the world?
Is what we consider a healthy sense of self and place actually a major obstacle our parents bequeath to us?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Married With Children (pt 1)

Sticking Around

#2 of the famous "37 Practices of the Bodhisattva" by Togme Zangpo reads:
"Attraction to those close to you catches you in its currents;
Aversion to those who oppose you burns inside;
Indifference that ignores what needs to be done is a black hole.
Leave your homeland -- this is the practice of a bodhisattva."

I have no doubt that being on one's own, wandering and finding food where you may, makes the practice of a bodhisattva easier. Not just easier, but that abandonment of personal stake in place and friends is itself at the heart of the practice. (As it happens, I see our modern society in desperate need of more sense of "tribe" and belonging, but that's maybe a subject for another post.) It remains that for the yogi carrying around his gestalt of confusion, cutting ties and refraining from putting others into groups of "attraction, aversion and indifference," the practices of the six perfections, exchanging oneself for others, the four boundless thoughts and the rest are much more readily engaged.

I find myself in the exact opposite situation, having searched for quite a while for the right town to "settle into," buy a house, establish relationships and foster an environment for raising healthy and happy kids.
So is that it, then? Do I just skip that piece of the path, or can I try and apply the deeper intent of it to my life smack in the middle of all of these family/friend ties and business negotiations?

When you're away, I'm restless, lonely, Wretched, bored, dejected; only here's the rub, my darling dear, I feel the same when you're near.
— Samuel Hoffenstein

When I go away on retreat — granted it isn't all that long — I don't have any trouble leaving my kids in the capable hands of their mother. I don't miss her terribly either!
—Don't worry, she feels the same when she escapes! Hopefully most of you understand. We see, uh... a lot of each other. ;) It's good to get away.

Kidding aside, our house is generally full of lots of love and acceptance, but I've been keeping my eye out for how to discern between simply wasted-days samsaric  busy-ness and actually applying the vision of my teachers' teachings and working my way towards enlightenment in this situation. I want my kids to know that I'm there for them like no one else. I also want them to know that I am trying to love all beings the way I hope they feel I love them. I guess in some ways it's going about it from the opposite angle of Togme Zangpo: instead of leaving the three relations behind, I'm trying to take the attachment side, and let it grow to include all those that might fall into the aversion or indifference sides. At the same time I am applying my view of empty appearance the best I know how, so that in the end I might be completely "attracted" to the empty appearance of every being, until the distinctions don't really find purchase.

Is the married life at its core a handicap for the bodhisattva-in-training?
Which is harder: abandoning one's place in society or transforming it into the path?