Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Do you judge your meditation?

Of course you do, and you're not alone!

Over and over we hear our meditation teachers tell us not to "judge" our meditations. But of course, we all do. It's always somewhere between the "What a great meditation!" and the "This was terrible".

We are all trying to be "good" buddhist and students, we want to practice the different methods, we want to become better parents, better partners... better people! We want to stop experimenting anger, or pride, or to recognize these emotions as soon as they are triggered so we no longer cave in and produce negative karma... We want to be worthy of the Lama, we want to become Buddhas!

Sometimes I am so disappointed at my meditation I wonder if I meditated at all.... Was I actually meditating? or did I just sit there, letting the thoughts go wild while I repeated a mantra like a parrot. Yes... I can be pretty hard on myself.

I recently asked a meditation teacher about these experiences, and whether "they counted" as meditation or not. With lots of compassion he said they do. "When it comes to our practice - he said - whatever we did is done." And of course he said not to judge our meditations... yes... I know...

I am working on this now, on sitting on the cushion to do my thing, as best as I can, and then just stand up and leave the cushion behind. No further thoughts, whatever I did is done. Seriously, I am!

So there was I Sunday evening, in our Buddhist Center gompa, happily meditating away, while other friends were doing their own stuff; when in walked a man with his three year old little girl.  Quietly he took her around the room, shoing her the Buddhas on our altar and the different thangkas on the walls. He was very respectful of us and whispered quietly. But a three year old is a three year old. She could appreciate that her father was whispering, and she answered in whispers also; but mainly she saw a big, long room, all to herself. She started running to and fro, giggling, she went up to the altar and grabbed a mala (what a wonderful toy!), and daddy sat down somewhere and left her to it.

I will be fair, she wasn't being noisy, but she wasn't quiet either. She was running around, not loudly, but still... running around. To say I was irritated would be just. I was. And the more time they spent there, the more frustrated I got... My mind was giving me pictures of the carpeted area full of toys, devoted to children in our cafeteria, a mere 100 meters away, and I was seriously wondering why this man could not simply realize that a more appropriate place lied in the next room.

Changing rapidly, I next had images of my daughters, years ago, when I first discovered the Dharma. And how much I wanted to share it all with them, how touched I was when they would mumble a mantra, or stroke a statue. All in all, my meditation was a disaster.

As all this intense drama unfolded between my ears, the guy simply sat there, on the carpet and watched his girl run happily to and from the altar. As I followed her with my gaze I saw the statue of the particular Buddha aspect I was meditating on, and somehow was able to resume my concentration. I repeated the mantra a little louder than before and closed my eyes tightly. I focused on the visualization of this perfect Buddha form and suddenly the little girl, her father, and actually the whole room was gone.

For a delicious time I enjoyed one of the most focused meditations I have ever practiced. What a joy! (yes, I know, I am still judging.)

As I came out of the gompa, I met the papa and the little girl. I sat next to them and stroke her soft hair, and in halting and clumsy Hungarian started a conversation. His very first words were an apology. I told him how frustrated I had been, and he further thanked my patience. I said I was anything but patient, but explained what happened after, and how much more intense my experience had been thanks to their visit. I thanked him. He smiled and went on to explain in great detail why he had taken his child to see the Buddhas, unfortunately, I didn't understand much of that. We later said goodbye and he enthusiastically congratulated me on my command of the language... basically that was the only part I really understood.


What a great meditation!!! :)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Outside the comfort zone

So we've all heard it before... "Development happens beyond the comfort zone". Especially in the Diamond Way Buddhist Centers, we hear it everyday because our teacher, Lama Ole Nydahl, continuously advises us to follow his example and go "beyond the comfort zone". In fact I've heard this so often that I truly believed I understood what it meant.

After all it's pretty straightforward, isn't it? going beyond the comfort zone means taking on challenges, facing difficulties, turning suffering into dramatic and profound insights, and embracing changes through adaptation. So yes, I thought I knew all about it... After all I'm quite the expert at adaptation... right?

Well, last weekend a very inspiring teacher gave a few talks in our Budapest Buddhist Center. During one of his teachings, I had one of the famous Aha! moments that carry the potential for changing our lives. As simple as it may seem to others, my clear insight moment revealed what it meant for me to go beyond the comfort zone...

In my very own little personal universe being beyond the comfort zone means braving the winter cold; it also means "no ocean"; it means a very strange foreign language, and it means my closest most beloved friends are very, very far away; so is my mom's house, her embrace, and her kitchen. As a matter of fact all of my favorite kitchens are far away and beyond reach, as are beloved and familiar places. My habits no longer hold true in this "beyond the comfort zone" place I call home now. My favorite pizza is unreachable, as is my best friend, my confident, my always wise adviser, and when I have real problems, there is no running over to her to spill the beans, to share my deepest feelings, or my unconfessed fears.

This makes it very difficult for me to run away from my troubles, from my pain, there's no one left to complain to, because frankly Skype and Facebook are useful at keeping in touch, but not really at "being miserable together", if there is such a thing...

So what happens when there's no where left to hide? what do you do when all your established safety systems are all out of reach? Where do you go then?

It turns out there is only one place left...

I don't think it had ever made as much sense as it does now... but in the absence of the familiar outlets for my periods of unrest, what I do now when there is pain is meditate. When there is doubt I meditate. When I feel like complaining on and on... I meditate. When I am angry, I meditate. When I am unsure and afraid... you guessed it, I meditate.

And it works so well, because this is where comfort is found ultimately, and yes, this is where development happens, because there is only one place left to turn for refuge, and that Refuge is giving us everything.

So, as I reach out to this deeper place, my fears subside, my doubts are set to rest, my pain is soothed, there is nothing to complain about, and there is nothing to accomplish. I open my eyes stronger than before, I see clearly now, if only for a moment, and the vision sustains me until the next sitting.

Does it mean that there is no more rage, no more tears, no more hesitation in my life? Of course not. This happens again and again... but the hold it had on me once is slowly fading away, and the clarity my Refuge gives me reappears quicker than before. This is why I now welcome these difficult times, because now I know they are the ultimate gift. They happen here and now so I can see them, taste them, and grow beyond them.

I am braver now, I know I have all the tools needed; so I can take one more little step, go out and explore.