Gradually, gradually

Gradually, gradually, 
a moment at a time, 
the wise remove their own impurities 
as a goldsmith removes the dross. 

Dhammapada v.239

This contemplation follows nicely after last month’s. Again it suggests a slowing down and, potentially, an appreciation of a more gentle approach to life. When we are in a rush, our reading of the reality of this moment is less reliable. If we are in too much of a hurry to get to the pure gold, accidents tend to happen. Slowing down doesn’t have to mean being tardy. It can also mean adopting a perspective that reveals the more refined aspects of experience.

We readily notice the surface dimension of experience, the ‘way things appear’, but are not able to see deeper. To see clearly what actually determines the way we relate to experiences, takes a degree of wisdom. To see for ourselves that which leads to increased well-being and that which leads to more obstructions benefits from a gradual approach.

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Daily Mindfulness Exercise

(I’m re-posting this item from last year as an annual reminder to “keep the ball rolling”).

For some time now I have been emailing out regular weekly mindfulness/meditation exercises to the members of the West Wight Sangha and to other friends and associates. At the New Year I introduced an additional Daily Mindfulness Exercise and post a reminder of this with each weeks email.

Quite simply, the exercise is to pick up and dispose of one piece of litter every day.

Obviously this is an environmentally useful activity in its own right and has a number of merits, but how can it be considered a mindfulness exercise?

It is so easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much.

Paying more attention to the present moment – to our own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around us – can improve our mental wellbeing.

This awareness is what we call “mindfulness”. Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more and understand ourselves better. We can take steps to develop it in our own lives but there is one vital element that underpins this kind of mental activity and that is the need to REMEMBER to be mindful.

This is where the use of regular exercises comes in, essentially we commit to carrying out a task, we have a job to do. For the purpose of developing our ability to be mindful these tasks should not be overly complicated and there should be a clear trigger, a predefined set of circumstances, to initiate our focused awareness of the task.

One of our weekly exercises, and one of my favourites, is to notice the colour blue. Sounds simple but you quickly become aware of how rare, especially in the countryside, this colour is. There are two elements here, you can be mindfully looking for the colour blue or your mindfulness is triggered by seeing the colour blue. Just swap litter for blue objects and you can see the benefit of the litter pick exercise.

It’s also a good idea to tell other people what you are doing, people do look and wonder….. so tell them. Here on the Isle of Wight we have a population of 139,000. Even halving this to allow for the too youngs, too olds, too infirmeds and, sadly, the don’t cares still leaves the potential for the best part of 70,000 pieces of litter to be removed from our beautiful island EVERY DAY and every day works out to a staggering TWO AND A HALF MILLION PIECES OF LITTER REMOVED EVERY YEAR. So the more people you can get interested the better.

You can also beef up the remembering element of the exercise by keeping a tally of days missed, it will happen, and making a personal promise to pick up the missed number of pieces of litter the next opportunity you have.

The environmental point of this task is to get us working at creating a cosy home for all of us in this world. After all, the world is our home. Trying to define home as only the space we live in every night only serves to segregate and not unite us. Recognise that our home extends beyond just those physical walls and every ground we walk on, every neighbourhood we walk in, every district we step into, etc. should be considered our home, too.

The problem with litter is that the more there is, the more it generates. If people see litter all over the place, they see no reason why they shouldn’t add to it. Why should they bother to look for a bin when nobody else does? What difference to the general scene would one more sandwich wrapper make?

But think what difference one less wrapper makes and then another one less and another and another……………………

Visit by Bhante Bodhidhamma

Hi all,

As some of you may know Tony Ridley’s brother is Bhante Bodhidhamma a Theravada monk who is the Spiritual Director of the Satipanya Buddhist Trust and teaches at Gaia House. He is visiting the island on the 13th of June and will be coming to the Thursday evening session at the Newport Soto Zen group at Dave Downer’s house, 19 Watergate Road, Newport PO30 1XN. He will join the evening’s practice and has said he is willing to do a Q&A session as the talk.

Dave says that you are all welcome to come so hopefully see you there.

Be well,
Steve

“Thoughts” on Our Environments

We’ve recently had a crop of new postings on the “Thought for the Day” page of our Audio Section and, in the broadest of ways, they have all been related to our environment, both in terms of the outer natural world and our inner mental world.

Our first “Thought” back in January was by Vishvapani and spoke of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate change activist. Then there were no more Buddhist Thoughts until the 11th of May when Vishvapani this time addressed the issue of so many species going extinct and the loss of biodiversity. On the 18th of May, in his talk for Vesak, Vishvapani spoke of the story of Kisagotami as a model for how we might respond to others’ mental health struggles. And on the 22nd we featured a piece by Professor Tina Beattie because of the reference to picking up and disposing of just one piece of litter a day as in our Daily Mindfulness Exercise.

FULL MOON – Optimum Benefit – Happy Vesak Everyone!

As many garlands can be made 
from a heap of flowers, 
so too much that is wholesome can be done 
during this human existence. 

Dhammapada v.53

19 May 2019

All of us would be familiar with those phases in life when we find ourselves slowing down. Perhaps it is because of some physical limitation which we are obliged to accommodate. Or maybe it is out of conscious choice, because we suspect that always moving fast risks missing out. Whatever the cause, it can come as an unexpected and rewarding gift to discover that by slowing down we might be afforded a new and more meaningful perspective on this human existence. Instead of feeling as if we have to always react to what our senses register – the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations and mental impressions – an interest in not having to merely react can start to awaken. With such a perspective we are better placed to recognize the potential for generating true benefit, for ourselves and others. Compare the happiness which arises from optimizing on what we already have, with the unhappiness associated with always wanting more.

FULL MOON – Perfect Balance

It is good to be restrained in body. 
It is good to be restrained in speech. 
It is good to be restrained in mind. 
It is good to be restrained in everything. 
The renunciate who is restrained in every way 
will realise freedom from suffering. 

Dhammapada v.361

In his very first teaching, The Turning of the Wheel of the Law, the Buddha spoke of the limitations involved in being caught up in liking and disliking. He went on to explain the profound benefits to be found in cultivating the middle way – the perspective of perfect balance. So long as we don’t see how becoming lost in likeable moods means we will inevitably become lost in dislikeable moods, we risk making life into an endless struggle. This apparently endless struggle is the direct result of not appreciating the power of wise restraint. Indulging in liking and disliking are not the only options. If we train attention to skilfully observe these movements of mind which we call liking and disliking, we might discover an altogether different perspective. And this perspective in no way diminishes the potential for experiencing the natural joys and sorrows of life; quite the opposite. Well trained attention has the power to free us from the fear of becoming lost and confused by the vicissitudes of life. Skilful restraint equips us with what we need to turn struggles into wisdom.

Dalai Lama Ill

Talking about Tibet it was announced that the Dalai Lama was admitted to hospital in New Delhi yesterday with a chest infection. Given his holinesses age, 83, this is a serious condition but he is described as being stable.

Many of the up to 100,000 Tibetans living in India are worried that their fight for a genuinely autonomous homeland would end with the Dalai Lama.

He told Reuters last month that it was possible that once he dies his incarnation could be found in India and warned that any other successor named by China would not be respected.

China brands the Nobel peace laureate as a dangerous “splittist” and says the ruling Chinese Communist Party has the right to select the Dalai Lama’s successor, as a legacy inherited from China’s emperors.