Practice, non-attachment, and equanimity

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Life is all about training and practice. Training and practice for what, or to become what? To be the best possible version of oneself, in whichever aspects one decides on in this life. Training and practice must be accompanied by discernment, a balanced and clear view of what it is, without a bond or attachment to both the pains and pleasures of life.

Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah
Yoga Sutra of Patanjali 1:12

Abhyasa means practice, vairagya means letting go, non-attachment, nirodhah means mastery, control.

One can gain mastery over oneself by consistent practice and non-attachment.

What does non-attachment mean and why is it so important? Isn’t attachment to something actually propel us, fuel us to do the practice? For example, let’s say it’s the attachment to getting likes or comments drive me to keep writing this blog. Then what happens when I don’t get likes, traffic, or comments? I feel sad. When I get likes, traffic, or comments, I feel happy. This means I’m not mastering myself, but letting outside circumstances affect me.

Besides pain/pleasure, attachment also means not being present – because attachment is always to something that happened in the past, or to something in the future. Non-attachment means presence in the here and now, not worrying about the past and not having expectations about the future.

Pain/pleasure, future/past, are like two polarities, and without mastery of our own self, we oscillate between these two polarities. If we continuously oscillate, keep moving between the two polars, it’s very difficult to achieve stillness, equanimity, shamata.

If there is no stillness, there is no silence.
If there is no silence, there is no insight.
If there is no insight, there is no clarity.
~ Tenzin Priyadarshi

So, without attachment to the result, why would one want move forward and do anything? What drives or fuels one to progress?

There’s an innate drive in everything in nature for creation, maintenance, and recycle (I prefer to call it recycle than destruction). Everything has this cycle. Birth, productive period, and then death. Symbolized by the Trimurti Gods: Brahman, Vishnu, Shiva. So as long as we’re alive, we have this innate drive to be productive, to progress, to grow and move forward, to contribute, to be of use, until such time that we have to move on and go back to where we came from.

Not utilizing this chance, this lifetime, to move forward and progress, is such a waste. Unfortunately most of us forgot about this, distracted by the sensual nature of the material world. Attached to the material things, we chased wealth, fame, power, etc.

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Mind like clear water

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What is meditation?

Meditation is training the mind. Training the mind to become what? To become still. In the stillness, all the ripples are gone, the mud in the water settles down, then the mind becomes like clear water. In this clarity, we can see things as they are, transparent, and we are at home with our own true nature.

How?

There are many methods of meditation, but they all can be grouped into two types: focused attention meditation & witnessing/observing meditation.

Focus means anchoring our attention to one thing (or things). It can be an energy center (eg chakra), it can be a body part, it can be breath, or mantra, or movement. Or it can be an external form, for example a candle light (trataka), a sound, a deity, a flower, a picture of someone you love dearly, a representation of God, etc.

The point of this meditation is not the anchor itself, but the act of anchoring our attention.

During the practice usually our attention will wander away from the anchor. When we notice this happen, just gently bring the attention back to the anchor. By focussing our attention to a thing, our other thoughts become less gripping, our mind becomes more calm and spacious.

Example of focused meditation is breath awareness meditation, where we just sit and anchor our attention to the breath. We can observe the air coming in and going out through the nostrils, we can observe the area between the nostril and the upper lip. We can also count the breath, or just follow the breath without counting it.

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in
Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out
~Thich Nhat Hanh

The second method is witnessing, observing, contemplating. Here what we do is we just sit, become still, and observe the mind space. It’s like watching a movie in a cinema – just sit back and observe. At the beginning we may become overwhelmed because there are so many thoughts. Just acknowledge that we have many thoughts and just watch the thoughts, like watching clouds in the sky. Notice that your thoughts, like clouds in the sky, forming, and disappearing – such is the nature of thoughts. They appear and disappear. Just observe, don’t follow the thought.

What usually happens is a thought come, triggering other thoughts, and we forgot that we are just observing, instead we follow that one thought that generates many other thoughts and we’ll start either (a) worrying/planning about the future or (b) regretting/relishing about the past. The sky of mind space then become darkened with many thought clouds and then here comes rain and thunder (emotions such as anger, guilt, apprehension, etc).

Example – a thought of banana comes. It triggers other thought: empty pantry. Oh yeah I didn’t buy it last time I go to the market. Because prices increased and with the same grocery budget I couldn’t buy banana. Because of the inflation and bad economy situation. Because of the unstable political situation. Because of the world is not at peace. And humans are destroying it’s only habitat through global warming. And so on and so forth.

If we could just observe the first thought without letting it triggers other thought, it’ll move on and disappear on its own. Like a cloud in the sky – appearing, moving on, and disappear. As we become better at just observing the clouds, we’ll get glimpses of clear blue sky. Of calm, clear state of mind. And as we practice, the frequency & duration will increase. But it comes with practice, there’s no shortcut. We have to practice. Practice intensely, or practice little but consistently, it’s up to us. If we practice, we’ll progress. And we’ll see the clear blue sky more often. The mind is clear and calm, like a clear day.

With this clarity, as we go about our daily life, we are not as reactive. We have control of our mind. And we can choose to response to the outside stimuli appropriately. When the mind is calm and clear, our inner wisdom (buddhi) becomes more accessible. We start seeing things as they are, without colorings, without conditioning.

Here are some resources from where I learned meditation from:

  1. Om Swami – search for ‘meditation’.
  2. Plum Village home of Thich Nhat Hanh
  3. Vipassana as taught by S.N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin
  4. Swamij.com

And many more I can’t list here. And although I just list the resources above, I would like to emphasize the importance of practice. I’m blessed to be able to join the meditation retreat of Om Swami, Plum Village, and Vipassana before, and I can tell you from my experience that it is the practice that makes the difference. Practice, practice, practice – there’s no shortcut. As Morpheous said to Neo in The Matrix:

There’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.

Image source: Crystal clear and loving it by Tim Shields

Inner revolution

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The seventh post of Live Your Legend blog challenge: “What revolution will you lead?”

Definition of revolution from dictionary.com: a sudden, complete or marked change in something.

So in other words this question is similar with the previous prompt “What difference do you want to make?” but with more power and more urgency.

Last week I wrote about how people can only change if they want to change themselves – we can’t force people to walk through the door, we can only show them the door, and if they decide they want to walk through it they will. Now in order for us to notice the door, and get thinking about what’s on the other side of the door, and whether we should walk through it or not, we’ll have to be in a certain degree of non-reactiveness and awareness.

Non-reactiveness and awareness is quite rare these days, as we are bombarded with stimuli all the time from all around. Phone is ringing. Messages coming in through several different platforms. Non-stop emails pouring in. Pressures and deadlines at work. Stressful commuting. And many more. And we react to them. It’s even addicting, having to react to something. When there’s less stimuli, we seek out stimuli because we are bored. Because we want to react.

But if we react all the time, and have no time to be still, to be aware, we won’t be able to see the door of change. The door is not hidden, it’s there in plain sight, but if we don’t take time to pause and be still, we tend to not notice that door.

How to be still? How to be non-reactive? How to be aware?

First step: be comfortable in our own body, take charge of our own body, feed the body with enough nutritious food, keep it fit by staying active, give the body enough rest to recuperate. It starts with the body first because the body is the seat of the mind. Smoothly functioning body will help the mind to progress to the next step.

Second step: take time to train the mind. How? Through breath and meditation (both stillness meditation and moving meditation). The simplest way to train the mind is to watch it. Just watch, witness, and observe. Then we’ll start to see thoughts forming, out of nowhere. Like clouds form in the sky. If we pursue that thought, if we don’t abandon that thought, that’s where the trouble begin – pursuing thought generate other thoughts and before long we are worrying. If we just observe that thought, it’ll move on, or disintegrate, like clouds. After a while, we get better at noticing the thought cloud forming, and we get better at not pursuing the thought cloud. Then the mind sky become clearer, because the thought clouds moved on.

Another way to train the mind is to anchor the mind’s attention to one thought. So where there were many thoughts, we train the mind to hold just one thought. And that one thought can be breath, can be mantra, can be sound, can be a form, can be anything. By placing all the attention to that one particular thought, all the other thoughts moved on, cleared away, then the mind sky become clear.

When the mind is clear, the water is still, the ripples are gone, the mud has settled down, then comes clarity. We can see through the clear water. We can access the inner wisdom that’s in everyone of us. We are in touch with the buddhi. We notice there’s the door of change, and we can see what’s on the other side of that door, and decide whether we want to walk through the door or not.

The revolution I want to lead is an inner revolution. I want to inspire and help people to pause and be still, to overcome reactiveness, to arrive at clarity, to allow the inner wisdom, the buddhi, come forward and make decision. Then they’ll be able to change, perhaps to change something in their life so they can live a happier and more meaningful life.

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