There Go I

Seventeen days out from my hip replacement surgery, I am feeling very grateful — for my husband of 49 years and his devoted caregiving; for the support of my family and friends; for the skilled and kind hospital and home care team at Kaiser Terra Linda; for living at a time when this surgery is so well developed that, as one relative put it, it’s just like being dropped off at the dry cleaners — in at 7, out at 5. What great good fortune to have the end of my long pain be such a run-of-the-mill fix!

woodyThis awareness of my good fortune came into even sharper focus yesterday, when I saw a man outside our local Staples, a ringer for Woody Harrelson, limping in pain. Such a presence in my life has walking pain been, I could feel it as I watched him hobble along. Although his pain was clearly so long-term that his whole body was thrown out of whack by how he had to accommodate it while getting on with the challenging business of getting by. I thought about how that pain affects his whole life, his relationships and his ability to do things. I could almost see the shattering ripple effect of it. Because no pain can be contained. None of us live in isolation.

After he passed by, I couldn’t help but be aware of the contrast: There I sat in the car feeling positively coddled by my excellent health care, including an expensive surgery that cost me next to nothing. While he, if my hasty assumptions about him and his condition are correct, may have to live with severe pain for the rest of his life, and all the ramifications of the lack of options available to him.

So, nestled in my field of gratitude blossomed forth a sense of outrage that he and so many others must suffer because of the unnecessary inequities that exist in our system here in the US. How can anyone justify it?

It is justified by people who think not only that another person’s problems are not their own, but that those problems are the result of some personal failure, and are therefore deserved. Meanwhile they’ve got theirs, so where’s the problem?

They’re the problem. Not them per se, but their myopic take on the nature of being that gives them a sense of deserving what they have because of all they have done to get it. They lack the ability to see how anyone else contributed to their good fortune. They don’t credit the taxes and labor that built and maintains the infrastructure that carries them and their business. They discount and would happily be rid of those hardworking people who assure that everything they eat and drink is safe, as well as the air they breathe. They scoff at any value from those who educate them and their children so they have sufficient understanding and skills to make their way in the world. And they are blind to the easy pass they may get because of their ethnicity, gender, zip code or inheritance. It’s much more satisfying to say they did it all themselves. Because self-sufficiency is the admired American way.

We are told we live in a land of ‘rugged individualism’ where people ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’, ‘the early bird gets the worm’, where ‘might makes right’ in a ‘dog eat dog world’. I’m sure you can think of many more of these sayings. Please ‘reply’ with them. It would be great to have a whole collection to look at. It’s so important to pay attention to how our words shape our perspective.

As we become — through science and our own experience — increasingly aware of the interconnection, the interdependence of all life, those who are trapped in this isolated mindset become more fearful. No one likes to have their heretofore clear understanding upended, even if it promises to bring relief from suffering, a suffering they don’t dare acknowledge. Isn’t it easier to make fun of others, blame others, and doubt the science? Isn’t it more satisfying to have their fears reinforced wholeheartedly by the powers that be and to come together only to fight, defeat and conquer the ‘other’ they prefer to blame? Depending on their mental stability, doesn’t it feel justifiable and even heroic to take that sense of feeling threatened and follow through with rash acts of violence?

It’s quite possible that the man I saw for whom I felt so much compassion, is trapped in this sense of isolation and anger. Perhaps he even supports the politicians who actively deny him access to the healthcare he deserves, just for being alive. But that doesn’t make me want that access for him any less. He is of this world. He is not his situation, his behavior, his condition nor his beliefs. He is the same stardust expression of life loving itself as am I, and you are. There’s an old expression ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ There’s merit in that recognition that any one of us could be in such a position at any time. But doesn’t that just make me go phew! I’m glad that it’s not me in his shoes? How much deeper and truer is the understanding ‘There go I.’

The outrage I feel doesn’t undermine my gratitude for the wonderful care I have received. But it does make me more determined to vote, to be a fully-engaged citizen in this country and the world, so that all of us have the opportunities that I have.

Hip, hip hooray!

In recovering from surgery, I instinctively decided to hone my life down to only those activities that were prescribed by the medical team: a clear regimen of rest, ice, exercise, repeat. This choice was challenging, especially since my surgery date was a cancellation with only a six day notice. I had a lot of events on my calendar to cancel, including reading my poem at a book launch of Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry in California today in Berkeley. Hard choices, but necessary.

Ten days out from the operation, doing so well, I decided to keep one thing on my calendar: getting together for a meal at a restaurant with a few old friends, one of whom is from out of town so I wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. Only as I sat down at the table on the deck overlooking the Bay and the hazy twinkling lights of San Francisco in the distance, did I realize how foolish I was to stray from my initial plan for recovery. I was in pain. The chair was too low, too small, too hard, too much. As excited as I was to spend time with my friends, it became instantly clear I couldn’t stay. I wouldn’t be fit company, and I could set my recovery back or even do damage. I felt terrible to break up the little party, but had no choice. And of course they had a fine time without us (my husband had to leave as well) in spite of the awkward start.

Back home, tucked into bed with my ice pack, I was completely content. And I realized the wisdom of my original decision to do this one thing and do it well.

That is a form of concentration, isn’t it? In a life filled with so many choices, choosing to pare down to what is necessary for this moment for a certain purpose? It reminds me of why we go on meditation retreats. Theoretically, there’s no reason we couldn’t ‘retreat’ at home. How hard is it to turn off the phone, computers, television, etc., cancel all appointments, have no social interaction, go on no errands, not answer the doorbell, do no work except simple chores, etc.?

How hard? Near impossible, wouldn’t you agree? How do you switch off the patterns of your life, take complete control to filter out all extraneous distractions, and simply sit?

On retreat, everything is set up to limit external distraction. The mind may still range far and wide, but at least the environment completely supports quieting down and being fully present. Having stepped out of regular life, there are no expectations from anyone else. And everyone on retreat supports you completely in this concentration.

In my post-op phase, I am so fortunate to have a helpmate who is especially skilled at being single minded. If he is set the task of taking complete care of another person, in this case me, and he is given full instructions, he will follow them exactly. He will make sure everything is set up just so, make sure medications are taken at the right times, and make sure the space is uncluttered so I don’t trip on my walker-rounds. (No, sorry, he doesn’t rent himself out!) He has a life as an artist and enjoys gardening and other activities, but for the few weeks of my recovery, and especially the first few days when I was totally helpless, he has been amazing at nursing.

Among my family, friends and students, hip replacement surgery is all the rage. Several have had one in the past few months ago and one is scheduled in a few weeks.

Thinking about her situation, in particular, where a young child lives in the home with her, I realize that she will have a bigger challenge assuring the focus of her post-recovery period. Young children come with Legos and all manner of other detritus that gets left about, so just keeping the area clear for her to walk safely will be difficult for her designated caregivers. But there’s also the heart-tug habit of keeping a child’s needs uppermost. Suddenly grandmother can’t do all the things she’s always done? Explain that to a preschooler. It will undoubtedly be discomforting, maybe even scary, and at the very least hard to adjust to and maybe grumpy making. Oh boy!

I recognize that in my moments of sitting at that restaurant table, my thoughts were more about how to get along in the situation and not make a fuss than they were about what would be best for my healing. Even though these old friends only wanted what was best for me and implored me to make decisions based on my healing and that alone, I wanted what was best for them, for the evening to be pleasant and fun.

I bring this all up because we have been looking at the Seven Factors of Awakening, and most recently at Concentration. This was such a good example of how our desires, fears, and other Hindrances can knock us off our course. And how rewarding it is to reset our intention, to be present again for our own healing of a hip or, perhaps, awakening.

Bare attention, interconnection and the artist Will Noble

In a recent article in Tricycle magazine, Cynthia Thatcher looked at George Seurat’s neo-impressionist painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, as an example of the nature of our interconnection. In her rich exploration, she said that her meditation teacher, Achan Sobin Namto, once wrote, “If we could focus precisely on the present moment…the eye would not be able to identify objects coming into the area of perception.”

If that flies right over your head, you are not alone. But let’s look closer. Her sharing of her experience with Seurat’s dots reminded me of the art of my painter husband Will Noble, whose works are almost all made up of little dots or circles. He draws and then paints each circle over a period of many months — a meditation in itself. But instead of getting caught up in the whys and hows of his process, I’d like to focus on the finished painting.

Phoenix-Will-Noble-ptg

Phoenix, oil painting by Will Noble

In class I had my students take a few minutes to choose one of Will’s paintings (our home is also his studio/gallery) and really look at the painting, first from a distance and then up close. They seemed to enjoy the exercise.

From a distance, people often mistake Will’s paintings for photographs. They note its subject matter, composition and colors, and have whatever response they have to what is represented — usually an intimate waterscape.

But if they take a moment to step closer, they have a surprise in store.

will-noble-circles-closeupThe landscape dissolves into patterns of circles, each circle less than a quarter inch in diameter, unique yet similar to its neighbors. The closer the viewer gets, the more abstract the painting becomes.  The overall image – the initially recognizable subject matter – disappears. Then the viewer steps back, further and further, until the image reassembles itself, coming back into a recognizable pattern that can be labeled as ‘cascade’ or ‘pond’. If the viewer is really paying attention, they may never look at the world the same way again.

When we look at anything, there is a nano-second of bare attention before the mind labels what we are looking at. In that brief but potentially expansive mental space we are just looking. For example, I just glanced out the window, and automatically registered ‘mountain’. All the things I know about mountains in general and that mountain in particular — all the memories of times I have walked it, camped on it, scattered my mother’s ashes on it — are all activated almost instantly. Almost. If I really pay attention, before registering ‘mountain’ I might allow myself to notice colors, shapes, textures, values, light and shadow — all primary concerns of a painter. The artist Chester Arnold once said that he painted in order to be able to see in that way. “If I could see that way all the time, I wouldn’t need to paint.” I don’t totally believe him, because there are many reasons why a painter paints, but it was a very insightful comment. Can the rest of us see that way? Can we give a little space to seeing, hearing, etc. before needing to label and file away all the sensory phenomena that comes our way?

But wait, isn’t seeing color, shape and texture just another way of labeling? ‘Green, round, rough.’ These are all observations based on learned labels for experiencing the world around us. Is that really as bare as our attention can get? In Will’s paintings composed of little molecular shapes, we are seeing even deeper. We are reminded that elementally we are all composed of tiny infinitesimal bits of life coming together in a seemingly infinite ways to shape what we believe ourselves and the world around us to be.

In the last post, I shared the story of the Buddha meditating under the bodhi tree, and his second insight upon awakening: that anyone can awaken. But what was his first insight? Everything is interconnected. There is no separation anywhere.

Today’s science completely supports this fact, but we tend to forget it. We are caught up in the illusion of separation, and  although it can be useful for practical matters in our lives, not being able to see its illusory nature causes us and those around us all manner of suffering.

If we practice this kind of real seeing we will arrive at real understanding — how there is no ‘other’. When we notice a habituated pattern of other-making in our thoughts, we can challenge it. We can step a little closer and practice bare attention. We can step back and see the amazing patterns of life that we had previously interpreted as solid separate objects. How liberating, how wondrous, how comforting to recognize the intrinsic nature of all being.

And if you are in the Bay Area and would like to see Will’s paintings for yourself, contact him.

You can focus like Siddhartha under the ficus

ficus-buddhasTwenty-six hundred years ago, under a tree, a seeker named Siddhartha Gautama sat in meditation, determined not to stop meditating until he awakened.

In his meditation he was taunted, terrorized and tempted by all manner of thoughts and emotions that came in such convincing guises that it was a challenge to not believe they were solid and true.

Instead  of engaging, chasing after or battling them, he recognized them for the passing illusions they were, and each time he greeted them in a friendly way with the words ‘I know you.’ Because of the deity-rich culture and times he lived in, he saw the hand of Maara (aka Mara, Maya), the tempter. Maara manifested thoughts of self-doubt, of the hopelessness of awakening and even of his right to try to do so. Maara also tried to activate desires and cravings, and to scare him into giving up his seat under that tree.

Again and again Siddhartha reset his intention, stayed grounded, and, thanks to six years of practice, he was able to stay fully present and see through these manifestations to their fleeting and illusory nature.  His awareness of the nature of impermanence and interconnectedness grew so strong within him that Maara couldn’t gain a foothold. And Siddhartha awakened. He became a buddha, which simply means awakened one. On occasion, throughout his long life, Maara tried again to seduce him to give up struggles, even for life itself when he was in a physically weakened state. Maara advised him to keep the wisdom he had learned to himself rather than sharing it. And, of course, Maara seized any opportunity to bring doubt into the Buddha’s mind that he was truly awakened.

The Buddha was a human being, with all of the struggles and suffering we all have at times. We honor the Buddha not as a god — he was the first to refute such an honorific — but as an inspiration to us to practice meditation as he did under that tree, with gratitude for his ability to see through Maara’s taunts, and share his teachings over many decades, so we benefit from them all these centuries later.

In class, I passed around little Buddha statues (gifts from students over the years) for class members to hold or to put in front of them while we did a few minutes of meditation with the image of Siddhartha sitting under that tree, his intention so strong, his concentration so clear. Perhaps you have such a statue that could at times be incorporated into your home practice. One student said it was easier to stay focused with the statue in front of her, reminding her of her purpose.

‘Now I understand why people have altars,’ she said. I teach what I call a ‘portable practice’ that can be done anywhere without drawing attention to oneself. But that practice doesn’t preclude having an altar at home for daily practice. It just means not becoming reliant on it, so that when it’s not there you can’t practice. Even traveling, one can bring to mind that young man so long ago with all the temptations we ourselves face, sitting under that tree with such skillful effort.

When he completed his marathon meditation and awakened, one of the first things he said was that all beings are endowed with the nature of awakening. This is important for us to remember, because our thoughts and emotions will likely try to convince us otherwise, that somehow we are uniquely incapable of awakening.

If Siddhartha can wake up, you can too. 

Dharma, dharma everywhere — even in my just published short story!

birdlandjournalbirdsYay! My short story The Homecoming  is in the Fall 2018 issue of the Birdland Journal, an online publication that celebrates the voices of Northern California.

Why do I mention this in a blog about meditation and Buddhist teachings? Because, while a work of fiction is very different from a dharma talk or post, we can always discover the dharma if we’re looking.

In this story, a minor fact about the main character is that she has a regular meditation practice, but while out of town on business, she has not had the chance to do so. Non-meditators might not even notice that mention. But meditators will recognize and probably relate. When we travel our schedules change and often our time is not our own. How do we deal with that challenge? Hopefully better than this character. Not that she becomes a serial killer or anything. She’s just a woman leading a busy life, but it’s interesting to consider how if she had kept up her practice, she might have been in a better frame of mind to cope with all that arises in her experience when she arrives home. Just sayin’.

Even under challenges circumstances, most of us can find at least a few minutes here and there to meditate. When we think our practice has to be ‘just so’ and a specific length, we can lose out on opportunities to at least bring our attention to physical sensation, relax and release tension, and center ourselves. While this doesn’t replace regular practice, it certainly helps! The kind of meditation I teach I consider a ‘portable practice’ that can be done anywhere, even in public places like the waiting area of an airport, without props, special poses or anything that would draw attention. Just sitting.

Dharma or no dharma, I hope you will take a few minutes to read this short story! I had fun writing it and I hope you’ll have fun reading it. I’d love to read your comments.

𝅘𝅥𝅯A tick a tick a tick a good timing𝅘𝅥𝅯 and why being in the moment makes us happy

sunrays1000
Because last week we did an exercise, using the little emojis to represent the Five Hindrances, this week in class I checked in with my students to see how the experience of exploring in that way and working with what they found. If you tried out working with them, I’d love to hear from you!

One student said that in the middle of a difficult conversation she tried to categorize what was coming up for her as one of the Hindrances. It didn’t help.

No, it wouldn’t. This is an exercise to do when we are alone, just noticing thoughts and emotions arising in our experience. It’s good to do after meditation and especially good to do on retreat where periods in between sitting meditation, walking meditation, eating meditation, yogi work meditation and sleeping — when the mind is free to wander, but it is also much more present in the moment. Useful insights can come during these periods of simple noticing because we’ve quieted down enough to allow our own inner wisdom to be heard.

When we are interacting with others, it is important to listen to them. It is challenging enough to not get caught up in planning what we will say next, let alone analyze and categorize thoughts that arise.

Our practice of being in the present moment supports us in conversations with others. If it is a difficult conversation, we might notice the urge to say something unskillful. In that instant, it is skillful to pause and ask ourselves ‘What is my intention here?’  If the intention comes from fear in one of its many forms, rather than loving-kindness, then we know that our words will not be skillful.

But we don’t stop and categorize our thoughts and emotions at that moment. We save that for another time. Instead we silently send metta to ourselves and to other person – May I be well. May you be well. – and go from there.

Talk of being in the present moment prompted another student to ask, “How does being in the moment make us happy?’ Over the past year of meditation practice and attending classes, she has found increasing clarity, peace of mind and, yes, happiness. But she wondered what is it about being in the moment that makes us feel happier? How does it work?

I suggested that it is primarily because the moment is the only place we really live, the only moment that exists with all the senses to experience. All other perceived moments are memory and imaginings, lacking in the fullness of sensory awareness.

Also being in the present moment we are able to see more clearly how threads of thought and emotion that make us unhappy are rooted in the past. Seeing their source, we can more easily question their veracity and gently let them go. The more we let go, the more we are able to stay present and the more joyful the present becomes.

Of course at times there is pain in the moment. But the pain is compounded by dredging up memories of this same or a similar pain, and then pain becomes misery. Pain is exacerbated by getting stuck in the future, thinking the pain will go on forever, or wondering when it will stop. Staying in the present moment with pain shows us the multi-faceted nature of the pain itself, and also all the other things that are going on in this moment that are not painful. Learning how to be present with pain — not making it worse — makes us happier.

Full awareness of this moment fills us with gratitude for being alive, frees us from all the nagging thoughts that find fault in the way things are or want to keep it just so forever. It releases tension and fear-based emotions. It ‘gets us out of our heads’ and into the felt experience of life.

There is an integrity in being fully in the moment, a wholeness to our body-mind experience, that feels like a homecoming. And that makes us happy!

Are there other reasons being in the present moments causes happiness? Please comment!

A fun way to learn to focus

When we sit in meditation, the untrained mind naturally runs amok. No fault there. We live in a culture of constant distraction and short attention span. The mind, even in silence, gets caught up in thinking or gets lost in a fog. Cultivating inner calm, ease and balance, we become better able to focus on one object, like the breath rising and falling. We create a spaciousness that lets us befriend what arises without engaging with it.following-thoughts-bench

Imagine sitting on a park bench on a pleasant spring day. All manner of people pass by and you not

ice them, maybe smile at them, but you don’t rush up to them and have a conversation, do you? That’s a skillful way to be with all the sensations, thoughts and emotions that pass through your inner ‘park’, that compassionate field of awareness in your meditation practice. How nice!
But, because, being human, we have lots of opinions and preferences, we may find certain people passing by our park bench grab our attention in various ways:

  • Perhaps there’s an attractive person we’d like to get to know. Or we see an ice cream vendor and suddenly we’re salivating, even though we weren’t the least bit hungry. Maybe we find this moment so extraordinarily pleasant that we never want it to change, We think, ‘Why can’t it be like this all the time?’
  • Perhaps someone walks by smoking and now the air is full of a foul smell. Or someone looks evil and we imagine horrible things they may have done. Or someone’s wearing an outfit that just doesn’t work – ‘What were they thinking?’ Or we wish the park bench was better positioned so we could see both the pond and the rose garden. If only that tree was a little to the left, then it would be SO much better.
  • Perhaps, even with all that’s going on around us, we get lost in a fog, and only after an unknown period of time do we notice again where we are and what’s going on. But then we’re lost in the fog again.
  • Perhaps a band of pranksters come along and lure us away from the bench entirely. We get swept up in their big to do, and it all seems so much more interesting than sitting on that boring old bench. They can magically travel into the past and the future! Why wouldn’t we hang out with them? But finding ourselves swept away, there’s also a sense of feeling lost and worried. Where is that park bench? Where is the park? Where the heck are we?
  • Perhaps we’re concerned because we’re not sure if we’re allowed to sit on this bench. Is this a private park? Do we need an invitation? Are people looking at us as if we don’t belong? And if we are allowed, is this really a good thing to do?

What I have just described in that park scenario are the Buddha’s Five Hindrances: craving, aversion, torpor, restlessness and doubt. What are they hindering? They hinder our capacity to focus, to concentrate and to awaken. Let’s look at them one by one. These emojis I created for an exercise we did in class to help recognize and remember these Hindrances. craving-green

Craving

Whether we crave sweets, sex, adventure, love, power or something else, that grip of craving throws us off-balance. We’re leaning into longing, missing what’s here and now.
Craving can be a specific physical addiction, but it is more universal than that. It’s like a dangling fishing lure that we keep leaping after, only to discover the pain of the hook. Even when we enjoy getting what we had craved, there’s an edge to that enjoyment because now we fear losing it. Clinging and craving go hand in hand. Even if we feel we have come to terms with the nature of impermanence, we hope against all reason that the rules don’t apply to us.

aversion-red

Aversion
Hatred is the most virulent form of aversion, and the one that causes mental blindness. This ‘blind rage’ sabotages any possibility of happiness. The mental knots of grudges and pet peeves we’ve been exploring recently, that entangle our thoughts and emotions in misery of our own making, are also aversion. As is the habit of fault-finding. How often have you been enjoying an experience but found some way in which it would be even better?torpor-face

Torpor

This is a kind of mental malaise, a state of fogginess, a ‘huh?’ quality, as if we’re just floating along mindlessly, not really living. There could be a physical component to this, when there’s a sluggishness in the body that is not just needing to rest after being active but an ongoing state of lethargy.restlessness

Restlessness

The restless mind has difficulty settling down and focusing on this moment. It is always leaping to the next thing on the calendar or to do list, or solving a problem or planning an event or a creative project. Worry and anxiety can arise here as well. The restless mind is everywhere but here and now.doubt

Doubt

This is not the healthy questioning that is an intrinsic part of our insight meditation practice where we ask ‘Is this true?’ This is a sneaky self-sabotaging doubt: Doubting that we can meditate or do whatever task we set ourselves. It’s also the doubt that our wise effort will be rewarded. Doubt may arise about the value of the practice and teachings, even though we have experienced their benefits. It’s the belief that somehow we are uniquely unqualified to awaken.

In class we did a practice of sitting as we would in regular meditation, but instead of just sitting on our metaphorical park bench and feeling friendly toward all that passes by, we made a point of identifying them as one or another of these Hindrances. I gave each student a sheet of Five Hindrance emojis in a pie chart, and every time a thought or emotion arose they were to make a mark in the section of the Hindrance where it best fit.
Contact me if you would like to get a downloadable PDF of this exercise sheet.
Please note that we are not categorizing or labeling ourselves. We are looking at thoughts passing through and categorizing them. If we find that most of our marks are in one area, say ‘aversion’, it would be counterproductive to label ourselves an ‘aversive personality’. In the Buddhist tradition, we are letting go of as many labels as we can, not adding more. So, watch for the all-too pervasive mental habit of labeling yourself, and resist!
Coming into Skillful Relationship with the Hindrances
Noticing these five hindrances as they arise in our experience is the first step, but how do we disengage from them? First and foremost, we don’t make enemies of them. That’s just aversion, one of the hindrances! Instead, we recognize their intention to improve things for us. They are patterns developed to ‘save us from ourselves’ in some way. But because they are based in fear and are myopic and misguided, we lovingly and respectfully cultivate enough space for them to exist without feeling we need to adhere to their plans for us, many of which are cockamamie schemes. We remind ourselves that they are not the bosses of us! As we practice, our own quiet inner wisdom can be heard and appreciated. We develop the ability to see the Hindrances for what they are and see that we have the choice not to succumb or engage in them.

We can develop some phrase to use in that moment of recognition that will bring us back to the moment in a skillful way. Your own inner wisdom will have the best phrase, but here are some ideas to get you started. Just be sure they are wise speech: kind, true, timely and not scolding.
Craving: This moment is enough.
Notice all that is arising in this moment to fully engage all the senses. Take sensory pleasure in the feel of your tongue in your mouth, the air on your skin, the light on your eyelids, etc. It was only ever not enough because you weren’t paying full attention.
Aversion: This too shall pass.
Remembering the nature of impermanence helps to ameliorate momentary annoyances. But a deeper practice of coming fully into the senses and thinking of whatever arises as part of this unique moment’s ‘symphony of now.’
For aversion that wants to makeover everything, the study of wabi sabi, where we are encouraged to find the beauty in all phases of life, not just some ‘perfect’ moment, like a flower at the peak of its bloom. How much richer life is when we expand our appreciation to include the beauty of wrinkles! Once you understand the concept, you can answer aversive thoughts with a whisper of ‘wabi sabi’.
Restlessness: This moment matters.
Gently and repeatedly bring the mind back to the here and now from wherever it wanders. In class I found myself almost in tears in defense of this moment, so often ignored. Poor little thing. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Especially when you consider that it’s the only moment that exists! All other moments are memory or imagining.

If worry is involved, you might bring out your inner Doris Day and remember ‘Que sera, sera – what will be will be.’
If anxiety is present, one student mentioned the skillfulness of switching out the word ‘anxiety’ for ‘energy’ and then asking, ‘How is this energy benefiting me?’ and other skillful inquiries. And again, letting go of the habit of labeling yourself ‘an anxious person.’
Doubt
I can do this.
I am worthy.
I have a seat at the table of life guaranteed by having been born.
You are not uniquely deficient in whatever qualities are needed to meditate or undertake other activities. And you deserve this! If you think you don’t you might use the phrase ‘The ocean refuses no river.’ as a chant. It can release any sense of feeling unacceptable. Also, make a habit of sending yourself infinite loving kindness — May I be well. May I be at ease. May I be peaceful. May I be happy. — or other supportive loving phrases.
If you are doubting the value of the practice or the teachings, find examples in your own life, or if you’re very new to the practice, in the lives of people you know, where meditation and the dharma have been of value. If you feel you haven’t achieved enough, let go of any sense of a time frame or progress chart. That’s just more self-sabotage.
Torpor
Here and now. Wake up! This moment is worthy of my attention.
To keep your attention present, you might give yourself extra sensory stimuli: Wiggle your toes, rub your fingers together, or some other small but effective way to maintain present attention. Encourage the mind to be curious about all that is arising in this moment in the field of sensation. Question your desire to escape.
With this look at the Five Hindrances, we have launched our exploration of Concentration, the next Factor of Awakening. I hope you have found this an interesting way to look at your busy thoughts. I appreciate your comments.