Thursday, October 3, 2013

Right Thinking

In the month of September, we focused on Right Thinking in our practice.  This is following our study of Right View in August.  Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) writes, "When Right View is solid in us, we have Right Thinking (samyak samkalpa). We need Right View at the foundation of our thinking.  And if we train ourselves in Right Thinking, our Right View will improve.  Thinking is the speech of our mind.  Right Thinking makes our speech clear and beneficial.  Because thinking often leads to action, Right Thinking is needed to take us down the path of Right Action."  (pg. 59, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching)

Often, we are not aware of our thinking.  The mind just continues its storyline and this creates a great force in how we live our lives, the mood of the day or moment, and how we interact with others or regard ourselves.  In our busy culture, we just keep going and the mind keeps churning.  How often do we take an opportunity to stop and notice what is happening in our mind?  Or, in our body?  The more often we do this, the more we can take better care of ourselves and each other to be a better family member, co-worker, friend, and human being. Our conscious breath can give us the space to notice how we are feeling in body and mind, and what we are thinking.  How often do we take a conscious breath? How about right now?

The practices of yoga and meditation give us the space to witness the body, mind, and breath.  Once we realize we have a witness consciousness, the ability for meta-analysis (to think about our thinking, to observe the observer), we find we are greater than just our thoughts, our running commentary or habitual cassette tape playing in the mind.  There is a space where our greater wisdom resides, the part that resonates with universal truth, divine light, the beauty and wonder of nature.  From this place of peace, equanimity, resourcefulness, we can name our suffering, look deeply into it to find the root causes, realize there is an end to our suffering - well being exists in us, and keep coming back to the practices of the Noble Eightfold Path to restore our well being.

Thay outlines these four practices to help us with our Right Thinking: (pg. 60)

1) "Are you sure?"  "Wrong perceptions cause incorrect thinking and unnecessary suffering."  I was so happy to find this as a small framed calligraphy on retreat years ago.  It was so liberating to me, I wanted to bring it home.  Thay recommends writing, "Are you sure?" on a large piece of paper and hang it where you will see it often.  The more we can release our wrong perceptions, the more liberated and happy we will feel.

2) "What am I doing?" Often throughout our day, we are so lost in our thoughts, we don't pay attention to what we are doing.  Do you ever find yourself "waking up" from a mind hijack in the car and wondering where you were going or even missed a turn because of it? We end up going on automatic pilot so often in the car or while doing the dishes and even at work or with friends and family.  I'm not saying it is easy to stay completely present in each moment with each task and each person.  I will say it is a worthy practice to come back to as often as possible.  Thay invites us to ask "What am I doing?" to help release our thinking about the past or the future and return to the present moment.  Taking good care of the present moment, we transform the suffering of the past and are prepared for the future.  The most important moment is this moment.

3) "Hello, habit energy." "We tend to stick to our habits, even the ones that cause us to suffer...Our way of acting depends on our way of thinking, and our way of thinking depends on our habit energies.  When we recognize this, we only need to say, "Hello, habit energy," and make good friends with our habitual patterns of thinking and acting.  When we can accept these ingrained thoughts and not feel guilty about them, they will lose much of their power over us.  Right Thinking leads to Right Action."

When I was on retreat with Thay and the monastics years ago in Massachusetts, we were walking to the meditation hall early in the morning with the sunrise.  Waking up early has never been one of my favorite things to do (even on retreat).  So as we were walking and I was feeling grouchy, which I believe was partially from the early wake time as well as the space for suffering to arise and be held by the energy of the sangha, I saw a little note written beautifully and sitting up in the grass:  "Hello, habit energy."  Just like that (with a snap of the finger) the energy of irritation lifted in me.  A smile was born on my lips.  I had taken refuge in the sangha, in the present moment.

If we are lucky, we will find mindfulness bells like that sign in the grass in our lives throughout our days, not just on retreat but everywhere.  For example, a red traffic light, the telephone ring, catching a glimpse of the beauty of the changing leaves in fall or breathing in the crisp air of autumn -- whatever catches our attention to stop and say: Are your sure?, What are you doing?, Hello, habit energy, or to take a conscious breath and just be in the moment is a mindfulness bell.  Keep looking for those bells and keep putting them up around you and in your life.

4) "Bodhichitta. Our 'mind of love' is the deep wish to cutivate understanding in ourselves in order to bring hapiness to many beings.  It is the motivating force for the practice of mindful living.  With bodhichitta at the foundation of our thinking, everything we do or say will help others be liberated."

This is a good place to establish our thinking and from there grow our speech and actions, yes?  How do we discover our Bodhichitta again and again?  Breathing, asana (yoga postures), consuming wholesome food and images and sounds; taking refuge in our teachers, the teachings, and the community of practice (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha); and reciting the Love Meditation every day to practice loving kindness towards ourselves and all beings. (see below)

Thay also teaches us this practice for Right Thinking:

"...replace an unwholesome thought with a wholesome one by "changing the peg," just as a carpenter replaces a rotten peg by hammering in a new one."

So when we are caught in negative thinking or wrong perceptions, we can "change the peg."  Recite the Love Meditation, take a deep breath, allow the healing elements of nature to penetrate you, remember we are more than our thoughts, more than our body, more than just this lifetime.

Here is one more "new peg," a gatha I heard while on retreat.  It is a beautiful intention to carry and remember to bring us back into right thinking:

May we transcend the boundaries of a delusive self,
Liberating from the Superiority Complex, 
the Inferiority Complex, and the Equality Complex.

I know this post is a lot to digest.  I am sharing all of these practices as a summary of what we covered in September and hoping that at least one will resonate with you that you can carry with you to alleviate some suffering.

I close with the Love Meditation and our September chant: Asatoma Sat Gamaya (Lead me from untruth to truth, from darkness to light...)

Blessings and Love,

Love Meditation*

May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free from injury.
May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.

May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

"We begin practicing this love meditation focusing on ourselves.  Until we are able to love and take care of ourselves, we cannot be of much help to others.  Next, we can practice towards others (substituting he/she or they), first with someone we love, next with someone we like, then with someone neutral to us, and finally toward someone who has made us suffer."

 * Adapted from the Visuddhi Magga.  For other practices to nourish love, see Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1997).

Asatoma Sat Gamaya
Lead me from untruth to truth
Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya
Lead me from darkness to the light
Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya
Lead me from the fear of death to the wisdom of immortality,
from attachment to what is temporary to the wisdom of what is eternal.

Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu

Blessings of Peace, Love, and Ease of Living to you and your beloveds and to all beings!

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