31 Mar 2016

What can Buddhism do for you?


When I run retreats or do corporate work there are some consistent themes around what people are hoping that mindfulness will do for them.  The themes are around: less stress, being overwhelmed, reactivity, better sleep (not waking up unable to switch off thoughts), more inner peace, presence and enjoyment.  We tend to think that once I have done what is on the to-do-list or got the new house or gotten married or divorced then these issues will change.   Of course that does not happen, whereas a practice of mindfulness in my experience does.  It does however not happen overnight.

We can see the Buddha as a guide, not a God. Buddhism is not a religion and not a philosophy.   Buddhism is based in experience and it offers many practical tools for living a life with less suffering.  The way to less suffering/dissatisfaction is through getting to know the mind and what is beyond the mind, this is what mindfulness is all about.

To get to know the mind we have to become conscious, aware of the body, emotions and thoughts and that of course is an ongoing process.

One way to notice the body, emotions and mind is to have an anchor point for the awareness and then notice whatever takes us away from that.  In this way we start to notice the relationship between body, feelings and thoughts.  We also start to notice what thoughts we have trained our brain to think. But also the undercurrent of wanting to feel safe, getting away from danger and anything unpleasant (physical, emotional or mental) or wanting to move towards what we think will make us feel good.  We start to notice how the body is responding to experiences and we start to notice how we feel; in other words we start to become present.

Buddha, from Sanskrit root budh means to awake, so Buddha is not a name but a title, the word refers to the awakener, the awakened and the awakening.   Did he just awaken to the nature of his mind, or did he become aware of what is beyond the mind, or possibly both?  I am sure you have experienced awakenings, moments bigger than your ‘normal’ experience?

One definition for spiritual awakening is the complete dissolution of one’s identity as a separate self with no trace of the egoic mind remaining. It is not a fixed finalized state but more an experience, a state that we enter into and out of.

Everyone has the potential for awakening or enlightenment. So what makes it more likely and why bother?

For me enlightenment or awakening is becoming aware of what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin expressed like this: ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience’.  Awakening is becoming aware of this, it is the realization or the experience of something much bigger, infinitely larger and indescribable and a sense that this is our true essence.  The enlightened moments can be an experience of rapture, of infinite bliss and bathing in abundant light or a sense of being at one with everything.  In itself a wonderful experience, but it also gives us a new context on everything else that happens in our lives.  As Jack Kornfield wrote, ‘After the ecstasy, the laundry’ – a very salient point worth considering.   Perhaps we can take a little of the ecstasy into the laundry, enabling us to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

So this is the integration.  We are Human Beings, and as Tolle suggests, ask yourself, ‘can I sense the essential beingness behind my doing?’  Can I sense the space and grace in this moment?  We start to live more and more moments of integration; an integration of the spiritual, the emotional, the physical and the mental – a dance of perspectives with a muted sense of the Self.  In that alone is much less suffering as well as much better sleep!

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