“A genuine spiritual path does not avoid difficulties or mistakes but leads us to the art of making mistakes wakefully, bringing them to the transformative power of our heart. When we set out to love, to awaken, to become free, we are inevitably confronted with our own limitations. As we look into ourselves we see more clearly our unexamined conflicts and fears, our frailties and confusion. To witness this can be difficult. Lama Trungpa Rinpoche described spiritual progress from the ego’s point of view as ‘one insult after another’”.
“We first reach for a little humility, knowing that we shall perish of alcoholism if we do not.”
-As Bill Sees It p. 211
“By their example they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we placed humility first.”
-Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions p. 30 (Step Two)
“You learn something every day if you pay attention.”
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
Today, we are going to be answering a question from a user on on Instagram page that read, “How do I know that I live in honesty to myself?” Often, we hear advice about living true to ourselves, not pretending to be somebody else and not lying to ourselves about who we are and what we want. This question really made us think, and here are a few suggestions we came up with.
I know that it seems that we suggest meditation as a solution to almost every question, but it is because it truly helps! When we are trying to investigate if we are being honest with ourselves, there are a couple meditation techniques that can be of great help.
First, you may try a feeling meditation. Begin your meditation with a few minutes of concentration practice, simply focusing on the breath. After 5 minutes or so, turn your attention to your feelings. You may ask yourself the question, “What am I feeling?” Repeat this question at a pace that feels right to you. You may answer either with a feeling or with a simple, “I don’t know.” You may note when you are feeling anger, happiness, joy, confusion, etc. When you find that you are feeling something, don’t dive into the story. Simply note the feeling and how it feels.
This meditation practice helps us get in touch with ourselves. Although we may not immediately know when we are being honest with ourselves or not, this meditation can put us in touch with our hearts. When we repeatedly sit down with the intention of looking at our feeling states, we become generally more aware of what is going on within.
Open Awareness Meditation
Another meditation that we may practice to help us get honest with ourselves is a general mindfulness meditation. A mindfulness, or open awareness sit can give great insight. Again, start by focusing on the breath. After a few minutes open your attention to everything going on. Use the breath as an anchor, but allow your attention to turn toward sounds, smells, thoughts, and physical sensations. Your focus may be drawn to a pain in your knee. Simply note where your attention is, and return to the breath. Your attention may then be drawn to a thought. Note that you are thinking, and return to the breath.
Just like the other meditation above, repeated practice helps us get in touch with ourselves. Over time, we are able to know what we are feeling and where our attention is more easily. There are many things that go into the creation of our present moment experience. With daily meditation practice, we are able to see the causes of our experience.
Take an Inventory
Another great tool for trying to connect honestly with yourself is an inventory process. An inventory is fairly simple and can be done however you want. Twelve step programs stress an inventory as an important part of their program, and many religious and spiritual traditions encourage an inventory as well.
To take an inventory, simply sit down with a pen and some paper. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Begin by listing things that are going on with you right now. They may be resentments, fears, joys, successes, or anything else you have going on. Simply begin by listing these things, without judgement. Maybe somebody upset you today at work. Maybe you are fearing an upcoming event. Maybe you can’t stop thinking about a mistake you made earlier in the week. Whatever it is, jot it down.
When you feel that you have a good list of things you are carrying around, take some time to examine each of them. You may do this by writing more, or by taking a contemplative route and meditating. As you sit with each of these things going on with you, be sure to notice how they make you feel. Make an effort to be present for them. There’s no reason to run from them. Averting just pushes them down further, and doesn’t prevent them from affecting you. As you sit with them and get to know what is going on, you begin to know yourself a little better.
Follow Your Gut
Our last suggestion is to simply follow your gut. To judge your own honesty with yourself, sometimes you just have to go with your instinct. If something doesn’t quite feel right, it is probably not the right, honest thing to do. If you find yourself acting in a way that brings up some discomfort, you may not be acting in accordance with your true self. If you say things that don’t feel right, it is a sign as well.
It may help to check in with yourself before you do something that you are on the fence about. If you are not sure what to do or say, take a moment to see what your heart says. Often, a subtle discomfort or strange feeling is all we need to know what to do. Being honest with ourselves isn’t easy, but it is simple. We turn to our bodies and listen to what it has to tell us.
These ideas for practicing self-honesty are just a few. There are many other ways you may practice. We encourage you to find a way that works for you. Look out for the judgement and fear, for when you begin to touch your true self, you often come into contact with the protective wall you have built up for years.
“Another way to look at it is to compare practice to a bottle of medicine a doctor leaves for his patient. On the bottle is written detailed instructions on how to take the medicine, but no matter how many hundred times the patient reads the directions, he is bound to die if that is all he does. He will gain no benefit from the medicine. And before he dies he may complain bitterly that the doctor wasn’t any good, that the medicine didn’t cure him! He will think that the doctor was a fake or that the medicine was worthless, yet he has only spent his time examining the bottle and reading the instructions. He hasn’t followed the advice of the doctor and taken the medicine.”
“The deception of others is nearly always rooted in the deception of ourselves.”
-A.A. Grapevine, August 1961
“There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.”
-Alcoholics Anonymous p. 58 (How it Works)
“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
“The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful then a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”
A user on our Instagram asked us, “How can we start syncing meditation and technology?” I really enjoyed this question, as I think the technology of today (and tomorrow) can make huge differences in our practice. There are several areas in which technology can affect us.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of meditation and technology is the plethora of studies being done. A study taking fMRI’s of meditators found that the brain showed increase attention levels http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2010/132717/abs/). An article on Huffington Post lists many ways that mindfulness can help your life, all backed by scientific research (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/mindfulness-meditation-benefits-health_n_3016045.html?utm_hp_ref=gps-mindfulness-research). Another study on compassion meditation found through use of fMRI’s that the subjects were able to “alter the activation of circuitries” related to empathy (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001897#pone-0001897-g004). Finally, a study of the jhanas found that experienced meditators are indeed able to self-stimulate the brain (http://www.hindawi.com/journals/np/2013/653572/abs/).
That may be a lot of information to take in. My point is that technology has helped us understand mindfulness, compassion, concentration, and other types of meditation. As technology progresses, so does our understanding of meditation. For those that enjoy having evidence behind their beliefs, these studies (among hundreds of others) may create some faith. These studies may not seem applicable to you in your daily practice, but they can be a great tool in further understanding what is going on during meditation. For example, you may learn that in a jhanic state, ”extreme joy is associated not only with activation of cortical processes but also with activation of the nucleus accumbens (NAc) in the dopamine/opioid reward system.” The Buddhist teachings of cause and effect apply here. With modern technology, we are now better able to see what meditation is doing to our consciousness.
If you are interested in this kind of information, I highly recommend checking out Buddhist Geeks, a community of Buddhists interested in the intersection of Buddhism and technology.
The Internet, Social Media, and Smartphones: Benefits
The technology available to us today can be of great benefit to us. To begin with, we have the Internet. The Internet is a great resource for us in our meditation practice. All across the web, we can find dharma talks and guided meditations. Places like Dharma Seed, Dhamma Talks, and Against the Stream offer free audio files. Sites like these did not exist twenty years ago. There are also numerous podcasts on iTunes offering free meditation material.
The Internet also hosts thousands of websites related to Buddhism and meditation (like us)! From Zen to secular mindfulness, you can find virtually anything you are looking for. One of my favorite sites is Access to Insight, a site that contains translations of many Buddhist suttas. Using the Internet to our advantage, we can make it a great tool in our practice.
Although social media is not often thought of as a tool for meditation, it absolutely can help us in our practice. Pretty much every major social media platform has accounts or pages related to Buddhism and/or meditation. Not only can we read about the experiences and opinions of others; we can connect with them. The social media boom and the Internet are important factors in globalization. Today, more than ever, we are able to connect with others around the world with ease. We need not struggle to find like-minded people. With social media, we can connect with and learn from other people. We can share ideas and experiences, and create communities encouraging growth. Sites like Google+ offer us the opportunity to lead group meditations on the Internet. If you are interested in a free online meditation group we do, email us at Meditate@TheEasierSofterWay.com.
Social media interaction isn’t the same as face-to-face interaction. Obviously we should strive to create connections in person. However, social media sites may help us build new friendships. Services like Meetup, Facebook Groups and Events, and Yelp allow us to find people and places in the real world.
Finally, there is a huge influx in smartphone and tablet use. There are many apps that I find to be just wonderful. My favorite is Insight Timer. Insight Timer is a meditation timer that offers multiple starting and ending bells, interval bells, meditation statistics, and Insight Connect, a social media for meditators. I also really enjoy the Dharma Seed, Access to Insight, and Podcast apps. Although the smartphone may be a huge distraction (see below), it also may be a great tool.
One thing to consider with the use of cell phones is that we are able to reach out more easily. I have a few mentors and teachers that I call and text regularly. Cell phones give us the opportunity to reach out when we need to, and for us to be there when others need someone. The cell phone is a truly powerful tool. Joanna Harper tells a story about mudita buddies. Mudita buddies are two people that call or text each other to share their joy. It may be something simple such as hearing a bird sing or finding a good parking spot. Cell phones allow two people to connect and share their practices.
The Internet, Social Media, and Smartphones: Hindrances
These new forms of technology can also be detrimental to our practice. We often use technology to check out. When we find ourselves experiencing something unpleasant, we turn to our phones, computers, and other gadgets. Our relationship to technology is often one of escaping and of aversion.
Although new technology has much to offer us in our meditation practice, we must be aware of the harms it may cause. I like to make a point to leave my phone behind or shut it off when appropriate. Times that may warrant freedom from technology include meals, conversations with friends or loved ones, and during meditation groups. For you, there may be different times to leave the phone behind.
The point is that we must use technology mindfully. I don’t think we should stay off social media and cell phones. I think it is far more beneficial to learn to use them wisely. It is not an easy practice; most of us use our gadgets mindlessly most of the time. Like our sitting meditation practice, it takes time.
Your attachment to technology may be a great teacher! Try going on retreat for a week or so. You will probably find yourself thinking several times about missed calls, emails, friend requests, and much more. Rather than beating yourself up over the craving, use it as an opportunity to learn. Dive into the craving. Get to know it. It is in the moments of suffering that liberation is possible.
Yesterday, we were asked on our Instagram page, “What’s the easiest, softest way to clear an anxious mind for meditation?” We do our best to answer the question as given, and our answer is: don’t.
We don’t need to clear our anxiety in order to meditate. Our anxiety makes for a great meditation subject. Often, we think that in order to meditate, we must have a completely clear mind. However, meditation is not about stopping the mind from thinking. Racing thoughts do not prevent us from meditating.
When we are anxious and sit down to meditate, we can turn our attention to the anxiety. How do you know you are anxious? Do you feel it in the body? When we sit in meditation, we may be able to see how anxiety affects us. We may feel a tightness in our chest, increased heart rate, or tension in our extremities. When we turn toward our anxiety, we gain insight about it. Rather than an overwhelming or all-consuming feeling, we are able to experience anxiety as it is: a feeling in the body, coupled with a quality of the mind.
The Buddha taught an antidote to restlessness and worry, or uddhacca-kukkucca in Pali. He said that when experiencing restlessness and worry, we should practice relaxation (passaddhi), concentration (samadhi), and equanimity (upekkha). When we are practicing these qualities, it is not that anxiety will immediately leave us. These qualities help us to see our anxiety more clearly and understand it. We eventually change our relationship with anxiety and are no longer under its control.
This passage from Analayo makes another great point:
“I once read a book about Zen. In Zen, you know, they don’t teach with a lot of explanation. For instance, if a monk is falling asleep during meditation, they come with a stick and ‘whack!’ they give him a hit on the back. When the erring disciple is hit, he shows his gratitude by thanking the attendant. In Zen practice one is taught to be thankful for all the feelings which give one the opportunity to develop.”