Permission to Relax

A Kadampa Buddhist practitioner for 25 years, this guest author is a self-employed, healthcare business owner who practices Asian Medicine in the rural American South. She claims that she can provide a stainless example of the trial and error of integrating Dharma into a busy modern life. Her disclaimer: “My observations are neither new nor unique, but I can sincerely share what it’s like to NOT use the power of rest and relaxation!”

This morning, I woke up aware (again) of a self that starts the day thinking, “TIME TO GET GOING!! SO MUCH TO DO! … Better HURRY!”

Picture1

Yeah, so maybe this is not necessarily a bad thing … IF the energy of these thoughts were used with positive spiritual intentions. They could be quite valuable to motivate and energize a self to get up out of bed.

But, usually, if you are anything like me, this starts up mental PUSHING.

The voice of this “I” or self has some strong belief that I need to push to “get through” the day.

And, the gaping agenda of any given day: the household chores, the email, the messages, the work tasks, ah, the ToDo List … and, not to mention, getting on the meditation cushion … I will have to push myself to get to it all. It can certainly feel like it’s not “okay” to relax my mind or my body. 

Picture 2However, what I have learned in over two decades as a Kadampa practitioner is that I have a strong identification with a uncomfortable limited self, one I have drolly named “Nagatha”.  She “nags” me on.  She schemes and plots, always pushing me — she is never satisfied.  Her list is never done and, although she “lets” me have some daily formal meditation, it is rare that she allows for much satisfaction for some inner peace.

Reading the more recent Kadampa Life posts HERE about self-hatred and being self-critical, I started thinking about how this very critical-nagging-Nagatha self takes a lot of license to keep pushing me around. Nagatha wants to keep me believing that I have to push for the energy to “get through” the day.  But, sadly, it’s never enough for Picture 3her. And the overall “I” or Self that gets reinforced is the one who believes she’s never been enough, she’s not enough now, and she never will be enough. 

How easy it is, then, to start to hate that self, to believe that “she” is a failure, day in and day out.  This further fuels Nagatha, of course, to keep on criticizing, nagging, and pushing.

I realize more and more that this is the very opposite of what the enlightened beings have long been saying to us.  Geshe Kelsang has spelled out in many places the importance and power of rest.  My Nagatha tends to stay busy overriding and drowning out his words.  She bullies me into believing that I will be able to rest my mind when (and only when) my ToDo List is finished. I call this the “Unfinished Business of Busyness” — which Nagatha is determined to make me DO.

When someone in my clinical treatment room looks at me wearily and elaborates on how exhausted they are, I usually find that they also picture 5don’t believe that they have permission to stop, to rest. Even the mention of making “time to meditate” seems like just a really cute little ideal. “Yeah, right, like I have any time to stop or sit still! … I can’t do THAT!” 

But there’s always much to do and many things to pay attention to (read: distractions). Our family, our culture, and our world all make for plenty of evidence.  However, no amount of evidence alters Buddha’s verdict. This inner battle we create — between our striving and pushing self and our wiser, more peaceful self — has never delivered lasting happiness. 

We continue to engage in a kind of inner ‘Warfare” instead of developing inner ‘Well-fare’. It doesn’t make for a healthy day — much less a healthy experience of the spiritual path.

Geshe-la says, actually, in How to Transform Your Life (free for download HERE), that we need to:

take care of ourself and look after our needs…otherwise we undermine our capacity to benefit others. … Moreover, others may conclude that we are imbalanced and consequently will not trust us or believe what we say … so we will not be able to help them. 

He also says that if we are

not happy with ourself or foolishly neglect our own well-being, we will have neither the confidence nor the energy to effect radical spiritual transformation.

picture 6Sounds to me that this masterful spiritual teacher of mine is directly highlighting something I have definitely experienced along the way: that if I am going to be self-critical or neglect my own need for rest and replenishment, it will set me up for failure. A failed self who wishes to be of benefit to others.  I won’t be able to provide authentic or lasting assistance (right again, thanks Nagatha!)

In the past I was able to override basic physical needs for much stopping or resting … and eventually it caught up. What was also terribly dispicture 7heartening to discover was that it began to  threaten and undermine my confidence in my potential — my Buddha nature — which is inexhaustible in its power to benefit others.

Nagatha’s pushing kept feeding the self I would normally see and then believe: the self who is never enough, doing enough, having enough, being enough.   

So, I had to check: Who IS this self or “I”? 

picture 8

And is this really the self I am going to ask for permission to relax and be happy?!

If I keep on asking Nagatha, can I really expect to be granted time to stop, reflect, regroup, or refuel for a positive, relaxed, much less joyful daily life?

I don’t know about you, but I found that I would rather find and listen to someone who has a bigger mind than I do. Who has seen and explained that rest itself is a power — it is one of the four essential powers of joyful effort. And, after all, Buddha seems pretty darned positive, relaxed, and joyful!

Geshe Kelsang explains very clearly in Joyful Path of Good Fortune that if

we relax at the right time we shall soon be able to apply new effort again. … Timely relaxation maintains the constancy of our practice. … If we neglect the need for rest we become  overtired and we are not able to apply effort again with joy.

I have seen over time that following the advice of the self I normally see makes not only my day, but my spiritual life path, a less than joyful one. Instead it can become all about pushing, hurrying, and busyness.  And the self who lives that life eventually gets really really tired.

picture 9Why is it that when we’re thirsty we get a drink and when we’re hungry we find some food, but when we’re tired we’re like: “What is WRONG with me?!”

Perhaps we can check in: “Do I need to find ways to rest more?” I am betting that if you’re like me, you will see that resting the body and the mind, even for a few more peaceful moments throughout the day, goes a lot further to fostering more heartfelt presence for others.

A more relaxed mind naturally has more space for kindness, love, and compassion. There’s more available energy to be satisfied and fulfilled in our own efforts.  If we ourselves can experience these inner resources, we will naturally be more able to resource others.

Do you permit yourself to take a rest, even a short break from pushing, or from your nagging self? 

How often do you make one of your own “ToDo” items Rest and Relaxation?  Do you give yourself that permission?

I spend my days at work offering these questions in the spirit of permission. (People actually PAY me to offer some room and time to rest and physically and mentally stop!) Surely this indicates a basic need — one that Geshe-la has always told us about. Not to mention, the enlightened beings themselves don’t seem to be busy hurrying around in a bustle of dissatisfaction!

Maybe, if you will, just think about it.  Maybe take a moment to stop and contemplate (dare I say ‘meditate’ on this?) … I am talking to myself here, as well as to those of you who have been self-professed meditators for a long time but are still feeling less than deeply relaxed.

Here are some simple instructions to start giving it a try — a short mental rest break. 

And here’s a Permission Slip: picture 10

How to feel less busy all the time

This continues directly from this article.

busy 1Time off?!

Also, if you actually itemize what many frenetically “busy” people do every week, my bet would be that they (we, you) have far more leisure time than they think, it is just that instead of using the time to unwind and recharge they just fill it up with more stuff and distractions, eg, surfing the internet, driving places, organized leisure activities, computer games, Netflix. Having fun on the outside, perhaps, but feeling preoccupied on the inside. So leisure time feels busy too.

Flying recently, the moment we touched down almost every single person on that plane grabbed their phone. That withdrawal and addiction – it’s a bit like smoking, only smoking has been banned from public places whereas everyone can indulge their addiction for digital data. Scratching that itch – where is the happiness in that? We can’t live like that. Here’s an experiment: how long can you last without wanting to pick up your smartphone?! (I am talking to myself here.)

So technology, for all its uses, has not helped in this regard. The fleeting world is always-on — texts, tweets, emails, and status updates. (Also, on another subject, we are not really “connected” — we are isolated because we have no time to think deeply about each other or reality.) Now of course you can even get an Apple Watch that gives your wrist a little electric shock to announce all the wildly exciting alerts that cannot wait, even if you are actually trying to have an interesting conversation with someone. (It’s a bit like when servers interrupt deep, meaningful conversations at restaurants to ask if everything is ok?! Is it just me who gets bugged by that?!) That watch sounds like torture to me. Apparently the average video etc screen also changes every 7 to 11 seconds – now how does that not constitute over-stimulation?! There may be excitement in it, perhaps, but there is no real happiness if there is no real peace.busy 4

Froth and sparkles

Peace comes from concentration, being able to stay on one object. Single-tasking, not multi-tasking. If we are identifying entirely with the froth and sparkles on top of the ocean, oblivious to the vast stillness and peace beneath, there is not much peace in that.

I reckon we have plenty of time to meditate and get in touch with who we are, really, if we want to. Certainly enough time. Is there anyone who absolutely cannot find 20 minutes a day to meditate? Although we may complain at first that it is just another pressure on our to-do list, the reality is that it will open up the space and time we need for the rest of our day. The time to meditate is when you don’t have time for it.

In this way, we’ll have more freedom. Otherwise we are a bit like mindless automatons — the opposite of meditators. (What do you do first thing in the morning – reach for Facebook or absorb into your heart chakra?!) I read a study recently about what happened when people lost their iPhone – out of 100 people, 73 experienced panic, 8 experienced physical sickness, 7 felt nervous, and only 7 were cool with it.

“But I’m too busy to meditate!”

And, as mentioned, I would argue that we are not necessarily doing more, or getting more things done, not in the grand scheme of things — but just feeling busier. My teacher Geshe Kelsang, for example, has thousands of centers and students and a universal feeling of responsibility for others — if anyone has a right to feel under pressure, busy, or overextended it is him, but he is the most spacious, blissful, relaxed person you’ll ever meet.

Busy BusinessmanSo if we learn to increase our inner space and peace we can have a life full of things we want to do, but we don’t have to feel so busy, as if there’s never enough time, as if there’s always something else that needs doing, as if we’re running behind the bus. We don’t need that feeling. The feeling of being overwhelmed by all the things we need to do comes from uncontrolled thoughts, a bit like a dog with a bone, not able to stay in the moment and abide in space while still getting things done. We are not able to let go of distractions and enjoy a feeling of peace, the natural peace of our own settled mind. More than anything else, we need relief from the time pressure by setting aside time to meditate to access that peace. Not being too busy to take the medicine! The objection “But I am too busy to meditate!” is precisely why we need to meditate.

If you are new to meditation it is good to keep it short and sweet – 5, 10, or 15 minutes. Our mind is like an out of control elephant! (that’s what Buddha said). The mind is the most powerful force in the universe – for destruction or creativity. If we have no control over it, we have no control over our lives. When people start meditating they can often only manage about 3 minutes before they even forget they’re supposed to be meditating – so don’t worry if you feel like that, I wish I had a dollar for every time some says, “I am too distracted to meditate!” It gets better quickly, but you have to want to do it. For example, you manage to concentrate on your driving for considerably more than 3 minutes, presumably as you want to stay alive. You don’t text when you drive.

“You’re not that busy.”

Another tip for not feeling so overwhelmingly busy is to stop insisting to ourself that we’re overwhelmingly busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are. We can say to ourselves instead, “You’re not that busy”, or even “I have lots of time”, and then calmly do one thing after another. Living in the moment gives us all the time we need.swimming in bathtub

Swimming in a bathtub

Someone the other day put a good analogy on Facebook (that fount of all knowledge!) of swimming in the bathtub — splashing around hurting our limbs, and not really getting anywhere. Whereas the same strokes in a vast ocean feel blissful and expansive. So we can do the same daily activities either in the bathtub or in the ocean of the clarity and stillness of our own peaceful mind.

In meditation, we can relax into the natural rhythm of the breath. We can experience a moment by moment presence of mind, or mindfulness. We can get in touch with the present moment by getting in touch with the clarity and peace of our own mind. So we can rest our mind in meditation, and then bring that peace with us into daily life. We don’t forget about it but keep tuning into it, and everything becomes lighter, easier, and less frantic.

Comments welcome! (If you have time.)

Are you busy?

“How are you?” I just asked someone. And she answered with a pained expression, “Busy!!!” “What are you up to?” I continued, and she replied that she had loads on at work and was also trying to organize her wedding, which was stressing her out. “I am too attached to the perfect wedding,” she said.

So often these days people reply, “I’m so busy!”. “Busy” seems to be the new “fine”. How often do you hear yourself saying things like this about your life: “hectic,” “whirlwind,” “consumed,” “crazy,” “it’s hard to keep up with it all,” “on the run,” “way too fast”? because apparently those words and expressions are on the rise. People are saying we have an epidemic of busy-ness in modern society.

busy 2
Four-armed …. ?!

But is it the case that we have so much more to do than in previous generations, or do we simply FEEL crazy busy because we cannot focus on one thing at a time, everything bleeds into everything else, and we cannot control our busy thoughts? Concentration and mindfulness actually make us feel peaceful, as if we have all the time in the world. So I wonder if we are in a concentration and mindfulness deficit rather than a deficit of time. I spoke to that friend again an hour later, after she’d done a meditation class, and she was smiling and chilled, thoughts of weddings and work pressures no longer overwhelming her.

Time for meditation 

Before we get started on the subject, let’s pause to relax, settle, and rest the mind by doing a short meditation to control our crazy mind and let go of the feelings of busyness.

We can first settle into a good posture with a straight back, etc, and focus on how we’re sitting, forget about everything else.

We feel we drop from our thinky head into the spaciousness of our root mind at our heart, where already some of our scattered thoughts dissolve away into space, like clouds into a vast, clear sky.

We can let go of all the tension in our body, like dropping heavy luggage, and let every muscle soften. Our body melts into light, we could pass our hand through it without obstruction, and it becomes as weightless as air. We can enjoy this deep physical relaxation for a little while.

lotus 2Then we can think that everything outside our body melts into light in all directions and disappears. This light then gathers towards us, leaving behind only empty space, like a mist lifting, until only our hollow body remains.

We can also think that everything up to this moment in time melts into light and disappears. It vanishes like last night’s dream. The past doesn’t exist anyway, it is being erased by the moment.

And everything after this moment also disappears – the future doesn’t exist either.

In this way we feel fully alive and alert in the present moment, the here and the now.

(As most of our feelings of busy-ness and being overwhelmed involve clinging to a past or worrying about a future, this simple contemplation alone can do wonders to help us relax and let go.)

And then we can, if we like, do some breathing meditation to let go of all remaining distractions and problems. We can think that these gather at the level of our heart in the form of thick heavy smoke, and then we let them go by breathing them out – they are just thoughts and we don’t need to keep thinking them. We feel our mind becoming lighter and purer with every out-breath.

We can think that our in-breath is the aspect of light, the most beautiful light you can imagine, and the nature of peace, and we ride this light deep into our heart, where it joins the inner light of our Buddha nature.

Finally, we can spend a few minutes identifying with this peace at our heart, enjoying it. We recognize it as the peaceful nature of our own mind and our potential for lasting peace and freedom. This is me! All that crazy busyness and worry is not.

As we arise from our meditation, we take this space into our busy daily lives so that it remains in the background of what we do. We can dip into it anytime, come into the present moment by simply sitting with and enjoying the peace of our own mind.

Busy is as busy does

(Actually I have no idea what that expression means …) Anyway, one definition of busy according to dictionary.com isbusy 3 “full of or characterized by activity”. So, there is nothing wrong with being busy per se (providing we are busy doing helpful things!) – but there is a problem if our busy-ness is consuming us and stressing us out, if we are feeling scattered, fragmented, or exhausted. However much we have to do, we want to be able to do it within a feeling of space and perspective.

Apparently people brag about being busy these days, as if it shows what a full life they are leading. Even dictionary.com says the antonym of busy is “indolent” or “unoccupied” and who wants to be that?! But being fully occupied doesn’t make us more glamorous. Being available 24/7 doesn’t make us the ideal worker. These are not marks of worth or social standing. We may think that having a huge amount of things to do makes us important or productive, but “There is more to life than its speed”, as Gandhi said, and if we are busy doing a lot of pointless things there is not much to feel proud about.

Laziness, according to Buddhism, can be slothful or indolent getting nowhere, but it can also be running around doing meaningless activities getting nowhere. Plus, over-busy 6extending ourselves doesn’t actually make us happy, just stressed out, so, given that happiness is what we really want, how successful is that? Our actual life can get lost in the flotsam and jetsam of our to-do lists, none of which will mean a thing when we are dying, or even, frankly, before that eg, when we retire, or next year. Our most precious non-renewable resource is time – we need to use it in the most meaningful way possible — and meaningful and busy are not synonyms.

The other day I had to do something new technologically at work and I wasn’t sure if I knew how to. In fact I knew I didn’t know how to. But I felt a little under pressure so I started thinking about it way ahead of the time I had my meeting scheduled with co-workers, and my thoughts ran away with themselves, “This is way too tricky! And I’m supposed to be able to sort this out but I can’t! My boss’ll think I’m incompetent. I’ll be fired! But I need the money!” Etc. So I felt under pressure, busy, not enough time, and then we had the meeting and it was all fine and we figured it out and even had a laugh while doing it. So what was all that inappropriate attention, or worry, for?!

I think we do this a lot in our society, wasting time worrying unnecessarily about ourselves and what we need to do, so we feel far busier than we actually are. We have all of tomorrow to do what needs to be done tomorrow – why worry about it today? We need a method to shut down the tape that runs in our minds about all that needs to be done that day, that week, that year.

More coming soon … it is already written, but I know you guys are way too busy to read it all in one sitting 😉