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Posts Tagged ‘strength’

There are times every day when I feel that my mind is filled with cotton balls and the simplest name will not come to mind.  But then I take a few deep breaths and sit (meditate) for 5 or 10 minutes and the name will find its way up from the recesses of my brain and there it is!  I am compelled then to call the person who got me searching for this name and share my prize with him or her.

One day I was so happy to remember the name that I immediately picked up the phone, dialed my friend’s number, and shouted in the phone Al Pacino!  He said, “What?” And I repeated Al Pacino, the actor that came into my dream the other night, it was Al Pacino.  He just laughed and said, “Do you know it’s midnight?”  I apologized; we both laughed and commiserated about getting old before hanging up our phones.

Some people use external things that cloud the mind like alcohol or drugs.  Some came to a Sangha out of a desire to get help with unclouding their minds from these external things. Others came to get them unclouded from negative thoughts and feelings that were not allowing them to make good, compassionate, logical decisions about their lives. No matter what the reason sitting (meditation) and following the teachings of the Buddha will help.  But just like any bad habit–changing it does not happen overnight.

Norman Fischer in his new book Training in Compassion Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong  (2013),  talks about cultivating a serious attitude when we desire to change something in our lives. He asks us to practice the “five strengths.”  “The Five strengths are:

1.       Strong determination
2.       Familiarization
3.       Seed of virtue
4.       Reproach
5.    Aspiration (page 68”)[1]

Strength #1 is strong determination.  To make a change in your life, regardless of what it is—Ya Gottawanna!  Once you really “want to” then and only then should you begin.  I remember being on a no carb diet sometime back and found it almost impossible not to eat one of those delicious bagels that are shared each Saturday in our morning study group after Zazen.  They sure tasted a lot better than that old rice cake I was eating!  Challenges come in all ways, places, things, and degrees.

Fischer goes on to say:

Strong determination is exactly what it sounds like. It is a practice to teach us how to take ourselves seriously as dignified spiritual practitioners. To feel as if, whatever our shortcomings (and it is absolutely necessary that we are honest, even brutally honest, about our shortcomings at every point), we also have within us a powerful energy to accomplish the spiritual path (page 69).[2]

Having strong determination helps us clear our minds, keeps us from clouding up our minds, and helps us create a happier, healthier, more loving life.

The second great tip he gives us is what he calls a technique of Familiarization and it builds on the first one.

“With familiarization, with repetition and repeated drill, comes the establishment of a new habit that is not, like the old ones, unconscious but instead is a habit you have thought about and chosen to cultivate for reasons that come out of your best motivations.  Familiarization is brain washing, washing out an otherwise musty brain, freshening it up (page 70).[3]

I just love that idea; it is like using a mouth wash on your brain!

Lastly he says “Familiarization is repetition of teachings and intentional practices for the purpose of establishing new pathways, new habits.  As we’ve said, the brain is plastic, fluid it changes with our inner and outer activity (page 69).”[4]  There is an old theory of 21 that says you must do something 21 times in order to make it a habit.  I’ve never been able to do it only 21 times, for me it usually takes 121 times, but I am persistent so I keep going and going washing that brain out whenever and wherever I need to.

I work daily to make my inner work with Buddhism express in my outer world.  Each time I am successful at that I am one step closer to living the life of a Bodhisattva. And maybe, just maybe I only have 119 more days (or lives) to familiarize myself with the practice of The Grave Precept #5 till it becomes an unconscious way of life and there is one less cloud in my mind!

Things to focus on this week:

  • Step one: Begin by deciding how you will use strong determination and familiarization to help you uncloud your mind.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before the clouds appear each day.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of being determined in all you do and do not rain on others with your cloudy mind.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

[1] Fischer, N. (2013) Training in Compassion Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong . Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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