Follow the “Flow”

Go to http://www.flowdestiny.com to follow my new blog project, called Mastering “Flow”.  It is based on a spiritual, energetic theme I have been exploring in my contemplative and life practices, which I call “Flow”.

In this blog, I will be sharing my process of uncovering, understanding, accessing, and surrendering to the “Flow” – A process of allowing my life’s destiny to naturally unfold.

 

 

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How Much Truthfulness Is Too Much

Strangely enough, the same week our Vipassana meditation group (AIM) explored truthfulness, two people whom I consider close friends were both independently and blatantly dishonest with me.  There was no question about the fact that they were lacking truthfulness.  My questions were WHY and HOW should I respond?

During the actual dishonest occurences, mindfulness revealed that I was experiencing some major physical contraction and discomfort.  Given this, I realized that anything I said or did would come across pretty unskillfully, so I didn’t say or do anything to my so-called friends at the time.

Since both instances happened on the same day, within a couple hours of each other, once the dust settled, I felt a little shell-shocked!   Once I got over the shock, my initial internal reaction was to feel confusion, followed by the thoughts of being disrespected and dishonored, which resulted in feeling angry and finally hurt.  Wow!  All that within a few moments!

I gave myself the time, loving kindness and attention I needed to feel what was arising in my mind, heart, and body.  I also saw how this process of taking my SELF so seriously caused a great deal of internal strife as evidenced by a mindstorm of repetitive, negative thinking, physical discomfort, and hurt feelings.  Wow again!  

Finally, my mind, heart, and body calmed, leaving a huge space of loving kindness and compassion for myself and my friends.  I clearly saw and understood how their own internal stress motivated their dishonesty, and I felt a great sense of compassion for the huge amount of fear or contractedness any sense of self can manifest – in each of us!

From this grounded place, I was able to decide whether addressing the two friends would be skillful or even necessary.   Wisdom communicated to me that one of my friends would not be open to receiving anything I had to say about the matter, and that any such actions would only motivate more ego development and stress, so I did nothing.  Wisdom did motivate me to tell the other person some of the process I experienced as the result of her actions, and how sad I felt during our time of perceived disconnection.  We ended up having an open, honest, and deeply healing and connected conversation.

Obviously, I’ve left a lot of details out of this story, but the main point is that these things happen to all of us more often than we’d like to admit.  Sometimes, we are dishonest to with others to protect our fear-based ego selves from looking bad, being misunderstood, disliked, or rejected.  During our dishonest protection of our SELVES, we are stuck in a mind habit pattern that we’ve used as an ego survival mechanism.  This is a very painful pattern to be stuck in.  Most everyone has been there.

Before you confront someone else’s dishonesty, it is very important to first be grounded in the other person’s motivating disconnection and pain.  This will help you come from a place of compassion, as opposed to judgement or blame.  Then, let your inner wisdom guide you as to whether to say anything at all, as well as guide your words.

It is important to remember that because we all have these crazy human minds, we are all delusional to one degree or another.  It is irrational to expect delusional minds to operate with clarity, caring, and perfection at all times.  

We get to have patience and compassion with ourselves and others.  If the other person’s level of delusion motivates regular dishonest communication, we also get to decide who we want to be in close relationship with.

Most importantly, we continue to commit to practicing every moment, on the cushions and off, in order to gradually peel these layers of delusion away.  As we do so, beauty, clarity, love, and connection take over.

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Transforming Our World From the Inside-Out

I am honestly tired of hearing so many spiritual soothsayers from around the globe bombarding us with warnings that we are entering a new era, where humankind will be subjected to overwhelming spiritual and physical energies.  According to their prophecies, these new energies are expected to propel us forward to a new awareness into psychic and spirit realms, while promising extinction to the not-so-evolved suckers!

Although these predictions vary somewhat, most contain forebodings of incredibly tough times to come.  Many also contain pleas, warning us earthlings to “get with the program” and start preparing ourselves spiritually and physically for the chaos that will supposedly occur during an en masse spiritual awakening process.  In fact, such talk is quickly becoming main stream in many spiritual circles.  After hearing this constant babble, I have the inclination to go stockpile food, meditate for four hours to calm my nerves, and laugh at my gullibility, all at the same time.

Whether we personally believe such future changes are probable or not, as compassionate human beings on earth today, it has already become quite challenging dealing with Continue reading

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Mindful Speech – Part 1.

While leading AIM sangha’s group discussion, I was very moved by people’s sharing about their difficulties with practicing Mindful or Wise Speech.  Their sharing (some of which I will include below)  illuminated our mutual challenges as human beings.  After all, we have all felt great fear, frustration, disappointment, joy, excitement, and sadness at some points in our lives.  The goal is not to AVOID  feeling negative emotions, but to learn how to work with even difficult emotional states with growing skill and compassion.   Then, to communicate with others from a place of love and caring.

One woman shared that the worst mind habit pattern she has to deal with is how she speaks to herself.  She confided in how she has bought into a “Big Lie” that she is just not capable of handling whatever life task or situation that lies before her.  Since she has had many life successes, she intellectually realizes that this isn’t true, but even still, she spoke about how difficult it is for her to let go of this self-deprecating belief.  Luckily, she feels that she has made progress in simply being compassionate with herself, while she continues to figure out how to let go of this limiting belief.  This brought up the question, which is:  “how do you speak to yourself?”  I’ve heard people say that I would never speak to another the way I speak inwardly to myself.  When we strengthen our mindfulness practice, we start to hear our self-talk.  What’s really freeing is when we take the leap of understanding that we do NOT have to believe or buy into the oftentimes inane chattering of our minds.

Another young man spoke about how much fear comes up for him around speaking honestly, because it requires a certain level of naked vulnerability.  Let’s face it, being honest can be downright scary!   Which brings up the question:  “how might you be holding back out of fear of being vulnerable?  How might you be hiding, lying to yourself or others out of fear, or to be accepted, liked, or to gain something?”  Please ask yourself these questions from a place of curious inquiry, and not use them as one more opportunity to beat yourself up.

My personal practice and the work I do with my clients, includes teaching others to allow their inner wisdom to guide their interactions with others, which includes the wisdom to know when, if, and what to speak up about.   Initially, it takes courage to allow your inner wisdom to be your guide.  But, with continued practice, it becomes as natural as breathing.

More to come about Mindful Speech!!!

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Why the Buddha made the “No Wealth” Rule for the Noble Disciples

During our Dharma talk discussion last Tuesday night concerning money, one of the sangha members asked why the Buddha made the rule that the persons taking refuge with the Buddha – noble disciples, now called Buddhist monks, could not own or acquire wealth?

Unfortunately, I did not have the time to answer this question completely, so this writing is a more in-depth response to that question.

The Buddha’s rule for anyone joining his order was that this person had to relinquish ALL worldly possessions (not just wealth) as part of his or her process.  A noble disciple became “homeless”.  He or she was allowed to own only a robe and a begging bowl.  No more, no less.

I think it’s important for us to first understand the culture during the Buddha’s era.  There were hundreds of different religions in India at that time, and the people were heavily steeped in the religious underpinnings of their culture.  People who chose the Holy life as their path and contribution often became wandering ascetics (with only their robes and a bowl).  They left their homes, and spent their time during their days praying, meditating, or doing whatever prescribed practices they were led to perform.  Such devotees did not have the time and energy to work for food.  Householders who chose the different life as a layperson or noble person who respected the ascetics’ commitment to their spiritual path saw it as an honor to feed these homeless wanderers.  In turn, these wandering ascetics often gave the householders the benefit of a spiritual teaching, or even just their presence for a short while.

The Buddha, himself, left his home and life as a wealthy prince to become a wandering ascetic, with only a robe and a bowl in his possession.  That was the path of the holy life.  So, it makes sense that the Buddha would continue this expectation of those who took refuge with him.

To break it down further, there were many logical benefits for noble disciples to forfeit their wealth and worldly possessions.  For example, the Buddha found that:

  • Your mind can be clearer and calmer if it is not preoccupied with taking care of its wealth and possessions.  No things to worry about.
  • You can wander around from village to village without having to carry a large pack around.
  • Your mind will have less greed and wanting when you learn to live without the need to acquire.
  • The Noble Disciples’ begging, gave the householders an opportunity to practice generosity.
  • Receiving alms food from householders allowed the noble disciples to practice gratitude in receiving.

Of course, these rules made sense over 2500 years ago in that particular culture.  I am not sure why ordained monks continue with these rules today.  I assume to carry on the tradition that the Buddha set out, as well as to lessen the input for Greedy or Wanting Mind to become a hindrance.

Jack Kornfield talks about the time when he returned to the States as a monk, attempting to beg with his bowl and robe in a major US city and being shunned and treated poorly by Americans.  I don’t think we would do very well attempting to go on alms rounds in the USA.

During my last move, I got rid of so much superfluous stuff.  Even still, while packing and moving, I longed to own less.

I’ve heard it said that people without money are typically preoccupied with wanting more money and planning how to get more of it, while people with money are oftentimes preoccupied with wanting to hold on to it, and/or with getting more. . .   Owning nice things and having nice homes is certainly not bad, while being a homeless beggar is not, as well.  The key here is to be okay with whatever we have, and do whatever we have to do, to live this life without the wanting-greed  taking over our minds.

Although becoming a homeless “holy” person in our society may not always be a viable option, simplifying our lives and learning to work skillfully with the “Wanting Mind” is a wonderful opportunity we lay people (householders) have every day!

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Faith – Saddha

When we hear the word faith, many of us lean towards of the concept of “blind faith” presented to us by exposure to organized religion.  While many folks’ previous experience with this version of faith has buoyed their confidence, by providing them with a sense of internal support and life direction, others speak of the damage and guilt they were beset with after being subjected to prior doctrinal systems.

The traditional definition of faith is “having belief in something without evidence”.  Although the Buddhist presentation of faith has some similarities, I will present the ways that it is quite different, as well as provide you with some suggestions you can use to strengthen and use faith to further motivate and nurture your spiritual practice.  Continue reading

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R.A.I.N.

While attending a Tara Brach retreat, I learned a great process that anyone can use to transform difficult mind states to calmer, more peaceful states.  It is called the RAIN method, and is taught at many Western mindfulness meditation retreats.  The R:  Stands for Recognition, the A:  for Acceptance, the I:  Investigation, and the N:  Non-Identification.

When we practice the principles of RAIN regularly, they help us to nourish our inner lives, like rain outdoors nourishes the inhabitants on this planet.

Recognition - Is the first step of this process.  It asks us to recognize the reality of our present experience.   Although this may sound like an easy no-brainer, it is not.  Because recognizing the truth of the present moment requires that we have an honest willingness to step out of denial and delusional thinking.   For most of us as youngsters, every time we cried or had a temper tantrum, our caregivers responded in a way to stop us from being upset.  Therefore, we learned that being sad, angry, hurt or frustrated was not okay.   As a result, many of us developed unhealthy coping strategies with denial as our foundation.  We’ve learned to deny our negative feelings by either pretending they don’t exist, stuffing them away in hopes they disappear, or projecting them onto others, as evidenced by our propensity to abuse, criticize, or judge others harshly.

What is most sad about our unconscious denial coping strategies, is that when we deny our dissatisfaction, pain, anger, stress, values, ambition, or any emotion, in the long run – we ultimately suffer even more.  As a member of this culture of denial, I remained in an unhappy marriage of incompatibility for years, denying my own misery, and instead, trying to change myself to please my partner.  Needless to say, this caused more unhappiness and stress, and the outcome of this marriage was not positive.

Although many of us meditate to cultivate happier, more peaceful minds, we need to meditate properly to insure that we don’t strengthen these habits of denial.  I recently attended a Buddhist Geeks conference, where a Neuropsychologist presenter said that recent scientific brain research, studying both beginning and experienced meditators found that although beginning meditators experienced more peace since beginning meditating, their brains were more apt to actually avoid dealing with negative thought patterns that were present in their brains.  They did so by forcing themselves to focus on something else instead of the negativity, thus showing their propensity or habit of denying and avoiding negative experiences.  On the other hand, the experienced meditators brain patterns showed less negative brain activity, and their brains were actually more peaceful.  But, when the more experienced meditators had negative experiences, they did not try to suppress or not deny them.   Instead, they remained present with whatever emerged.  Thus, whether you meditate or not, my suggestion is that you learn to bow to your present experience.  Invite each experience into your living room, without judgment or preference.

Recognition moves us from delusion and ignorance to the truth, and the truth leads us towards freedom.

Acceptance:  After recognizing what is present, we must accept the facts before us.   This too can be very difficult, because most of us have adopted the big “LIE” that we need to be perfect.  But, no one is perfect!   Acceptance requires that we accept our imperfections, weaknesses, failings, and even our delusions.  This takes courage and a sense of humor.

“I’m not perfect.  My hair doesn’t stay in place, I spill a lot of things, and I’m clumsy.  But in the end, I realized that I liked being imperfect”.   -Anonymous Author

The next step of the RAIN process calls for Investigation:  After you recognize and accept that the judgmental mind (or whatever else) is present, start to explore….   Where is this experience located in my body?  Is it moving or staying still?  How does it feel?  Is it – throbbing, pulsating, pinching, tickling, tight, numb, vibrating, etc?   What feelings are present?  Are they pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral feelings?   What other hindrances are arising with this difficult experience:  craving, aversion, sloth, torpor, restlessness, remorse, or doubt?   What habitual thoughts, beliefs or identifications might be coming up around this experience – see them clearly and then let them go.  Notice any habit patterns, like  “this tends to happen when I am feeling rushed”, or “…..”  The result of the investigation process is oftentimes more wisdom, understanding and self-compassion.  It also gives the negative experience the direct attention it needs, thus it will be more likely to dissipate sooner.

The final step to this process is called Non-Identification.  Basically, don’t take it personally!  See pain as pain, not my pain.  See doubt or judgment, as doubting or judging mind, not my doubts, or my judgments.  Our identification with an experience is where we get caught up and sucked into the negative experience.  This is a delusion.  Why?  Because we are simply only having human experiences, which are the direct result of having a human body with a brain.  You’re along for this human ride.  You experience many things in this life – some wonderful and pleasant, some boring or unpleasant, and some terrifyingly awful.  When you can bring your awareness to whatever is present, without preferences or identification, they become temporary, transitory, and inherently human experiences.

RAIN:  Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation and Non-Identification.  Bring these principles into in your meditation practice and your daily life and you will experience more space, freedom and inner peace.

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The Holiday Season – A Perfect Time to Access that Quiet Place Within

As you may already know, I’ve been on self-retreat for the month of December and I have been able to spend this time meditating a lot.  This has been such a gift for me to be able to access the quiet, healing space of mindfulness.

But for everyone else who has not had the privilege of being able to take this time out for added practice, this can be a very tumultuous period, particularly around the holidays.  Whether you espouse to a certain religion or not, the holiday seasons are typically a time characterized by a lot of mind chatter, hustle & bustle, get-togethers, shopping, and over-eating.  In this madhouse season, it is easy to get pulled away from one’s inner being – the still, quiet and nurturing place we each have within us.

Even if you are busy, you can still access this spacious inner being by taking a few minutes a day to take extra good care of yourself, where you may choose to:  breathe, meditate, hug a tree outside, or go for a hike out in nature.

Another way to contact that inner stillness is by staying connected to your body – which is the direct pathway leading to your inner self.  Maintain awareness on your bodily sensations at all times, and you will be able to stay in touch with this quiet inner-being.

While you are in relationship with another family member or friend during upcoming get-togethers, remember that this may very well be the last time you ever get to see or speak to this precious being in front of you.  Our time here on this planet is NOT guaranteed.  So, treat each person as if it is your last time together and you will also be directly connecting to your inner self.

Happy Holidays!  May this time for you be filled with safety, love, peace, joy and the presence of your inner self.

-Ronya Banks

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Death & Dying – A Buddhist Perspective

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winters rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finish’d joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

-          William Shakespeare

Fact:  Human life involves both birth and death.  We must all come to dust – we must all die.  Our society seems out of whack by how it celebrates and has a love-affair with birth and avoids and mourns death.  There are birthing classes in every city.  But, when was the last time you heard anyone say that they were taking classes on learning how to die with full presence and joy?    Almost unheard of!

 Most of the world lives either in denial of death or in terror of it. Even talking about death is considered morbid, and many people believe that simply mentioning death is to risk wishing it upon ourselves.  Others look on death with a naive, thoughtless cheerfulness, thinking that for some unknown reason death will work out all right for them, and that it is nothing to worry about. – Sogyal Rinpoche

If we are lucid during the process, dying is such a precious period, because Continue reading

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Dark Night of the Soul

Co-Authors:  Dillon Shelton & Ronya Banks

Spiritual seekers, beware!  The path to enlightenment can be both rewarding and treacherous.  Many great spiritual seekers throughout time described how their spiritual practices underwent a time period(s) laden with darkness, despair, fear, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness.  This concept was originally coined  the “Dark Night of the Soul” by St John of the Cross, a Spanish poet and priest in the 1500’s.  References to the Dark Night can also be found in Buddhist, Kundalini, Pagan/Occult, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic literatures.

In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.     – F. Scott Fitzgerald

So, what is it?  Will I experience it?  Is there any way to avoid it?  And, if I find myself in this stage, how can I traverse it with the least amount of suffering possible?  The answers to these questions follow….. Continue reading
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