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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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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Dealing with Sorrow and Grief

During one of our meditation group’s Buddha Dharma Exploration Classes, our guest teacher – Burmese monk:  Bhante UJotika said that the Buddha stressed that we: cultivate compassion and not sorrow.  One of the sangha members asked how to deal with the deep sorrow one feels with the death of a loved one.  This was a great question that propelled me on a personal  contemplation and exploration process around how to not cultivate more personal sorrow, when one is already experiencing sorrow.   I have surmised that one can experience sorrow skillfully without cultivating more sorrow, and this article tells you how. Continue reading

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Dissolving Greed

When I began attending Vipassana meditation retreats many years ago, I kept hearing the teachers point out the three Poisons, or three Unwholesome Roots that lead us to suffering as: “greed,” “hatred” and “delusion.”

As my practice began to ripen and unfold, I started clearly seeing how my mind was steeped in ill-will and delusion.  However, I didn’t see much greed.  Boy, was I delusional!  After several years of intensive practice, I gradually began opening up to an ocean’s worth of internal greed!  Wow!  I had so much resistance to opening up to and accepting – greed.  Whenever greed appeared, I shot myself with subsequent poisonous arrows by feeling resistance, shame and disappointment.  After all, how could I have greed?  I was such a generous person, right?  It was a gradual process, but once I began accepting and exploring greed, my meditation practice really began to soar!  The internal greed also began to loosen its stronghold.

This article is intended to support you in your spiritual practice, as it explores GREED:  it’s origin, how to recognize it in yourself, and how to work with greed skillfully. Continue reading

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Skillful Speech

Of all of my spiritual practices, consistently engaging in skillful speech has possibly been my greatest challenge.  Sometimes, it seems as though it takes constant effort, awareness, intention and a compassionate mind/heart (citta) to be skillful with my speech with myself and others.

Oftentimes, meditators delude themselves into thinking that their practice occurs only when they are sitting meditating on their cushions or chairs.  Wrong!  Our meditation practice supports us in in being more aware and present during our wakeful life practice, but our moment-to-moment life practice is where the juice is at!   Continue reading

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The Magic of Working with Mental Formations

I recently attended my first Thich Nhat Hanh (TNH) Buddhist retreat.  My most enjoyable moments during this retreat occurred while listening to TNH’s talk about mental formations – what they are, where they come from, and how to work skillfully with them, once they arise.  This article is my understanding of TNH’s talk, as well as my own personal deeper exploration around mental formations.

According to TNH, consciousness is like a house, in which the basement is our store consciousness (unconscious mind) and the living room is our mind consciousness (conscious mind). Continue reading

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When you think of love, you can probably remember hearing some of your favorite love songs sung by what sounded like love-sick musicians, or remember hearing the utterances of a sweet poem gushing about the emotional ups and downs associated with the experience of love.

The subject tonight is Love

And for tomorrow night as well,

As a matter of fact

I know of no better topic

For us to discuss

Until we all Die!

– Hafiz

It seems as if our human culture has a love affair and preoccupation with love, as evidenced by the limitless number of books written on the subject;  love questionnaires and quizzes found in magazines and newspapers; numerous theatrical productions, television shows, and award-winning movies honing in on the nature of love, and one’s trials and tribulations while attempting to pursue or maintain loving relationships.

So what is this thing called Love?  Why is it such a big deal?  Is it that important?  Can love help you gain more traction in your spiritual practice?  Let’s explore LOVE.

Continue reading

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