March 24th, 2006

[Living Buddhism] Day 3 - Morning and midday report all rolled into one!

Last night I tried to do some more meditation before going to bed. I found that the first 3 minutes just dripped by slowly and my back really felt tight. After the first few minutes though, I notice my back relaxed a little and I started to get into a more meditative state of mind. My thoughts are still drifting quite a bit but I'm starting to notice it more and am able to pull it back to focusing on my breathing.

This morning I woke up at 4:30 as I've noticed that the 3:30 start might have been a bit overly ambitious. I meditated for about 20 minutes (almost falling asleep in a seated position a few times) and found that I was able to get into it much more easily and the time went by faster. I'm assuming that with continued practice, I'll be able to sit in meditation for longer periods of time. That being said, I promptly lowered myself down onto my side and fell right back asleep until 6:30.

Due to the fact that I'm struggling so much with the schedule, I've decided that I will have to switch to a slightly less extreme regimen. I will be changing my schedule to be more like that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I figure, if he can get 7 hours of sleep then I can too without worrying that I won't get the full experience. It will just be a different experience. Although he still wakes up at 3:30am, he actually goes to bed at 8:30pm. I think that I'll just shift it so that I'm going to sleep at around 10-11:00pm and waking up around 5:00am. The idea here is not to exhaust myself to death afterall, it's to get a bit of a glimpse into the monastic lifestyle (albeit a very surface glimpse but a glimpse nonetheless).

I was asked today if I feel hungry in the evenings. The answer is no. I still allow myself liquids in the evenings (milk, tea or juice) which is more than most monks would consume after noon. The Dalai Lama, for example, seems to only have tea after noon, as far as I could tell from the information that I've read about him.

Usually, the restriction on eating after noon is not one of the things that a layperson would follow. It is one of the ten precepts that only the monks and nuns would have taken (and in some traditions they are still followed). The laity follow only five. Of course there are 227 more rules for monks (350 for nuns) that would be followed in addition to these precepts. Naturally, I can't take this experience to that length but I am still fascinated by it and the discipline that would be needed to follow it.

I have more to add but I think I'll post it as a separate entry since this is already getting quite long!

[Living Buddhism] The daily report continues

I realized that I forgot to jot down one of my thoughts regarding art as a form of meditation last night. I remembered reading about the mandalas that Tibetan monks make and felt that my own artwork, although different in it's symbolism and actual purpose, was in a way akin to this practice. The mandalas are meant to illustrate Buddhahood and enlightenment by painting images of celestial Buddha's and their Buddha realms. They are visual representations of our own innate Buddha nature. If we follow the Mahayana Buddhist ideas of oneness and of this world (samsara) being the same as nirvana, then one could use anything from samsara to realize nirvana. In fact, that is part of what the Tibetan mandalas are; images that use the things of this world to bring us closer to the understanding of nirvana.

Another thought that occured to me was the fact that I have been creating the art and then either selling it or giving it to others. To me, this is an exercise in dettachment since I usually like to hang on to my artwork. I get attached to it and often feel that I can't part with it. This type of attachment is exactly what causes dukkha (suffering). The paintings are not permanent and neither am I so there is no point in trying to believe otherwise. This doesn't mean that I am not proud of my achievements or that I can't enjoy the artwork but rather that I am able to recognize that they are impermanent and will not last forever (nor will I). By trying to hang on to them that strongly, I will only cause myself suffering should something happen to them (eg. - if they got damaged). Of course, I can understand this on an intellectual level but actually having that level of dettachment is something that I haven't yet achieved.

This morning I thought that it would be nice to be able to spend some of my day doing menial chores like the monks and nuns would do in the monasteries. I have a feeling that just the act of sweeping or washing floors would be fairly meditative in itself. I suppose I might think differently if I had to do it though.

I also noticed how much we distract ourselves in North America (and I'm sure in other countries as well). We listen to our iPods, we watch our TVs, we read, we chat on the computer... anything to keep our minds busy. We are not accustomed to quieting our minds, in fact, we seem to seek the exact opposite; constant stimulation. We stimulate our mind through sound, taste, sense, sight, anything that is available. And when we aren't stimulated by some external thing, we distract ourselves with thoughts. We go over a conversation we had with our mother/father/partner/boss that we had the other day. We fantasize about the movie that we're going to see with our friends on the weekend. We keep the mind active, always thinking, always reflecting. It's no wonder that so many Westerners have difficulty with meditation. We are programmed to use our minds in the opposite way. Even when I try to meditate, I notice myself thinking about journaling the experience instead of just experiencing it in the moment. I wonder why we've become such sensory junkies and am fascinated by it at the same time. I wonder how difficult it will be to reprogram this over-stimulated mind.