Lojong Mind Training #4

From Janet Taylor, director of the Temple Buddhist Center at Unity Temple.
 
We are discussing a group of teachings called Lojong (Mind Training) that include seven key points along with 59 pithy slogans reminding us how to awaken to the happiness of living.  There are many books with great translations of these teachings, but one of my favorites is Pema Chodron’s Start Where You Are. This week, I’ll talk about the fourth point which states, “Showing the Utilization of Practice in One’s Whole Life” which includes Slogan #17: “Practice the five strengths, the condensed heart instructions.”

What are the five strengths? They are five attitudes and actions that have practical application every day, in every situation, to finding the truth in each moment.  The five strengths enable us to open our hearts to others and to ourselves. 

Here’s a rundown:

  • Strong determination/Commitment: We commit to staying present, to looking for the humanness in others (and in ourselves), looking for the interconnection between us all.  We commit to see pain and suffering in life as fuel for transformation.   When we were young, most of us had experiences that caused us some pain–emotional, psychological, physical.  Remember the first time you had your heart broken?  Past experiences may have implied that the best way to deal with suffering is to deny it, run away from it, fear it.  These teachings are encouraging us to see pain in a completely differently way.  We are committing to seeing pain as a tool for transformation, not as a burden to bear or something to be afraid of. Going towards the pain, looking more deeply at the pain–it may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s been proven to work effectively to diminish the impact of pain on our happiness.
  • Familiarization: We practice being present so that being present becomes a habit, instead of the old habits of avoidance, distraction, or all the other ways we try to escape discomfort.  Meditation and mindfulness are spiritual exercises–we’re building muscle memory so that our natural inclination is to find the “pleasantness of presentness”. 
  • Seed of virtue:  The Buddhist philosophy sees each being as innately good, as having Buddha nature.  Buddha emphasized that everyone can do exactly what he did.  We can achieve deep happiness because we are innately good.  It is this seed of virtue, even if you don’t believe it, even if you’ve never experienced it, it’s still there.  You don’t have to go get it, it’s already within you. Remind yourself that you are innately good.  Look for the good.  Practice as if.  
  • Reproach:  My favorite! You already have conversations with yourself anyway, so why not make them positive, helpful ones?!?  This tip encourages us to come up with some word or phrase that reminds us to quit stewing on unskillful thoughts.  Tell yourself to STOP! It might not work immediately, but over time, you can train your mind by silently saying STOP! or “Mind, I’ve tried it your way and it didn’t work.”  “Be gone!” or  whatever word or phrase works for you.  It might seem silly, but that’s okay too.  Sometime a silly word or phrase can snap us out of fear, pain or sadness.  I always giggle a little when, as I’m going over and over some fear or concern, I silently tell myself, “Don’t get weird!”  This little phrase is enough to wake me up and begin looking for the good in myself and in the situation!
  • Aspiration:  Say you want it. Say, “I want to wake up.  I’m willing to try something new to be happy.”  You might not yet feel like you deserve it, or that it’s not possible, then begin by having compassion for yourself, right where you are.  Then, aspire to try something new anyway.
We often have a tendency to live our lives with our thermostats set too tightly. We are trying to get so completely comfortable in life that we are never quite happy.  It’s either too hot or too cold or too new or too old.  It’s never quite right. These lojong teachings are encouraging us to see our discomfort, our dissatisfaction as an opportunity wake up.  We can stare directly into the heart of our discomfort, to look through it, and find the deep peace that comes from no longer running away, no longer spending the majority of our time wishing things were different.  We can find the peace that resides within us, that is always there to rely upon, regardless of our external circumstance.    

4 thoughts on “Lojong Mind Training #4

  1. “Reproach” reminds me of Albert Ellis’s concept of destructive self talk. But Ms Taylor’s way of saying it is so much more graceful. Very nice.

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