Finding home everywhere you go

This past Sunday we were fortunate enough to finally get a day of clear blue skies. I decided to go check out the Spring blossoms from atop some Beijing mountains. After several consecutive days PM2.5 levels above 300, I think the whole city was eager to venture out and take advantage of this breath of fresh air. After two hours of getting stuck in traffic on the outbound highways, I finally arrived at the foot of the mountain.

spring

What a trek it was; there were different routes leading to an assortment of scenic areas, each more interesting than the next. I hopped along rock paths with young children and walked alongside seventy-year-old grannies who amazingly enough were climbing up the steepest hills with no problem. There were a few moments of absolute tranquility, looking out to the sea of warm colors below and hearing the wind lightly rustle through the Spring flowers.  Even though I was alone in that foreign environment so far away from the bustling city center, I was able to find a feeling of peace, as if I were at home.

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What is home, exactly? These days, it rarely points to a single physical location; it’s more a feeling…of familiarity, a place of center. We associate “home” with the existence of safety, comfort, and those we love and trust.

For those of us who are out on our own, trekking, exploring, “fighting the fight,” the concept of home is invaluable.  It helps us to maintain our inner peace, and always have that center point to return to whenever we become physically or mentally stressed. For me, living alone in Beijing this past year has been really tough. With no relatives here and only a few friends who come and go, I am often adrift with no center. Even my own apartment does not feel like home, because when I am physically there, my spirit can still drift very far.

Therefore, I find it all-the-more important to find ways to let my mind rest. Sometimes that comes in the form of swimming twenty laps in the pool, sometimes in the form of cooking a feast (even if it means eating leftovers for a week), and sometimes in the form of singing a little personal karaoke with my nifty phone app. Funny enough, often times my mind can find respite when my body is engaged in some leisurely activity. Regardless of the action, the key is to focus my intents and energies on that present activity, to immerse myself fully in that experience and through which, find that place of peace, home.

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Two Stories to Help Quiet Your Mind

 At work I sit in front of the computer, when I go home I sit while having dinner, and then I sit to play video games or watch Anime. So when I take time to relax my mind I don’t want to be still, I want to move!

Regardless of my aversion to sitting still, I believe that meditation is important and after I got more and more interested in Buddhist philosophy recently I decided to try again. The first step for me was to make it a habit.  I knew that if I wanted this habit to stick, consistency was key. So I decided to start simple, every morning after I woke up I would take a shower first to make sure I am awake and immediately afterwards I would sit for 5 minutes.

After a week I noticed that 5 minutes began to feel too short; every time my alarm would go off I would think, ”Hmm… I’d like to sit a while longer.” So the next day I tried 8 minutes, and now 2 weeks later I am at 20-25 minutes.

quiet the mind

The things I try to focus on are breathing and sound, because to me these are the easiest ones to pay attention to. My mind often wanders off, but I try not to worry about it. Here are some nice stories I read on how to deal with thoughts.

  1. The first one I read in a Dutch Magazine called Happinez: Meditation is like sitting on a bench in a park. When you sit there you will see all kinds of things and people walk by, and in meditation these people are your thoughts. Instead of getting up and shake their hands just keep sitting on the bench and observe them as they pass.
  2. The second one is from Ajahn Brahm, a Buddhist monk in Western Australia: Many people want to still the mind. But their technique is like holding a cup of water and trying to hold it very still and stable so that the water doesn’t move. Instead, it is much easier to just LET GO of the cup… set it down and the water inside will naturally be still.

So where am I trying to get with meditation? And what am I trying to achieve? The answer to these two questions is “nowhere” and “nothing”. I am not trying to get anywhere, I just want to be here… right here in the present moment.

In one of the old Taoist texts there is a verse that says 虽名得道 实无所得, which means “although one has attained the Dao, in reality he didn’t attain anything”. By meditating you are not trying to get anything, quite opposite actually…you are losing things. You lose attachment, desires and expectations…you become a real loser J

Writing about this makes me want to meditate again! What are your experiences when you first started meditating? Share them below!

Three Painful Modes of Communication

Much of classic Chinese thought holds that human nature is originally good.  For example, take the first line from the “Three Character Classic,” a text which summarizes the teachings of Confucianism for children: 人之初,性本善 (People at birth are naturally good).

But if we’re so good, why are there so many ‘bad’ people out there?  The next line gives us a hint: 性相近,习相远 (Our natures are similar, but our habits make us different).  In this post, I want to talk about some of our habitual modes of communication which tend to take us away from our natural state of ‘goodness’ and bring us ever more pain and suffering.

The following three commonly used forms of communication are highly likely to lead to defensiveness and resistance from anyone (including yourself), making it more difficult to get in touch with our natural state of benevolence described by ancient Chinese wisdom.

1. Moralistic Judgments

“He’s such a jerk.” “You’re not cut out for this.” “I’m so stupid!”  Labels, criticism, insults are all forms of judgment.  On a theoretical level, all labels are inherently inaccurate because they don’t take things like relativity and constant change into consideration (this is why our Daily Zen program focuses on observing rather than judging or labeling).

But on a practical level, judgments can take

ve, which will make it ever more difficult to come to a mutually beneficial outcome.

2. Making Comparisons

It's all apples and oranges (and bananas)

It’s all apples and oranges (and bananas)

“I wish my Tai Chi form looked as cool as his.” “I’m way prettier than she is.”  ”I liked my old boss better.” Comparisons are another form of judgment.  If you’d like to experience the negative power of making comparisons, try out the following exercise:

  • At age 29, Mark Zuckerberg had a net worth of over $25 billion.  How much were you worth at that age?  Ponder on the difference
  • Ate age 12, Jet Li won his first National Wushu Championship, where he competed against the best athletes from all over China.  How were your martial skills at age 12?  Compare them with Jet’s.
  • At age 8, Mozart composed his first symphony, which I’ve embedded below.  Listen to the song and think about your proudest achievement at the same age.

After trying this exercise, how are you feeling?  Let that feeling guide your future decisions about making comparisons.

3. Denial of Responsibility

We are responsible for all our thoughts, feelings, and actions, but much of our language attempts in vain to free us from that responsibility.  One of the biggest perpetrators of this kind of language is statements involving the phrase “have to.”  For example, “I have to go to work,” “You have to do your homework.”

When we speak this way to ourselves or others, whoever we’re speaking to only has two choices: to submit or rebel.  If that person rebels, they won’t do the thing they ‘have to’ do.  If they submit, they’ll do it, but with an energy of negativity and resentment.

 In summary, if you’d like to be happy, you might be better off leaving moralistic judgments, comparisons, and language that denies responsibility out of your vocabulary.

Admittedly, it’s hard to do a don’t.  I’ll write another post soon on some alternatives to these negativity inducing forms of communication.

What has been your experience with communication like this?  Do you enjoy being judged, compared, or blamed?  Tell us your stories in the comments section.