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Practicing While Distracted

Sometimes I just don't feel like a warrior. Last week in class, Ethan pointed out that the way the word "warrior" is used in the Shambhala tradition is a translation of the Tibetan word pawo, meaning, one who is brave. I don't feel particularly brave today, but I'm in that difficult place of knowing a little of what bravery consists of and not quite being able to show up. It's easy to seem brave, to do seemingly risky things, to speak out, to live in a way that appears bold and unconventional. But to truly be brave? I just don't feel like it right now.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in his book Smile at Fear, taught us that we have no choice in the matter, really. We have to face ourselves:

"One of the main obstacles to fearlessness is the habitual patterns that allow us to deceive ourselves. Ordinarily, we don't let ourselves experience ourselves fully. That is to say, we have a fear of facing ourselves. Experiencing the innermost core of their existence is embarrassing to a lot of people... We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to see our gut, our real shit, our most undesirable parts. We have to see that. That is the foundation of warriorship and the basis of conquering fear. We have to face our fear; we have to look at it, study it, work with it, and practice meditation with it....

...We have to face quite a lot. We have to give up a lot. You may not want to, but still you have to, if you want to be kind to yourself. It boils down to that. On the other hand, if you want to hurt yourself by indulging in setting-sun neurosis, that is your business and it's nobody else's business. Nobody can save you from yourself. Go ahead. But you are bound to regret it later on, profoundly so. By then, you may have collected so much garbage that it will be almost impossible to undo the situation. That would be a very wretched place to end up."

Honestly, there are times when I just don't want to face myself. How about you? I find it a lot easier to watch TV, to check out the latest happenings on Facebook, or even to read a dharma book rather than face myself. These habitual patterns keep us in a perpetual state of delusion. Keep me in that state. Even when that state seems like a very wretched place. It's so easy to convince oneself (myself) that relief is around the corner with an upcoming vacation, a new season approaching, a business goal achieved.

I'm as susceptible to these habitual patterns as anyone.

I started doing CrossFit a couple of weeks ago, and even though I was already in good shape, I have had to struggle to keep up with some of the exercises. I've had a little trouble with my overhead squat, for example, I can't do as many pullups as I'd like, and I fell off the rowing machine the other day trying to set a personal record. But in none of these cases did I get angry, get discouraged, or wonder if I'd ever be able to improve. I just kept going. No big deal.

And yet I seem keep getting angry, discouraged, and confused when facing the rest of my life. I'd like to remember that it's called practice for a reason, and to keep working on it. I've had one of the lojong mind-training slogans on my desk for ages. It reads:

"If you can practice even when distracted, you are well-trained."

I need to keep practicing. It's so easy to get caught up in a story about anger, or discouragement, or fundamental inadequacy. Rinpoche reminded us:

"...If we face ourselves properly, fully, then we find that something else exists there, beyond facing ourselves. Something exists in us that is basically awake, as opposed to asleep. We find something intrinsically cheerful and fundamentally pride-worthy. That is to say, we don't have to con ourselves. We discover genuine one hundred percent gold, not even twenty-four karat. According to the Buddhist tradition, that is discovering our buddha nature.... We are fundamentally awake. We ourselves are already good. It's not just a potential. It's more than potential. Of course, we will have hesitation again and again in believing that. You might think this goodness is just an old myth, anoter trick to cheer us up. But no! It is real and good. Buddha nature exists in us, and because of that, we are here. Your basic buddha nature brought you here."

It's practice that uncovers that fundamental truth about ourselves. Why is it we expect instant and permanent results? Some one recently asked me for help with overwhelm, and when I suggested meditation, the response was, "I've tried that. It didn't work for me."

Why are we convinced that each of us, among all the people on the planet, is the one flawed soul who's different from the rest, who's fundamentally flawed, who's inherently unfixable?

No need to ponder that, really. I'll just keep practicing

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Thank you for this post!

I'm fairly new to meditation (less than one year) and I have found it to be a very positive experience...mostly. There are times - sometimes moments, sometimes days, most recently a whole week - when I feel like it's making things worse. I just started writing a post for my blog, http://drinkingtodistraction.com, called "I am cranky Buddha," to capture some of these feelings, plus my desire to check out and not face myself. I love the sentiment that all feelings - joy, anger, boredom, etc. - are necessary and present at all times. And that they're there to teach me. Thanks again. I'll keep practicing if you will.

thanks so much

I recently read your post "Thought: The Final Frontier" and it really resonated with me. I will keep reading your blog! Thanks for reading this and for the kind comment.

On warriors and bravery

Excellent post, Jon. I feel the same most days. Not much warrior in me. But I also love the warrior notion. Becoming brave. I realize it's not bravery in the physical sense (tho I recognize there may be some overlap) facing the world and our innermost thoughts with the mentality of a warrior or one who is brave seems a noble and worthy goal. It seems a nice vantage point to have whether we're up or down or ping-ponging between the two. I hope with continued practice I can come closer to that warrior ideal. Looking forward to tonight's class.

I'm liking this book a lot

"The practice of meditation is not so much about the hypothetical attainment of enlightenment. It is about leading a good life. In order to learn how to lead a good life, a spotless life, we need continual awareness that relates with life constantly, directly, and very simply." CTR

I like this quote (as well as the one you mentioned, which I underlined in my book) because it presents Buddhism (and meditation) as a way of living, not a path to a particular goal. I rarely think about enlightenment, and I don't hold it as a goal. It's one of those things that you find you're at when you think you're just taking care of the details.

and, yeah, I've noticed that it's easier to be present and accepting with my physical self, in yoga or weight training, than in mental/emotional/social activity. hmmmm


I was just having a related conversation...

Yesterday a friend and I were talking about the difference between presence in sitting meditation versus during physical activity (yoga, weight lifting, etc). It was pointed out that some believe that combining affirmations with physical activity can help embed the thoughts more deeply, creating a kind of "muscle memory" that can be recalled later.

I wonder also if because physical activity requires attention to the pose or weights at hand, that we're less likely to get distracted. As an example, if you're lifting a heavy weight it's hard to do simple math. Somehow the brain only has room to think about the weight.

More to the point, though, is that I often forget that sitting meditation has a physical component - awareness of the body, even if we're not flexing and stretching muscles. Thank you for the comment, Nancy. More to think about.

physical activity

focuses my attention. I'm experiencing the body in action, and I'm not thinking about it. I don't think about what I look like doing it. I'm just in it.

I am so aware of my body in sitting meditation, and spent large amounts of time in my last retreat pondering the difference between discomfort and pain -- does this sensation indicate potential harm, requiring action, or is it merely uncomfortable? I'm dealing with really bad knees here.

hmmm is right!

!!! thanks for your comment

But you're not distracted

As I read this, I kept thinking, but he's not distracted if he's aware of his distraction. Is this not the very heart of the practice?

well i'm not that distracted NOW

but I'm pointing out that i do get distracted, and I sometimes am not aware of it, and practice helps me to come back and notice when I'm distracted.

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