Sangha Notes for April 26, 2011

On Tuesday nights, our sangha or meditation community meets in Sherman Oaks for a 40 minute meditation, a check-in (where members tell about the progress of their meditation practice or ask questions) and about a 30 minute lesson from our instructor, Daniel Davis. Here is what we learned this week:

In meditation, what is skillful and what isn’t?

Equanimity -– for example, imagining that we are mountains who can withstand all kinds of weather; that we are “solid” no matter what the “conditions” – is a tool for discerning what can be changed and what can’t.

What we are learning is how to use tools skillfully. Sometimes we might have the right tool but use it in the wrong way, and sometimes we may have the wrong tool altogether.

To develop discernment – that is, determining which kinds of suffering you have to accept and which kinds you don’t – be aware of how you are using tools. Practice in a safe place like the sangha. When you’re meditating, notice the kind of things that come up in order to see more clearly. Try to notice what is happening. Try to see how you are engaging so you can engage more skillfully. For example, if during meditation the mind is “making noise” and tells you that you are worthless, notice how much you buy into it, how much do you suffer? Or can you hold the feeling rather than stuff it? Can you recognize it as just noise?

But what about anger? Are you supposed to hold that feeling? If you look at it skillfully, does that mean you are trying to get rid of the anger instead of examining it? No, it’s just that applying equanimity to anger is the wrong tool. We use loving-kindness to get rid of anger. If it is difficult for you to get in touch with your emotional side, then being in the present with the emotion (the anger) is the right tool. If you have no trouble feeling your emotions, it’s the wrong tool and using loving-kindness is the better choice.

Our goal with meditation and everything we do in our lives is how to find happiness in ours hearts that’s dependable. We might have to “tease” the emotion out, feel the discomfort. It will be a limited life if you immediately want everything to be okay. You have to allow the anger to come out or rather, invite the anger in, engage with it. Lean into the experience rather than running away.

If someone else is angry, think how you can be supportive. Each case is different, but keep leaning into your experience. It’s also the most skillful thing you can do for the other person.

The causes of suffering exist in your mind. Find a place to stand. Daniel said, “Trying to be mindful, I’m irritated all the time.” But observing change and not being part of it, that’s equanimity. I’m the mountain. I can live in all kinds of “weather” – including difficulties – and not get impacted.”

Sometimes things come up in meditation that make us fearful, anxious or worried –it’s expected – but as Manijeh, a sangha member, puts it: “Now I don’t get involved like it were a tornado trying to tear me apart.” Being with the feeling, fear comes up.
Recognize fear – what does it feel like? That doesn’t mean that you have to stay with it, live with it.

Daniel said, “When I feel the anxiety, I understand it. I recognize it so it doesn’t take over. I engage it when I see I’m not in neutral any more. Recognize it so it doesn’t swallow you. Investigate it. Don’t let it move in. Change happens like it’s outside of me but I’m not a part of it, like the mountain; it’s happening all around me.

Become friends with change. It’s present but not relating to an incident. Realize “it’s” just there, that’s being with it. Equanimity will build up over time allowing you to feel solid in a liquid way.