Minding the mind

So, I’ve escaped for a morning to Skype my sister on her birthday (just barely…roused her from sleep at 11 PM) and to do a little grocery shopping. It’s the beginning of week 9 here and it’s the first time I’ve left the center other than two short trips by foot to the village to buy fruit and cookies. Amazing how time flies when you’re doing virtually nothing.

It occurred to me that the work that we’re doing here, it’s really like rehab for the mind. Sayadaw U Tejaniya teaches continuity of mindfulness, with an emphasis on watching and understanding the mind and how feelings, perceptions, opinions, and thoughts influence and reinforce each other. It’s certainly no quick fix. When you take a good look, you find there’s a lot of bad mind habits (which manifest particularly in the form of greed and aversion). Meditation is the work of developing good qualities of mind. Easier said than done. Old habits die hard. As anyone who has struggled with an addiction knows, it’s the craving for the object of desire and the remorse or shame that results if we give in to that desire that causes us to suffer. We have these same mind habits around almost everything we feel, sense, perceive, remember, project, experience period. So I’m here de-conditioning, un-training, and re-wiring the mind so that I can suffer less and hopefully naturally cultivate loving-kindness, generosity and wisdom while I’m at it.

The unfortunate thing is that while I’ve greatly simplified my life in coming here and removed so many of the distractions that I have been known to have unhealthy relationships with, I cannot remove the mind! And the mind is the problem. It’s also the same tool that can see through the delusion it has always suffered, but it is unwieldy and the patterns of behavior so entrenched that one must be very patient and willing to persevere many setbacks.

If “meditation is the science of the mind” as Ayya Khema put it, then it’s probably the most difficult thing we’ll ever study. Even though we can investigate and know the mind in every moment of every every day with right effort, this kind of thinking and understanding is so far from what are minds are wont to do. I realize it takes a lot of faith in the Dhamma (the Buddha’s teaching or reality) to keep at this. Even though my mind is only just starting to calm down, so many weeks into this full time, I understand so much better how much I value solitude; because it is only in quiet, still reflection that we can build up the strength of concentration to truly be mindful and to learn about the way we experience and judge everything that touches our sense doors. We keep so busy in modern life that we rarely have any insight into what’s really going on inside. And I think for most people it’s scary, because there’s a lot ugly stuff that might get uncovered. But the thing is it’s not personal. We all have the same mind. It’s just nature, as U Tejaniya says.

The contrast of the life I’m leading now to the one I lived in New York is so immense, so extreme. I cannot imagine going back to the running around, constantly working and internetting, entertaining, producing, consuming, etc., of that urban life. At the same time, Shwe Oo Min is not a really strict place, and there are plenty of opportunities to slacken in the practice and many distractions. There’s quite a bit of socializing, which is good practice because for me this is all meaningless in the end if I cannot integrate it into relationship with others and into a more worldly life.  It does make it harder to establish a relaxed state of mind, but that’s reality. As is this dark internet cafe in a strange shopping plaza in Yangon. But I’m thinking it would be nice to get back to the other one, so that’s it until the next installment.

Almost forgot to mention that I’ve put in a request to extend my visa so I may be with similarly intermittent communication until February or March. May you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be free from suffering!

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