Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Joyful Practice (Pema Chödrön)

This is a continuation of the teachings of Pema Chödrön, accompanied by the music of Chopin. The focus is on the third boundless quality: finding joy. The music is Chopin's Ballade No. 2.

"Let the flower of compassion blossom in the rich soil of maitri, and water it with the good water of equanimity in the cool refreshing shade of joy." (Longchenpa)

As we practice, we gradually feel more joy, a fundamental openness which we begin to trust and a happiness which is completely devoid of clinging or craving. This is joy without a hangover!

How do we cultivate the conditions for this joy to expand? We train in staying present. In meditation, we train in mindfulness and maitri, steadfast with our bodies, emotions and thoughts. We stay with our little plot of earth, and instead of looking for a more comfortable place to be, we turn the soil with patience, trusting that it can be cultivated, and confident that we can deal with any rocks we might uncover. The joy comes from not giving up, and experiencing our great warrior spirit.

Joyful training has nothing to do with goals and achievements. We can begin by rejoicing in our smallest blessings. By taking care of ordinary things – our pots and pans, our clothing, our teeth – we rejoice in them. This combination of mindfulness and appreciation connects us fully with our reality and brings us joy. When we extend this to others, our experience of joy expands. Watching Trungpa Rinpoche set the table for breakfast one morning was like watching someone arrange flowers or create a stage-set. He took such care and delight in placing every detail. Since then, even though I usually only have a few minutes, I appreciate the ritual of setting the table as an opportunity to be present and rejoice. Everything we see, hear, taste and smell has the power to strengthen and uplift us. As Longchenpa says, the quality of joy is like finding cool, refreshing shade.

We can go on to practice empathetic joy or mudita, rejoicing that a person who was ill is now feeling healthy and cheerful, or a child who was lonely now has a friend. We are encouraged to try to keep it simple. The point is to find our spontaneous and natural capacity to be glad for another being, whether it feels unshakeable or fleeting. This aspiration to rejoice can feel feeble compared to our resentment, envy or self-pity. We know how easy it is for these emotions to hook us and shut us down, so when we get caught it is helpful to remember the teachings, to contemplate the causes of our suffering, and to use insight to break through our barriers.

Rather than struggling with and nurturing our dissatisfaction, we can go to the non-verbal experience of the emotion. What’s happening in our heart, our shoulder, our gut? Abiding with the physical sensation is radically different from sticking to the story-line. It is a way of relaxing and softening, so the joyful ground of our basic goodness can shine through.

Once a cook at Gampo Abbey was feeling very unhappy. Like most of us, she kept feeding the gloom with her actions and her thoughts; hour by hour her mood was getting darker. She decided to try to ventilate her escalating emotions by baking chocolate chip cookies. Her plan backfired, however - she burned them all to a crisp. At that point, rather than dump the burned cookies in the garbage, she stuffed them into her pockets and backpack and went out for a walk. She trudged along the dirt road, her head hanging down and her mind burning with resentment. She was saying to herself, 'So where's all the beauty and magic I keep hearing about?'

"At that moment she looked up. There walking toward her was a little fox. Her mind stopped and she held her breath and watched. The fox sat down right in front of her, gazing up expectantly. She reached into her pockets and pulled out some cookies. The fox ate them and slowly trotted away. She told this story to all of us at the abbey, saying: 'I learned today that life is very precious. Even when we're determined to block the magic, it will get through and wake us up. That little fox taught me that no matter how shut down we get, we can always look outside our cocoon and connect with joy."

"To make things as easy as possible to understand, we can summarize the four boundless qualities in the single phrase "a kind heart". Just train yourself to have a kind heart always and in all situations." (Patrul Rinpoche)

We can do a version of tonglen practice described in the last post whenever we experience feelings of joy or pain. If we feel ourselves closing down on our pain, then we can breathe into our heart with the recognition that others feel this pain also. When we experience pleasure or tenderness, we can cherish and rejoice in it, and wish that others could experience it also. When life is pleasant, think of others. When life is a burden, think of others. If this is the only training we remember to do, it will benefit us tremendously and others also.

A woman wrote me about practicing with her daily misery in traffic, and through this practice, she had developed a kinship with those around her and even looked forward to her daily “traffic jam tonglen”. To make these connections is an act of bravery, which is what it will take to heal ourselves and our brothers and sisters on the planet.

Even the simplest things can be the basis for the practice – a beautiful morning, a good meal, a shower. Although there are many such ordinary moments in our days, we usually speed right past them. So the first step is to stop, notice and appreciate what is happening. Even this is revolutionary! Then share the joy.

Video: Chopin's Ballade No. 2 played by Tzi-Huei Lai.

aspara121: Beautiful music by Chopin. Excellent teaching by Pema Chodron. Thank you for posting these little treasures at BT, Okei. Each one is real pleasure to read and contemplate. :)

lilleke80: This resonated with me first cause I love Chopin, second cause I love Pema, third cause I had a small incident of synchronicity that will always stay with me- feeling joyous, starting my walk home, seeing a sign "felicity fox" and straight after seeing a fox beside me who followed me home like a faithful companion. It taught me one thing- if you are present then everything is a symphony, everything manifests, everything follows from the joy of yourself. Thanks okei!

kityhawk99: lilleke80 wrote: "if you are present then everything is a symphony, everything manifests, everything follows from the joy of yourself. "

(((♥ )))

Thanks Okie, I do enjoy Pema Chodron and Chopin, very much. 

okei: Thank you Carrie, Hille & Lin! Sorry I didn't get to a computer sooner...

Thanks especially for sharing that lovely story!!!

The blog originally appeared on Buddhist Travelers.

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