“These are the groundwork for working skillfully with The Hindrances- the 3 Bases of Skillful Action: Generosity, Commitments of Non-Harming and Meditation." Ajahn Thiradhammo, Working With the Five Hindrances, (pdf) pp. 37-38.
I have been keeping a Post-It Note of this close at hand; life has been playing big league hardball with me since late September 2021.
Crash Davis: “You know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. Twenty-five hits in 500 at-bats is 50 points, OK? There’s six months in a season. That’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week, just one, a gork, a ground ball — a ground ball with eyes! — you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”
“‘What I learned from this,’ my son wrote, in a phrase that my daughter appropriated for her essay as well, ‘is that a softball is not soft.’ Things are not what they seem, we all realized for an instant. The tiger can swoop down at any time. I did not say it to them, but to myself I repeated a somewhat different moral. The world plays hardball with us, I thought, and we are not in charge.” Mark Epstein
No matter which way I turned or who I asked for help to get through this, all directions and support have been some variation of “Be kind, be patient, take care of yourself. Pursue that which creates in you a sense of ease and inner peace."
I am only able to work on how I relate to what is happening, how I relate to my own being and how I relate to other beings. How I relate to what is happening may or may not help foster the outcome I desire. It will change whether I go through and come out without adding to the difficulties and pain I am in or that of others. Difficulties and pain that are physical, emotional or mental.
Generosity- Oh, Noble One: Understand that generosity is not just the giving of material aid. Generosity is also the giving of protection from fear and giving of truth of being. The origin of the word is immensely helpful- “From the Latin word generōsus, which means ‘of noble birth’. Generosity came increasingly to identify a nobility of spirit—that is, with various admirable qualities that depend not on family history but on whether a person possessed the qualities. In this way generosity increasingly came signify a variety of traits of character: courage, strength, gentleness, and fairness.”
Commitments of Non-Harming: This is my commitment to learn to stop my aggression (“to approach, address, attack”), whether self-directed or other directed. It will appear in the guise of non-acceptance, of non-allowing, of forcing. The source of the aggression is fear. Instead, could I use generosity? Could I offer protection from fear?
Meditation: I recently have adopted Mark Epstein’s personal definition, “Being with my own mind no matter what state it was in. Even while being buffeted from every possible direction.” It is Kalyāṇa-mittatā- the Buddhist concept of "admirable friendship" to oneself. This likewise “Being with another’s mind, no matter what state it is in. Even while being buffeted from every possible direction.” Could I be a generous friend here, too? Offering to hold the truth of being as it is right here, right now instead of approaching, addressing and attacking it?
“Through the practice of generosity, we begin to understand where we are closed, where we are holding back, where we feel our fear. We learn what keeps us from being generous. We take on the practice to see where we resist it.” Gil Fronsdal
When the Dalai Lama spoke of inner peace, he was talking about nonviolence rather than relaxation. Not only nonviolence in the outer world but also nonviolence in one’s inner world. Just as he had not urged me to jettison my sense of self, he was neither encouraging an empty mind nor recommending meditation simply as a form of rest and repose. He was asking us to use meditation to look into our minds and examine our behavior, to listen to the way we spoke to ourselves and thought about others, and to explore the attitudes we held in our most personal and private thoughts. From his perspective, inner peace is possible only when one has made peace with one’s own mind, when one’s own inner violence has been dealt with. This requires honesty and an internal ethic that is endlessly challenging. Inner peace comes not from turning off the mind, but from deliberately confronting one’s own innermost prejudices, expectations, habits, and inclinations. Meditation as stress reduction, as a way of calming the mind, does not address its mission to challenge, confront, befriend, and change one’s innermost mental attitudes. - Mark Epstein
"The extension of an elastic object is directly proportional to the force applied, provided that the limit of proportionality is not exceeded." - Hooke's Law
âWhat if passion is tied to intensity? Intensity may not be a result of trying to achieve something, it might just be energizing. I am not saying that I don't strive to get somewhere in many of my poses and in life, but sometimes, I just enjoy intensity for the thrill. Therefore, intensity might lead to consistency.â
thanks for the feedback. Your ending question is a wonderful one- a great one to ponder within your practice!
I have three questions forâ¯you regarding intensity:
So glad what I wrote was valuable to you,
First off, let me point out that no one is saying that one canât have intensity from time to time- no one is coming to take it away from you, throw you in the slammer if you get caught indulging in something with intensity. However, for some, it is a form of intoxication that is sought too often, with destructive consequences.
Second, let me suggest that being consistent can be an intense thing itself! I know because two comments I receive are, âMichelle, you are pretty intense,â and âMichelle, you are really consistent.â They are not unrelated.... â
Okay- so, letâs start with terms and definitions so that we are all on the same page. There is the official definition of âIntense,â complete with its etymology and thereâs the common usage of intense here in the United States.
First, the Oxford English Dictionary, for some of us the standard bearer of the language:
And there is the common usage:
âBecause Steve gave me permission to use his query for this monthâs newsletter, I am going to reply to his question, knowing that it is a question for all of us.
To learn more about what the intention of Steveâs intensity is, letâs also look at the antonyms:
Whether your desire or fear is intensity, you showed up at Aspiration Community Yoga and asked me to teach you. I teach from the perspective of yoga, informed as I am by strength training and Buddhism. Yoga is the practice of equanimity, the yoking of whatâs easy and whatâs hard, being the space that is held in the container of the two extremes.
But letâs stay in the less than esoteric, metaphysical of why being that space between the two is everyday beneficial to you. Hereâs a good one to start with: Flexibility.
Hookeâs Law The extension of an elastic object, such as a spring, is directly proportional to the force applied, provided that the limit of proportionality is not exceeded. â¡â¡ = â¡â¡â¡â¡ where: - F is the force applied to the spring, â¡â¡ - K is the spring constant, â¡â¡â¡â¡â1 - X is the extension.
âI donât think any of you ever wished to be less flexible. But what is it to be flexible? Look at the graph and the Hooke's law of physics Hooke's law - Wikipedia. Your muscles work just exactly the same. The sweet spot for flexibility aka plasticity, is not at the point of extreme force or extension. So, if in your endeavor to make yourself more flexible, you are applying as much force as you can, applying as much extension as you can, you are getting in your own way.
Want another practicality for everyday health? Letâs go with a former popular buzz term, still in circulation, parasympathetic vs. Sympathetic stimulation:
ââMobility requires more parasympathetic stimulation than sympathetic, but needs to build off sympathetic stabilization Long, slow breathing with more of a âreleaseâ of breath versus expulsion.â -Dean Summerset, Complete Hip Training
Whether you are dealing with chronic pain, chronic disease, or anger in traffic, practicing so that you can access that long slow breathing when attacked by pain or cut off by another driver will cut down on the chances of flare up or attacks, whether the attack is oneâs own immune system, heart, or another human being on the road.
I am going to end with one more- Internal âlistening,â aka interoception.
All day, men â no women â took the microphone and spoke. There was always a buzz in the audience, whispers, an audible hum of excitement. Then it was time for John Cage. He walked onto the stage and began to speak, without the microphone. He stood at the center of the small stage and addressed the crowd. He talked, without amplification, and soon people in the audience shouted, âWe canât hear you, use the mic. We canât hear you.â John Cage said, âYou can, if you listen.â Everyone settled down, there was no more buzz, hum or rustling, there was silence, and John Cage spoke again, without the microphone, and everyone listened and heard perfectly.â - At the Microphone, What Would Lynne Tillman Do?
And yet the soul, despite its toughness, is also essentially shyâjust like a wild animal. It will flee from the noisy crowd and seek safety in the deep underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out! But if we will walk into the woods quietly and sit at the base of a tree, breathing with the earth and fading into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek may eventually show up. Parker Palmer A Pedagogy of the Soul
âve had two students ever show up at yoga to calm their thoughts. All others come for corporeal fears and desires. They want the pain to stop, but they canât figure out what is causing it. They want to be more flexible, stronger, do a handstand or just bend over and clip their own toenails, tie their own shoes, reach overhead and brush their own hair. Despite effective marketing since the arrival of modern yoga, yoga does not work on you as force that changes you from the outside. Rather, it is one of many technologies that can renew the ability to perceive sensations.
Do you know if you are tipping your head back right now? Are you able to discern whether the lower bottom edge of your rib cage is expanding and contracting with each breath? When you go up and down steps, are you paying attention to the hinge or lack thereof of the knees and groin?
This is using any of the senses that detect conditions within the body. This is yoga 101 and PhD yoga. This is easily drowned out and found only by finding that âinternal quietâ where one can listen for the non-amplified communication of the body that emerges when it is safe to emerge.
The therapist job is to slow things down enough so that it becomes obvious how someone is getting in her own way, in order that she may learn to lift the restriction, if she so desires. â Mark Epstein, âGoing On Being, pg. 25
Doctor Jana, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
“And, and so having a sense that there's a kind of an onward leading movement slowly over time, but it's not an armored, leaving leading movement that's linear, that you can expect to just kind of steadily make progress. It's more like up and down, back and forth, and our lives are so complicated the states of our mind They're so different from different times. But slowly over time, we're moving in one direction. And that direction is towards freedom. So, there is this process of this path of journey that unfolds over time. And so, we don't get tripped up around that and caught up in striving and comparing yourself and wanting to be further than we are. One of the principles that I love is the principle that to go from A to B, be fully at A. So, for the purpose of mindfulness practice, if you want to go anywhere in your mindfulness practice, don't worry about getting anywhere with the practice, just focus on being fully present for what is and that practice of fully present for what it is, is what is onward leading, it'll unfold the way it's supposed to unfold. If our purpose, our dedication is not just making progress, but rather showing up and being fully present here, the progress takes care of itself.” Gil Fronsdahl, AudioDharma - Dharmette: Satipaṭṭhāna (14) Lucid Awareness and Non-Clinging
Following up on last month’s newsletter, my annual review of what went well and what we are working toward, I had 4 responses. The clear theme of the responses was the awareness that consistency with practice is elusive these past months.
In the same month, the online yoga teacher I practice with, the trainer Tony Gentilcore by whom I am very influenced and the Dharma teacher I listen to every day all emphasized pivoting one’s focus from the end result to just this day, just this week. In other words, transforming a goal of “more flexibility, less pain” into “Today I will do my guided breathing exercises and because it is Thursday, I will do a yoga practice”. (As I write this it is a Thursday. If it were Friday today, I would have written, “Today I will do my guided breathing exercises for 5 minutes and because it is Friday, I will strength and cardio train”.)
I have often talked about the good coach/trainer/teacher principle that someone who is a natural at a skill sucks at teaching others. Michael Jordan never did become a coach. Larry Bird did. Here I am, a person who is very regimented and consistent, trying to coach you who struggles with it.
#1: Let go of “making progress”. Practice is doing the Bunny Hop- Take two hops forward, one hop backward. Honestly, what most of us hate is that it’s in arriving one hop back again, we find the root of issue and get to work to change it. Whatever caused the weakness, the scatterbrained-ness, the pain. Even Glenda the Good Witch of the North didn’t wave her wand and give Dorothy her “Happy Ever After” after she clicked her ruby heels together (big screen version of the story).
“Do something – anything – 3 days per week, 52 weeks out of the year” The Unsexy, No BS Guide to Actually Getting Results Tony Gentilcore
#2: You will enter into conflict- spend time with family, take care of unread/unanswered emails the list of other things that need your time are unexaggeratedly infinite. You will have to make a choice and know that no one else made that choice for you. Family, emails, etc. are all high-pressure sales pitches. It seems like there’s no time, no space, no way to say, not now. Politely answer, I’ll get back to you, and do your practice.
“If you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time” Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth.
#3: Cultivate passion for what you are doing rather than doing it with the expectation of reaching a goal. Yoga, exercise, breathing are each a “being” we have a relationship with. We can cultivate a passion for the relationship and enjoy the time spent together with that being.
Consistency over intensity.