What Grows in your Thought Garden?

Scanning the dial of my local radio stations I’ve found myself getting sucked into a religious station every now and then.  Since I live in America, that religion is invariably Christian.  Why, in this supposed land of religious freedom are there no Buddhist, Muslim or Jewish radio stations?  I think if there were we would find very little difference in the core message and directions given in terms of how to live and behave as a good person.  It would also undermine the tacit message that any is the one true religion. Most religions of the world teach love, how not to hate, and those things have to do almost invariably with one’s mental volition or disposition every day — not just in church.

The commentator on this particular radio program spoke in a Christian-specific context, but using concepts of universal happiness which is what intrigued me.  She also referenced the following poem, unattributed:

Your mind is a garden,
Your thoughts are the seeds,
You can grow flowers or
You can grow weeds.

Such a simple, poetic metaphor completely reflects the core teachings in the technique of Vipassana Meditation I practice.  S.N. Goenka speaks of a attendee on a 10-Day Vipassana course who happened to be the Mother Superior of a convent who accused him of teaching Christianity in the name of Buddha.  Goenkaji said “I teach Dhamma!  The law of nature.”  In my readings I’ve found no better example of a law of nature pertaining to both nature and man than the one referenced in the poem above.  Thanks Christian radio!

Sometimes that same radio station has had commentators posturing hate-related exclusionary political positions in the name of Christianity which have nothing to do with positive mental development and connecting to others. In those cases I tune out, but when they speak in terms of creating a better life for everyone, regardless of their personal lifestyle, sexual orientation or religion, it gets my attention.

Universal concepts of creating happiness like the one in the poem above are simply effective, regardless of specific rites, rituals or political positions associated with a given religion.  It requires no sales pitch as it is sensible, and apparent in truth.  It is readily easy to prove too.

What makes a bad day?  Invariably it is having bad, negative thoughts that stress us out and cause our day to be ‘bad’.  It’s not the things that actually happen to us, but how we think about them that affect our happiness. Thinking positively is not as simple as thinking of pretty thoughts and flowers, of course.  It takes practice and discipline that effective and regular meditation practices supports.  Going to church, mosque, temple, the movies or your psychiatrist can get you there too, but it’s likely to be colored with someone else’s biases.

What makes sensation-based Vipassana meditation effective is its focus is solely on the truth of your own bodily sensations, which are tied to your subconscious.  Becoming aware of and accepting them puts you closer in touch with your own personal reality.  Such perspective gives you more personal control, so as to not be taken by surprise or overreact so easily when something good or bad happens. It is also allowing you to see the garden as it is, weeds and all, and, if you’re smart, use meditation as an opportunity to pull the weeds from the garden of your mind.  When all the weeds are gone, all that’s left is flowers.


Bioenergetics, NLP, and Vipassana

A friend of mine sent me a few videos on the topic of Bioenergetics recently.  Bioenergetics is kind of a group-based and body-based psychological therapy where people act out their aggressions and fears.  I’ve heard about this kind of thing, and knew it was referenced alot, especially in the 1960s.

Based on the brief introduction I’ve had there seems to be a fair amount of conceptual overlap with S.N. Goenka’s style of Vipassana training even though meditation is (ideally) physically static.

With Bioenergetics patients are put in situations of physical stress and encouraged to act out scenes of their past in order to release the mental and physical stress.  This approach seems to require some certainty on the part the patient and therapist that trauma has been inflicted by a specific event, person, or persons.  Once established, the group and therapist work backwards to try and undo it.  One way is by replacing ‘somatic markers’ left in the body by the trauma with more neutral ones through physical touch by others and psychosomatic exercises.  This may be vaguely similar to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) where the patient is encouraged to visualize different, more positive outcomes to nonconstructive stories about the past or future that run through their mind with some degree of frequency. In one of the NLP books I read, it is referred to as replaying the same “tapes” (i.e. recordings) in the mind over and over. Bioenergetics is different, however, in that it has a direct, physical, touch component to the therapy while the physical markers (and presumably the mental tapes) get overwritten.  By releasing the harmful, residual tensions in the body, one is more at peace in their body and therefore, it is assumed, their life.

With Vipassana it’s implied that everything comes out in the wash through their simple technique of body scanning, without having to define or discuss specifics about our past hangups or trauma with anyone.  Things come up in the mind without our having to interpret or attest to them in any way as being a root cause of our problems.  The hard part in Vipassana is to simply observe without reacting (and thereby perpetuate) the things that have been disturbing us.

Vipassana, through the awareness of sensation on the body, provides a recognition of specific tensions in the body.  While we may not know the event or mental condition associated with these tensions specifically, the technique instructs us not to be concerned with such specifics, and allows us to release the tension naturally, by training us to allow it to pass regardless, rather than clinging to it out of fear or anger about it, as is our habit.


Developing Acceptance

Interesting quote attributed to the Buddha:

I have love for the footless,
for the bipeds too I have love;
I have love for those with four feet,
for the many-footed I have love.


It appears to me to mean we should carry on with love and compassion for all beings regardless of their predicaments, attributes, or handicaps.

Our neighbor’s dog recently began to grow up from a puppy into a dog.  As a result, he has begun barking more.  This affects me with mild annoyance, even though I like the dog, and my neighbor.  It’s an alerting bark, one of attentiveness or perhaps apprehensiveness for not getting enough attention, but not one of fear or hostility like some other dog’s barks.

Finding compassion and love for the beings that do things that affect us negatively and that we can’t always avoid is a challenge to be sure.  Especially when it affects my ability to meditate — the very weapon I have against giving in to my own intolerance.

Talking to the neighbor may help, but I instead resorted to invoking the power of technology in the form of an ultrasonic device that chirps a high-frequency pitch when the dog’s number of barks and volume threshold surpass the parameters I set.  I love this device.  It keeps noise to a minimum, but I wonder how much better a mediator or person I would be if I could simply learn to accept the annoyance and not let it affect me.  Have I missed out on achieving a new level of skill by using simple Pavlovian tricks to cure the symptom instead of my own problem of intolerance?

I’ll be interested in hearing your comments and opinions on this.