Summary: Every meditation is different. Sathi talks how this translates into every day life, each breath is different, which translates to each moment of our lives. We can’t predict the future but can only focus on what is happening. This is the reality of impermanence.
Sathi also explores the idea of dukkha or the emotional and physical struggles we face when we forget about this reality of living in the moment. One example he uses is our interpretation of the weather being either good (sunshine) or bad (rain or snow). It is just weather and we should recognize it as just that.
As part of the discussion Sathi answers a meditator’s question on what the phrase “losing yourself” means.
[tibetian bell ringing signifying the end of the guided meditation] [Sathi] Any questions or suggestions for discussion today? [Meditator] I’ve been thinking of my practice over the last three weeks and each practice has been different. I wonder if you could just talk about how our minds are so many different ways. It makes me think about expectations and we talked about that recently, but, I feel like my mind will be in a place that is more pleasant or more something. I was really struck by these different mind states, I don’t know what the word is, different minds.
[Sathi] Everybody heard the question. Also, I feel everybody understood the question. Literally, meaning experience. Let me tell you what is behind this question and what the background of this question is.
When we want to do something in our life, before we do it, we have an idea. So, as long as we are meeting our original idea, we are happy. Just think about, when you are taking a class, we are thinking, these are the things I want to study with this class. Then, as long as you are fulfilling it, you are ok, you are happy.
When you are building a house, designing a garden, before you do it, you have an idea. Then you are making it happen. So what is happening with our life tasks, before you do something you have an idea, you are fulfilling it.
Let me come back to your breathing meditation. When you think of your breath, you have an idea. But, as you observe your breath, you know, nobody can predict their next breath. Is it longer, or shorter? Nobody knows. But, as a meditator, what do you do? You are training to be an observer with your next breath.
If I bring this into your life experience, that would be the same. Future, the next moment, nobody can predict. But, you are trying to keep yourself on the line. That’s where we find some surprises. Once you have a surprise, you are trained to avoid it if it is a difficulty to you. Or, if it is good for you, then you are enjoying it. With the question, observing this. Every meditation practice is different. This is good. This is the reality. Every experience is different. Just like each breath is unique. Each moment, each life experience is unique.
I have heard from somebody from the last retreat. This person was telling about a very interesting experience. At the retreat, we encouraged people to observe how mindful they ere during a meal. This person was saying, each bite was unique for that person that day. Even though they were eating the same food, the same plate. Which I totally agree with.
Just think about once you mix food together, like mixing Sri Lankan and Indian food. You mix the main dish, rice, with other curries or a variety of dishes. Then, one dish can be smaller than the other one with the size of the bite. When it comes to your mouth, then you chew it. And, how many times you chew, makes a difference to the taste of the food.
This person was telling me, after that meal, “Bhante, it was interesting. I noticed each bite was unique.” Now, only a mindful person can recognize this. Let me tell you the biggest difference between a mindful one and an unmindful one. The mindful one will notice the difference. The unmindful person will struggle. But, a mindful person will enjoy, recognize it by knowing this is the reality of life.
In the Buddhist teachings, we discuss this experience with the Pali term called anicca, or the reality of impermanence. Which means, every moment is unique in our lives. Even though you are spending time with the same people. Even though you are living in the same place. Just like every meditation is unique, even though you are sitting in the same place on the same cushion every day. It is unique.
But, what is happening to the meditator? Can we be with that moment without losing ourselves? Let me tell you about the meditator. When the meditator is having a busy or rushed mind during the meditation time, the meditator will struggle. They will say, “Oh, my meditation is not good today.” That’s the negative side.
But, when the meditator is having a very good, calm practice that day, they say, “Oh, my meditation is wonderful today!” At that moment, you are ruining your practice. Because hereafter, you don’t have it because you are spoiling it by thinking “My meditation is good today.”
What is happening to this person who understands the reality of impermanence? This person would not struggle either way. When you have this rushed mind, by knowing you are having a rushed mind, you keep observing your breath. When you are having a calm mind, or experience, by knowing the state of your mind, you are just being with it. We don’t question ourselves.
Now, can you bring this same experience into your life experiences? Can you stop struggling with your life struggles? When your life is really going through a tough time, this toughness is coming from the outside. Just think about this, when you happen to have someone screaming at you, who is really angry, who is unsettled, can you still remain calm? And, can you be yourself? If that person is your spouse, I’m sure you’d have a difficult time to remain calm. But, if this person is your grandkid or a little child, someone you dearly love, and you know this person doesn’t know what they are doing. Why do we have two reactions for these two different people? How come you cannot look at your spouse as a child?
For me, If I happen to see somebody bleeding with a broken leg and broken hand, I would panic. Then I would call 911. But if somebody is a doctor, they would not panic. They would do the right things and not panic and do what they had to do. How come the doctor can remain calm during such an experience? And, how come I cannot do that? I have a mind and the doctor also has a mind. Two minds act in two different ways. When you are responding to your spouse, you still have your own mind. When you are responding to your grandkid, still you have your own mind. How come you are responding in two different ways?
The people who can recognize the reality of impermanence have the strength of not losing themselves due to these natural consequences or due to reality. Whatever happens in front of us is part of the world. Sometimes you are surprised by the weather. Sometimes you are really happy with the weather. When surprised by the weather, that is also part of the weather. When you are happy with the weather, that is also part of the weather. We choose to enjoy one reality of the weather and blame the other reality. Who is responsible for this? We think the weather is responsible. But, really who is struggling? It is you. Because you have chosen to enjoy one thing and blame for another thing. You have chosen to enjoy your actions of your spouse one way. Then, you choose to struggle with the actions of your spouse in a different way.
As a meditator, what do we do? We are training ourselves to recognize reality as it is. And, you are practicing not to struggle with what will be happening in the future. Because the future is something you cannot predict. But, we are slowly moving into that future. If you can remain who you are, then you will be able to see what is there, what is happening.
During the meditation, you are learning, training, and practicing to see that every moment, every practice is unique. Once you realize this reality, you will avoid the struggling part. But, if you don’t realize this reality that will lead you into the emotional and physical struggles. This is called dukkha [in Pali].
Recognizing this variety of changes in the world will lead you into changes, changing your state of mind. Sometimes you are sad because you are sad. Sometimes you are unhappy because you are unhappy. You blame yourself. “How come I felt this?” Sometimes you are angry with yourself because you are angry. “I’m angry with myself because I was angry with that person.” You are angry for being angry. That is what we call dukkha or unsettledness of the self.
You can avoid this by recognizing this reality. Once you are able to see and catch this reality, you will learn how not to struggle in your life, no matter what happens. Plus, you will find the best answer, the best thing to do.
I hope I was able to elaborate on your experience? There is no answer for that question, but, only rate it.
Any thoughts or anything you would like to share?[Meditator] I can think of another example. A life-changing moment. Especially in Minnesota, a movie comes out and they saw it. They change very fast. For example, we try to be neutral to that. [Another meditator] I was thinking about what you were saying about the reactions we have to the same person differently. It is interesting because like, let’s say your husband when I’m mad at him, I don’t love him any less at that specific moment. But at some point, he is not taking me seriously because he shouldn’t [laughing]. And he’s like, “But, you still love me, right?” And I’m like, “Oh, of course. But still…” [laughing] Sometimes I feel like I personally choose to put myself in this angry mode with this other person. It’s nice to have the perspective that they are still loved and the impermanence of my state of mind and my perceptions of these behaviors and attitudes.
There was one experience, when I came back from the last retreat, he did something, or something happened and it is interesting how these retreats accelerate in a way, at least at the time, the understanding or more insight comprehension of like this impermanency, the irrelevance of certain situations. Something happened that has happened before and I was like “Oh, this is interesting. I don’t feel like I have to react to it.” It was like a huge mirror in front of me. “Okay, you can react normally. Good to know.” [laughing] [Another meditator] I wonder when you use the phrase “losing yourself”. I know there’s a lot happening to that. I assume there is. Like losing yourself with anger, losing yourself with hummmm. What do you mean when you say that?[Sathi] When you say, losing yourself with anger, we understand that. Afterward you see what happened to yourself and of course, when we are angry, we don’t even want to see your own face. If somebody takes a picture of you while you are angry and put it on FaceBook, what would happen? [laughing] [Meditator] That’s not me! [more laughing] [Sathi] Think of the other side of this. We even lose ourselves with laughter. But, we don’t have any complaints about that. If we take a picture, “Oh yeah! Is that me?” Because even you are surprised by seeing your happiness. But, in both of these [situations], we lose ourselves. What is happening? We are okay with one way of losing ourselves but not okay with another way of losing ourselves. The mindful person is learning to go to that good place by knowing you are going there. The mindful person is handling you to not go to the bad place where you don’t want to go.
Again, I’m going to tell you. The mindful person is training to go to that happy place by knowing I can be this person. I am going there by knowing. The mindful person will stop us from going to that bad place by knowing how to stop. That way, you will not lose yourself.
Once you have lost yourself, you don’t know what is happening to your body or mind. For an average person, when you are angry, what is happening to your body. Do you really know what is happening to your body? It is definitely not friendly to you. It is not healthy to your body. A lot of changes are happening to your body, chemically. Sometimes people say they are really stressful and my shoulder and back hurt. What that means is that your mind is directly changing the peacefulness of your body.
This is how you stop losing yourself. Once you stop supporting your body to change in that way, you are not losing yourself. Losing yourself does not necessarily come from your mind. It is part of your body too. When you are angry, you do not know what things you are throwing away [laughing]. Sometimes people throw things and you hit. What is happening to your body? How are you using your body? That is not the actions of a mindful person. If you happen to see such a person, how do you see this person? You’ll run away, right? I don’t know, I’m going to hide in my car, in my room, until you finished dancing. That’s about losing yourself.
There is another area we need to understand. Sometimes we lose ourselves in a very quiet way. You hide yourself. You don’t want to come out. You don’t want to talk You hide your words. You don’t want to even show your face to others. Sometimes people just want to sleep and not talk about it. That is another way of losing yourself. You are losing yourself into you. In that louder way, you are losing yourself into the out[side environment]. Both ways need to be avoided. They are not healthy.
When you lose yourself into yourself others will not feel it or know it. If you close your door and you close your room, others will not know it. But still, it is you who is struggling.
As a mindful person, we are all doing this. If I ask you, “Are you an angry person?” You will say, “No, I am not angry.” But, do you get angry? “Yes, I get angry.” But, are you an angry person? “No, I’m not angry.” What’s behind this? That means you are not an angry person all the time, but sometimes you get angry. Do you like yourself when you are angry? I’m sure you would say no, I don’t. Others don’t like you either when you are angry.
This means you are losing yourself when you are angry and you don’t want to lose yourself totally. This will stop when you become this mindful person and you will see it.
At the same time, do you like yourself when you hide? When you tuck yourself in your room or you don’t want to show your face to others. I’m sure not even you like yourself. That is why you don’t want to show your face to others. I would say that is more dangerous than screaming and going out. Because that [angry] person will get help from others. People will say, “Okay, something is wrong with you. Let’s do something.” But, when you hide yourself, that’s a very vulnerable place. Nobody except yourself can help.
But, as a meditator, we need to understand this both ways and stop losing ourselves either way. Again, we are not perfect. We can go to either place sometimes. But, use your mindfulness to drag yourself back by knowing I can be that person. Use it.
Do you have a question?[Meditator] I was going to say, it is interesting because I know in the present tense when I’m angry, I know there are certain exterior things that snap me out of it. Like music, or listening to podcasts. Like the radio when I’m driving. But, it interesting because [claps] I’m glad that I’m grateful. I have to rely on those external things whenever they randomly happen. To actually look for something, to give me confidence that I can figure your own self out of the situation. [Sathi] Yes, there are certain things that will help you initially take you out of that state of mind. But, that’s not enough. Those are temporary solutions. But, as a meditator we can have a strong foundation within ourselves, not to go there. And you have a strong foundation.
I think we can continue our discussions, our mindful chat over mindful tea.
Recorded on August 31, 2019, at the Mindfulness Center in Chaska, Minnesota.
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