I have been noticing thoughts arising recently that are telling me that it is impossible for me to reach shamata. The thoughts were also pointing out without mental stability I would not be able to progress to enlightenment. I knew it was time to talk back to my mind and I needed ammunition. I went directly to my teacher (aka Google) and put in the search terms: “unable to reach shamata”.
One of my favorite sites, The Benzin Archives, popped up on the first page with a catchy page title of “Achieving Shamatha“. Now, much of the information was review for me, but I enjoyed the comparisons between the objects used in the different Tibetan schools of Buddhism. This was useful since my primary background is Gelug, but I have been recently studying Dzogchen.
My favorite part of the presentation was advice from Master Shantideva:
Steadfastness (brtan) or self-confidence (nga-rgyal) comes from examining if we are capable of achieving the goal and, being convinced that we are, applying ourselves steadily, even though progress goes up and down.
The part I like about Shantideva’s advice is that he thinks that self-examination could only lead to the conclusion that one is capable of the goal, while I’ve concluded that I am incapable of achieving the goal. The very absence of advice to people that are hopeless suggests that I am capable, regardless of past experience.
So if I am capable, where do I need to work? I am currently at stage four and shamata is stage 10. Perfect advice for me is:
Mental flightiness (rgod-pa, agitation), a subcategory of mental wandering (rnam-g.yeng) or distraction (‘phro-ba), is a fault of the mental placement on the object due to desire or attachment.
Yes, that is just the issue I talked about yesterday. I have an increase in desire arising from the expansive energy of spring. This is leading to a “fault in mental placement” since my mind is dancing with the energy. Yet, the antidote for this is just what I am doing – reaffirming how sexy and attractive shamata and enlightenment are.
Quietude, also known as shamata or samatha (Sanskrit), shi-ne (Tibetan), samatha (Pali), and calm abiding, is defined as:
The single-mindedness that is imbued with the exceptional bliss of practiced ease due to deep, single-pointed meditation on its object.
Shamata is considered the mental platform necessary to achieve insight into reality and the direct experience of emptiness or ultimate reality. Shamata is characterized by pleasant physical sensations, effortlessness in holding one’s meditational object in awareness, the ability to move fluidly and intentionally between objects and the occurrence of this state as soon as one sits down to meditate. It is a bright, vivid, and exceptionally calm state and not trance like in anyway.
Meditators progress towards shamata by passing through nine stages starting with complete scatter-mind, moving to the ability to hold the object in awareness at all times, then the disappearance of narrative or discursive thoughts and increasing calm until finally shamata is achieved.
I am at a loss to accurately describe the happenings of the last few weeks. I feel a little like the tree bending in the wind. Pleasant and unpleasant things have occurred and yet I have been able to keep an attitude of gratitude towards it all and hold the curiosity inherent in the question, “How does this benefit me?” I also been able to honor my gut reactions and know that they are not me and that I do not have to act based on impulse or propelled by my emotions.
First, one of my closest friends decided she no longer wanted to have any contact with me. Then I found myself in a whirlwind of positive and empowering activity at the same time as I was fighting back the expansive energy of spring in hopes of more intense practice period. I moved forward on a couple of projects that seemed complementary to my goals only to encounter some unforeseen breakdowns in communication blocking further movement in the intended directions.
Apricots in bloom in front of proposed garden
For instance, I’ve begun volunteering at the women’s recovery house next door to mine. I am still establishing the program, but right now I take a couple hours twice a week to teach chi gung and do gardening. I have been wanting this to happen for quite awhile and I am looking forward to the experience. This morning I was informed that the garden project was being “shut down” because “corporate” found out about it and they have other plans for the space we were going to use.
My logical mind said, “Great, how does it get better than this?”, but my emotional body felt confused, hurt, rejected, sad, and a little frustrated. Let’s consider the rejection reaction. In the past, I might have dismissed that as me “taking it personally”. Now, I know that I am incredibly sensitive and intuitive. It very well may be a personal rejection. Or it could just be the circumstances hit a sore spot. The best part is that due to my awareness and clarity of mind, I get to decide how to take care of myself and how to react regardless of my emotional reaction. I am not a slave to my emotions. Feeling rejected is unpleasant, being rejected doesn’t have to be. I have choices I never had before.
All this leaves me curious. It seems like my positive shift brought me a greater sense of competence and personal power. However, then, the back lash of my forward movement tried to erode my self-efficacy. Yet, I wonder if I created the back lash by fighting back the expansive energy. Which then makes the back lash merely another demonstration of my power! If not, it is an excellent reframe.