A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Aspiration Practice: May I Be Of Benefit

Ozzie hasn't been dead for even a week, but I am pushing on.  A few weeks back I returned to listening to Pema Chodron teach on Buddhism in her audio program Noble Heart:  A Self-Guided Retreat On Befriending Your Obstacles.  I listened daily for nearly two weeks and then started to re-listen to it, when I decided to download one more audio program by her called Bodhisattva Mind:  Teachings to Cultivate Courage and Awareness in the Midst of Suffering. This second audio program is a bit unusual in that she is closely following the 5th chapter in a book by Shantideva, an Indian monk and scholar from the 8th century, called A Guide To The Bodhisattva Way Of Life.  She also wrote a commentary on most of the book in a book of hers called No Time To Lose in 2005.  Pema Chodron does make reference often to the teachers she's had and to some of the books she's read, but this book by Shantideva appears to be particularly important for entering into the Buddhist path.  The Dalai Lama also makes many references to this seminal work.  So what did I do?  I found that Shantideva's book was available on the Kindle for $10 and I bought it to study it more closely.  I have read through the first half of it and find that there are verses (it is a long poem of sorts) that I want to memorize and reflect upon.

A bodhisattva seeks enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings to seek and find enlightenment as well.  Pema Chodron is teaching me to cultivate the aspiration in my daily practice to be of benefit to others.  The heart of Tibetan Buddhism is to learn to place others before the self in all situations by cultivating compassion.  This is quite a challenge for me because I withdraw from much of human contact, except online.  I live in what Pema Chodron and her teacher Chogyam Trungpa call an "ego cocoon".   More than seeking to make others comfortable, I seek to make myself comfortable and thereby withdraw into my home.  But, of course, separating myself from others does not make me happy or comfortable and so I struggle each day.  I have become an alternately anxiety ridden then depressed individual.  I rarely take a walk or sit outside even though I live in the country.  I don't help my local community.  I keep the focus on myself and my brother and my cats.  This makes me think of Jesus exhorting people to "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" by loving not just your friends and family, but your enemies as well.  He says, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?" and "If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?"

It's good to aspire to be a better person, but first you need to become aware of how you are failing yourself.  It might seem as if I'm getting down on myself here, but I am not.  I am waking up to what it is I do.  I have gotten to the point where I treat myself as a friend.  Talking to my therapist, my brother, myself on tape and now my dear old friend on tape has helped me to do this.  Without befriending myself I couldn't face the fact that I am a self centered individual who doesn't put herself out for anyone but her family.  My heart is becoming softer and the warmer I am to myself, the warmer I can be towards others.  Now, when I light an incense before settling into meditation or dharma study, I send out the aspiration that I be of benefit to others.  I say it aloud.  It's like making a vow to become willing to help.  It's the stage we all have to go through before we come to act on other's behalf.  What a simple thing--"May I be of benefit to others."  It's like taking a closed fist and gently, patiently opening that fist up.  Some people when they pray place their open hands face to face before their chest which to my mind is a beautiful sign of peace, love and respect towards the higher power and all others.

Quite a few months ago I joined the Awakened Heart Sangha online and began a Buddhist course called "Discovering The Heart Of Buddhism" taught by Lama Shenpen Hookham in Wales.  I learned right away that the center of the course was in the meditation practice and in cultivating a deep compassion for yourself.  At first I embraced the meditation practice and got in touch with the student teacher, my contact person, who lives in Poland and is a senior student of Lama Shenpen.  We exchanged several emails, but then my life got busy because my parents were visiting and I used that as an excuse to distance myself from the teacher and the course.  In the coursebook there was a lot of talk about exploring your heart and I wasn't yet ready to do that.  In the interim, I have moved towards being ready by studying Pema Chodron and beginning my aspiration practice along with daily meditation once again.  A few days ago, I returned to the Awakened Heart online forum giving myself a gentle push to reach out to others there.  The forum is not very active, but one of the people who had posted recently was a man who actually suffers like me from schizophrenia, but is dedicating part of his time to Tibetan Buddhist practice.  What good fortune!  I responded to his post and asked him if we could be "dharma buddies" and begin an email correspondence and he said yes, he would be very happy to try that out.  So perhaps we will be of benefit to each other along the way.

A year ago, I couldn't even consider the idea that I could in some lifetime become enlightened.  It just was out of the question.  But now, I am opening to the idea that is it okay to move towards enlightenment, to strive for it and to wish that all of us could reach some kind of liberation.  Maybe because of my isolation I feel no ill will towards anyone.  No-one gets the chance to provoke me and so I settle into a kind of general acceptance of others.  Pema Chodron would say that that is not such a good thing, that human interaction and problems create the needed challenges for a fruitful practice.  How can you practice patience and generosity without the input of other people?  She has said many times that we are all interconnected, more than that, people need people.  Even I, who keeps to myself most of the time, rely on business men to sell me their products, doctors to treat me, sanitation men to remove my garbage, postal workers to handle my mail, etc...  I also need very much the contact of my brother and my online friends.  This blog, too, is a lifeline for me, a place where for a hand full of people I am of benefit in a small way.  I'm planting a few well intentioned seeds, watering them and hoping that they will grow.
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