Showing posts from August, 2011

Would I be a different person if I had been born a week later?

Well, here's a thing to consider if you're wrestling with the Zen koan - 'what is your original face?' Or, the snappier, 'who am I?'

Also worth considering - 'a human birth is an extremely lucky thing'.

Or even, 'who were you before your mother was born?'

'We' are not there. Are we?

Chronic fatigue - what is sensible for me right now?

I ask myself this question a lot and I find it quite helpful when I'm about to do something that:

a) I used to be able to do as a fit person
b) Seems to be stretching myself in my current state

Usually when I ask the question, the answer is generally 'not really' because I know in my heart that I'm pushing myself too hard. It's a kind of a grounding question, bringing me back to reality rather than allowing myself to dwell in a deluded view of myself as I used to be.

This tension between 'how I used to be' and 'how I am now' is an interesting aspect of this illness - perhaps I am still in denial of some kind. Perhaps I always will be, but I guess it is part of life to live with these old versions of our self grumbling away.

Chronic fatigue and having the confidence that bad moments will pass

This is something quite important I think. There are many bad times with chronic fatigue - times that are quite humbling for active, getting-things-done kind of people. Quite often there are periods when things are going well punctuated with sudden collapses in energy for no apparent reason. There's a lot of mental struggle that can happen when it goes wrong yet again, but after a few years I've grown to respect these bad times and let them play themselves out. This "letting go" state of mind helps me more than trying to fight with the symptoms as they get worse and worse. Part of this "letting go" is having confidence that these bad moments will pass.

This confidence or internal faith is an important mental idea and it also crops up in Buddhist psychology as part of transcendental dependant origination. Transcendental dependant origination is a logical set of steps that lead from suffering to enlightenment, with various nice things along the way. The messa…

Who is in charge of who?

It seems fairly clear that there are multiple agencies at work in our minds making us do things in the world. I have a fairly strong intention in my life which goes something like this:

- Keep it steady, don't overdo it, stay within your limits

And, I also have fairly severe feedback if I stray very far from this intention. So you'd think that it's pretty clear that this sensible, take-it-easy chap is the one who is in charge on a day to day basis. However, this is rarely the case. Within minutes (seconds even) of waking up, a whole host of other 'important' voices make themselves heard, and, if I'm not paying attention, I can end up doing things 'I' didn't even really want to do.

Now, here's another thing I've noticed. I might be innocently sitting in a cafe minding my own business when I hear a conversation at the next table that seems innocuous enough. Then I might hear one phrase that triggers something in me and I forget my relaxing intent…

Get out of the head and into the body

We spend a lot of our time in our thoughts without even realising we are doing it. There's nothing wrong with this but we may find ourselves in difficult mental states that seem tyrannical and burdensome without any real way out. Luckily, we are more than just our prefrontal cortex and if we expand our perspective to include the awareness of other parts of our being, then we may find some relief after all.

Here's something to try through out the day:

- Notice: thinking, thinking, thinking.
- Take a deep breath: follow it into the body.
- Relax into the body.
- If you can, notice that the awareness has shifted from the front of your head to a more spacious place.
- Try to hold the spaciousness in the body. How many breaths can you sustain it for?

The difference between being somebody or being nobody

The brain (and mind) is a multi-modal machine that is capable of operating in different ways and being many different people. It's greatest trick is that when we are being a certain way we don't even realise it; we think this is the way we always are. That's how delusion operates.

One powerful delusion is the sense that 'I' exist and that 'I' control how 'my' life is. Now, this person requires a lot of energy to 'be' in the world - we kind of pause reality and route it through a tight mental contraction that says 'does this affect me' or 'how am I looking' or some other self reflective cognitive filter. Mostly we have enough energy to sustain this without even thinking about it but, when our energy falters, this surge of mental effort can be quite tormenting.

So, what to do instead? There's no easy answer other than to find the place where you don't need to be anybody and recognise what that feels like (spend some time…

Some simple meditation intention instructions

Meditation is quite an interesting skill to master; one day we might be in the groove, the next day we might be all over the place. It seems that we are easily blown around by what happens in everyday life and, since there is an act of remembering about meditation, we easily forget what we are supposed to be doing, especially when we haven't needed to remember for a while.

Here's a few simple pointers that help me reset my intention when I've lost my way:


- Abandon bad mind states (and avoid them)
- Cultivate good mind states and stay in the good ones. (Don't feel guilty about it, it's the right thing to do).
- Open the forehead, cultivate spacious mind, and relax the body.

I can usually find my back from there. You can also try gladdening the mind, but I'll talk about that some other time - it comes under cultivating the good.

(Note, the first two point comprise the four right efforts of Buddhism).

Does meditation help with chronic illness?

Well, I'd say a definite yes. As we go through our life, our bodies and minds get bent out of shape. We hold stress contracted in our muscles and thought patterns that have adapted to cope with life. This chronic stress depletes us and, if we are unfortunate enough to fall ill, everything comes home to roost - the body has nothing left, and what we used to rely on (energy, our youth, being tough, working till we drop, worrying things to death) doesn't work anymore. So then, meditation is coming home, unravelling our bent out of shape lives. It allows us to taste a different sense of who we are - relaxed, spacious, flexible, patient - qualities that help out minds to come to terms with a long, life altering illness.

Good decision

Whatever you decide, give yourself this feedback. If any other feedback enters the mind, then gently replace it with this feedback instead. If something comes to your attention that seems to undermine your original decision, accept it, and then gently remind yourself that it was a good decision when you made at the time.

Or keep it simple:

always, good decision