High, boring standards

Rattling off a quick update about my personal practice, using the Three Trainings framework of Buddhism.

I’m trying for high standards; the difference being that there is a humility in trying for them with a sense of it being the work I’m putting in to heal the sicknesses of delusion, hatred and greed that are very evidently the cause of suffering. That makes it sound very dramatic though, and that kind of adrenaline junkie attachment to cool and loud is what I’m sidestepping out of intuition. The high standards aren’t of herculean effort; they’re the more tedious standards of chipping away at my own crap habits and accepting the low-level frustration, boredom, embarrassment and sadness that come from engaging with the banality of my own evil.

The concept of evil has become important. It’s not that people are evil in some essential sense, either in general or some more than others, or even that evil is a kind of deliberate malice. It’s that negativity brings with it a sense of the pathetic, dull, uncreative, unkind, unfortunate, avoidable, foolish, deluded, reactive. So much of this is embodied for me at the moment- mindfulness and intuition really do live so much in the body, I’m realising more and more. I massively urge anyone who wants to practice solidly to keep listening to the embodied emotions arising, and to notice their component aspects of feelings, intentions, sensations. The very analytical thoughts that take me off into my head alone and disconnect me from the sensual world don’t seem particularly helpful in terms of enlightenment right now, because they are very abstract and deal in what ‘should’ be or ‘could’ be, both dead ends for the cultivation of happiness in the here and now. That firing off of excess energy that is irritating in the body by flinging it at other people is what is evil: filling their heads with chatter that they didn’t consent to listening to, complaining about things that I could let go of, gunning them down for things they’ve done innocently that have annoyed me as if that’s justice, or worse, using them to get something I want to their detriment.

That restraint in making others take on my crap is the foundation of sila practice at the moment, and restraint in accepting others’ is a surprising flip side. Social boundaries are best enforced when negativity appears, and they can be happily relinquished to a far greater extent when positivity is displayed, allowing relaxation and fun. Positive Psychology is very much my thing at the moment, a pleasant mixture of the evidenced and the ethical, and it puts into a contemporary and straightforward language the insights of Buddhism that can sometimes be poorly explained and expected to be taken on faith. Living in a harmless way provides these ‘faultless gifts’ to others immediately: ‘freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression’ (Abhisanda Sutta). If you know that a person is arsey, irritable, labile and aggressive, then your guard will always be up, but a wordless prayer of loving kindness to someone while smiling at them with open body language tells others that you are a safe person to be around, and they will give you their most interesting and fun sides of themselves.

Unsurprisingly this has included a lot of focus on Right Speech: trying not to complain, witter on, brag, impress, coerce, lean on. As a very chatty person this isn’t very natural, but I’m finding that with this in mind I often have very little to say at the moment, and that idle chat is actually quite exhausting when I’m trying to deal with the negative energy fighting its way out of me as a natural result of this purification process- as well as the negative backlash of my own mistakes that is very obvious to me now. Karma is a thing and it is often instant, people.

Speaking of this negative energy, I am often feeling pretty shitty about my life and life in general as my mind stops trying to hide from everyday negativity, and from the negative reactions to the increasing noninherency of life that insight practice brings up. This is not something I am het up about, but it could get a person down if they panicked about it. Instead I’m doing a lot of lovingkindness practice for myself and trying to take my self esteem from the things I have done for others that day, not from arguments won or vexations avoided. This metta practice is coming up against a lot of self hate, mourning and ennui really, and it’s the spiritual equivalent of someone holding your hair out the way while you vomit last night’s ill advised vodka into the loo, of someone holding your hand as you cry about a loss neither of you can do anything about. If those aren’t pleasant metaphors, then you’re not going to like this practice in real life either. Metta is also good for focus; I note when my mind is spinning off, and concentrate with as subtle and gentle a touch as I can on the words, not worrying whether I feel loving or not. It’s too much to expect that I will feel immediate bursts of joy.

Finally, there has to be some formal insight practice in there, and I am doing fifteen minutes a day of ‘not-doing’. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is the building of the habit of meditating daily which I have not done in almost a decade of formal practice. I’m not noting because there is too much bearing down, and there is too much resistance and monkey mind as it is. It’s all I can do to not add to the fighting that is going on in my head to add to pleasant sensations, subtract from negative sensations. It’s fine, because this is what insight meditation is really: noticing craving and aversion and not getting involved. It’s confusing to see myself automatically taking the bait, swerving and avoiding and seizing on, but cheering to see that I can see it, that a modicum of mindfulness is occuring.

If this all sounded quite difficult and unpleasant, of course it is. But it has had immediate benefits that I have been quite surprised by. The sense of needing to rush has been greatly reduced. My focus has changed from threat perception to creative improvement of my life. I feel a sense of steady progression in practice rather than watching the wheel of dharma spin frantically. I can feel the minutaie of my body’s reaction to wholesome events as oxytocin replaces adrenaline. I hope to keep this up.

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