Sarah’s Blog

Compassion Practice

We are all in the midst of living the truth of the third mind changing, which is thinking about how our behavior and reactions shape the life we experience. This teaching suggests there are causal effects from our virtuous and harmful actions, which inevitably ripen into our future reality. In these Tibetan Buddhist teachings on the Four Mind Changings, this is called karmic consequences, the inescapable nature of cause and effect, of skillful or unskillful actions and their positive or negative results. Although so much arises that we can not predict nor fully understand, this insight into personal causality, painful as it is when meeting negative incidents, can be a compelling motivator toward what the Buddha called “intentional living” versus “wandering about in unawareness”. In the spirit of genuine self-care, we can recognize the deep wish to avoid causing more suffering in the future by pausing to contemplate how we might diminish its causes. This self-reflection to align with our awake nature, even for a few breaths, is an important portal into personal power.

If you can, take 5 minutes for a compassion practice. Imagine the essence of your natural goodness as an orb of white light at your heart. With each in breath envision bringing into this light all the dark clouds of any destructive patterns of body, speech or mind that you have experienced lately, while saying to yourself, ‘may I be free of any unskillful or unconscious behavior, especially towards those I am closest to. May I be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.’ Like black cotton thrown into a bon fire, envision these obscurations dissolving into the light at your heart. Imagine this light within you spreading to every inch of your body, while all the clouds of unawareness evaporate. See your self-awareness growing brilliant and clear, filling you from head to toe. Visualize your natural radiance here and now, sending it out to anyone you feel is suffering this moment, with the wish for them, ‘May you be free of any anguish. May you know your inner light of awareness.’

Aspire to spread the brightness of your being towards any painful feelings that may arise today in you or others you meet, that you might be a soft support for yourself, your loved ones, and everyone you encounter today.

Contemplation on Our Own Death

altarThe second mind changing has two parts: one is as you already heard, a contemplation on impermanence, and the other is to reflect on our own death. Since everyone who is born will die and the exact time is unknown, this reflection can help us live today as if we did not have long to live. If we can really take this to heart, each new day becomes a gift and the extraneous distractions can more easily fall away. I would like to take my last few breaths in this life knowing I had fully jumped in while here. In order to die well, we will need to learn how to live well. At the time of death, our only support will be our state of mind and what we have consciously cultivated. To contemplate the uncertainty of when we will die is meant to undermine any complacency or tendency to take this life for granted, and propel us to develop awareness without delay.

Reflect on someone you know who has died and recall if it seemed unexpected, like they would always be around, even if they died slowly. Just as this person was here one breath, and then suddenly gone, see how you feel about recognizing that will be your future as well. Does it help you lean into the reality of this precious impermanent life? Does it fuel your desire to live as awake as you can today? Spend five minutes in a yin pose while pausing every few breaths to ask yourself, how am I meeting this fleeting moment? End with the intention, may I have a lucidly awake day, as my simple and complex life is preciously ephemeral.

The Second Mind Changing

dandelionReflecting on the preciousness of this life is intimately connected with the second mind changing: life is to be met with sacredness as it is so beautifully and poignantly fleeting. I imagine that contemplating impermanence when you are so young, with expectations of so much ahead will be challenging as even most adults need a crisis to reflect on the unpredictable aspects of life.

In Buddhism one allows this invisible instigator of preciousness to function as a catalyst for developing vivid awareness, for cultivating the ability to ride the flow of change fluidly, knowing nothing in this world stays the same.

Contemplate your own ever changing metamorphosis by observing all your dynamically changing feelings in one day. Start now, being aware of how you are feeling just this moment and see if you can detect when this feeling changes and becomes another feeling. At the end of the day reflect back on this moment and retrace all the changing feelings you had in one day!

The Preciousness of this Life

buddha-resting-on-kneeWhatever your day is like seems a good time for you to think about the preciousness of this life, the first mind changing. It is considered a practice of gratitude and there are 18 traditional points to appreciate, so I will just name a few.

One is to be grateful for the fact that the place you are in is safe, and not hostile to your hopes and dreams of living a deeply meaningful life. If you were in Afghanistan or the Congo your choices would be severely limited and as a woman, you would not be safe. So let’s not take for granted this privilege we have that allows us the freedom to pursue deeper inquiry about the meaning of life.

Another aspect of this teaching is to cherish that we have exposure to methods that can wake us up from unconscious living and show us the path to genuine happiness. We remember that we have the capacity to actually understand these contemplative teachings, and can create a skillful path of meditation. This will inspire us to actually practice regularly.

With this initial mind changing, there are two questions to contemplate:

  1. What are some of the other privileges I have that are easy to take for granted.
  2. Recognizing the tendency humans have for complacency, what am I doing with this precious life?

Take 5 minutes in a yin pose while considering these inquiries, and write down in your journal what arises for you.

The 4 Mind Changings

female-buddhaOver the thousands of years people have practiced the Buddha dharma many branches have evolved, but in general there are three main streams; the Theravada path which is the oldest, the Mahayana path which began around the time of Christ, and the Vajrayana, which developed first in India in the 7th century and then migrated to Tibet in the 8th century.

In Tibetan Buddhism there are 4 contemplations which are similar to the way the Four Noble Truths act as an entry point as well as life long pointers for self observation by helping people develop a more mature world view than the common materialistic one. They also each have depth teachings interwoven into each assertion. Together these 4 declarations are called The 4 Mind Changings or The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Toward the Dharma, as they alter the way we view our existence and prepare us mentally to take up the practice of awareness.

  1. Thinking about appreciating this precious human birth
  2. Thinking about death and impermanence, that the opportunities we have now with this precious life are not going to last
  3. Thinking about the laws of karma in relation to cause and effect, and how our choices and our behavior intimately affects what we experience
  4. Thinking about how suffering arises due to identifying with our negative emotions and our sense of separation from the immediacy of life, and thinking how unsatisfying this is. This predicament we are all in is called Samsara, meaning going round and round; repeating habitual patterns out of ignorance or unawareness of what we are doing. This fourth one is thinking how we would like to be free of Samsara.

These are 4 thoughts that I revisit every morning as soon as I awaken.

Try this for a week, laying in bed for 5 minutes before you get up, contemplating these ideas and then later each day think on them again and see how they affect you. For the next few Drops I will unpack each one a bit more.