Book Review/Mastering the Subtle Energies

Those of you who’ve been reading this newsletter for awhile know that one of the things I like to repeat over and over again is the two dimensions of meditation — concentration and awareness. Other terminology may be used such as absorption and insight. It doesn’t matter. The point is that there are two basic dimensions.

Some of you may think, “So what?” and, perhaps it is not so relevant for you. But for those who’ve had, or will have, exposure to various meditation techniques and traditions, the use of these two dimensions helps to bring order to the seeming chaos of methods and techniques. Some techniques almost exclusively emphasize concentration, some emphasize awareness, and others balance the two.

So, I was very happy to see a new book out called “Momentary Buddhahood: Mindfulness and the Vajrayana Path” by Anyen Rinpoche in which he shows the continuity of concentration and awareness (which he terms mindfulness and wisdom) through a variety of forms of meditation. Because of its technical terminology, this book will not be relevant to the majority of my readers, but there are a few of you who’ve had some experience with Ati Yoga, Dzogchen or Mahamudra meditation, and for that group, I would highly recommend this book.

For my general readership, let me summarize a few points from the book that I think everyone can relate to.

The author writes that when meditating on the thought of loving-kindness our ability to remain in the thought or feeling of loving-kindness without distraction is because of mindfulness (concentration). Without mindfulness we would not be able to maintain the feeling. The recognition or realizing of the true quality of loving-kindness is wisdom (awareness).

He also points out the freshness of the experience in the moment, and the difficulty of prolonging it as an authentic experience, rather than as a made-up experience, and that we need to refresh our meditation when we feel it going stale.

He writes: “It is like putting a piece of steel into a fire. The steel gets really hot, turns red, and heat radiates from it. The color and glow of the steel are indivisible. Yet the longer that we leave the steel out of the fire, the cooler that it becomes, and it begins to turn grey. Even though it is still hot, it does not have the clear energy of the red glow to it. Once that redness is gone, it begins to turn cold.”

In the sharpness of awareness, obstacles that arise in the mind cannot get a foothold. They are burned through by clear seeing in the moment of their arising. This is what is taught in the Ati Yoga view of meditation.

However, when there is not that sharpness of seeing, we have to apply antidotes instead. Hatred gains a foothold and we may to try to relace it by thoughts of loving-kindness, or by reasoning. But in the sharpness of clear seeing, it arises and disappears at the same moment, like drops of water hitting hot steel and turning to steam.

He makes the point that this level of clarity requires sensitivity to one’s subtle energies and maintaining balance of one’s subtle energies — what is called in India the “wind energy” or prana. The reason being in tune with one’s energies is important is because thought and energy are closely related. It is sometimes said that the “wind energy” is the horse that thought rides upon. If the horse is tamed and still the thoughts cannot move.

The practical application of this is that by meditating on the breath, we are entering the doorway to harmonizing our subtle energies. As our awareness of the breath expands, we begin to become more aware of our subtle energies. That is why I frequently say we are meditating with our whole body, not just the mind. That is also why you are encouraged to feel the breath at various places in the body, particularly at the area just below the navel, which is a kind of balance point. This is also why I’ve been encouraging you to sometimes feel as though you are breathing with the whole body. Also, our conscious movement exercises are designed to help us tune into the subtle levels of experiencing the body.

All our thoughts and actions begin as subtle energy, which is the seed. In moments when we can be aware at the level of subtle energy it is like destroying weeds before they spring up, rather than having to pull them afterward.

All of this can help us gradually, gradually to obtain greater levels of clarity in the mind. We begin to notice that in the moments when our clarity is strongest, negativity cannot get a foothold. Not that we are always like this. But seeing that this can happen at various moments gives us inspiration that further training will increase our inner strength, our ability to remain clear, aware, open, and loving in a variety of circumstances, even trying ones.

We begin our meditation sessions with gentle stretching and conscious movement. What is “conscious movement”? It is not something separate from our meditation; it can actually be a form of meditation.

Conscious movement acts as a preparation and aid to meditation, and also is a bridge between meditative stillness and the movement of everyday life. Conscious movement helps us experiment with how to integrate meditative awareness into everyday life.

What makes movement “conscious”? Here are some everyday examples: Think about how you touch your lover, your child, your pet. Now think about how you touch the cereal box, the doorknob, the lightswitch.

The way we touch inanimate objects is usually fairly mechanical — we automatically gauge the weight of the object, applying the right amount of grip strength, but otherwise it is fairly automatic. But when we touch a living being, particularly one we love, there is often a “being present” and communication that occurs.

When we touch a living being to express affection, there is an aliveness and a presence is our hand. Our hand is no longer merely a mechanical grasping object, but rather a living extension of our heart-feelings.

When we are touching consciously, we feel as though there is a communication that is transmitted and received at the skin surfaces.

In conscious movement, our view of our body is similar to that of conscious touching. As we are moving our hands and arms in space, we are viewing our body as an extension of and expression of our inner feeling. When we stretch our arms up, we are not merely mechanically stretching muscles and tensions. We are opening from the center of our being and expressing that through the movement of our outstretched arms. We are projecting our intention from inside us, through our arms, out past our finger tips.

In conscious movement we are aware of our “subtle body” — the subjective experience of our body — and not just our visible physical body.
Our visible physical body stops at the skin, but our inner experience of our body can expand and shrink. Our subtle body, our sense of ourselves, can expand or contract, depending upon how open and connected we are.

The opening up of the body helps us maintain openness of awareness. The open mind and open heart find expression and embodiment in a certain attitude and carriage of the physical body. And vice-versa, the embodiment of openness and spaciousness in the physical body helps support an attitude of openness of heart and mind.

Physical contraction is generally associated with fear, replusion, cold. Expansion is associated with attraction, love, confidence, warmth. Excessive contraction leads to restrictions in the flow of breath and energy in the body. Conscious movement helps us become aware of contraction, expand, and soften restrictions.

CONSCIOUS MOVEMENT EXERCISES TO TRAIN SUBTLETY OF PERCEPTION

Stare without blinking at something brightly lit — an exterior window, an electric light, a candle flame — now close your eyes and see the afterimage. Quickly the afterimage fades. Try to watch it until it totally fades. Even after you think it has faded see if you can maintain a trace of the image for a few seconds

Ring a bell. Stop. Listen to the vibrations slowly die down and subside. Listen to the sound get fainter and fainter, until it seems you cannot hear it anymore. Even after you think the sound has totally faded, see if you can maintain a trace of the sound in your mental ear for a few seconds.

Shake or vibrate some part of your body — your hand, your trunk, your head. Now gradually make that moment finer and finer, as fine as you can, until it is a slight tremor. Finer still until it is invisible from the outside. Finer still until it is just the memory of a movement inside. Maintain that sense of subtle inner movement for a few seconds.

Application of this exercise: When we are sitting in meditation we are training ourselves to become aware of very subtle sensations and experiences, as well as very gross and obvious ones. These exercises will help us tune into subtle sensations in our body, and subtle movements of our breath, emotions, mind.

FOR MORE CONSCIOUS MOVEMENT EXERCISES CLICK ON: http://hubpages.com/hub/Meditation-in-Action-Using-Conscious-Movement

Three Levels of Meditation

August 10, 2009

RIGHT EFFORT

The writings of Zen are full of apparent paradoxes: “the pathless path,” “the gateless gate,” and so forth. How can there be a pathless path? If it is pathless then it is not a path. What is the sound of one hand clapping?

This isn’t just nonsense. Such statements point to an experience that is not quite captured by either of the opposites.

“Meditation involves effort” “Meditation is effortless” Both of these statements are true. “Right effort” refers to the correct balance — the middle way.

An ancient meditation master said that “When the strings of a harp are too tight, they break. When they are too loose, there is no sound. When they are just right, neither too tight nor too loose, every note sounds in its proper tone.”

It could also be compared to spinning yarn from wool by hand — something that most of you are probably not familiar with — try it sometime! To keep the yarn from becoming too thick or too thin, one maintains a subtle tension, not too loose and not too tight.

In meditation we gradually discover a form of effort that does not involve strain or striving.

YOU ARE THE SILENCE

Tea is water, coffee is water, cola is water. It is possible to use filtration and other methods to separate the pure water from the flavoring ingredients.
However, even in the unseparated state, the water is still clearly present, providing the essential quality of wetness.

Once we have tasted the silence in meditation we can develop beliefs that “I must sit for 20 minutes before I begin to experience the silence” or “I must sit for 40 minutes before I begin to experience the silence.” While these beliefs reflect past experience, they can become limiting when deeply held.

The wetness of the water is inherently a part of cola. We may not like the fizz, the sugary flavor, and the effects of the caffeine. And we may want to filter those out, which will take some time. However, the essential quality of water is immediately present. Even with the fizz, and the sugar, and caffeine, and artificial coloring, we still are experiencing water. We don’t have to wait for a filtration process before we can experience the essential presence of the water.

Similarly, silence is an inherent part of our experiences. Even the most frenetic experiences, filled with fizz, buzz, and sugar, still take place in inherent silence. We don’t have to do anything to touch the silence. The silence is already there. It is a matter of not doing that which obscures the silence. Sometimes trying to get to the silence kicks up waves that obscure the silence that is already there. (This relates to last week’s discussion of “right effort” — the balance between doing and not-doing.)

We can use “silence”with two meanings: the silence that stands in opposition to noise, and the silence that is present within noise.

Think of music. Look at a piece of sheet music. Each note is separate. Each note arises out of silence and returns to silence. The notes are separated by silence. If the silence were not woven into the music, it would not be music.

Think of speech. When we are communicating with someone verbally there is silence between words. There is silence at the end of sentence. When we want to emphasize something we pause in meaningful silence. Speech is not possible without the silence woven into it.

What happens when we focus on the silence between the words? What happens when we focus on the silence between the thoughts? What happens when we focus on the silence within the sensations?

When we shift our concept, shift our view, does our experience of meditation change?

It can be good to sit for long periods of meditation. It can be good to sit for short periods of meditation. It can be good to notice the silence for an instant in the heat of the moment.

With your vision, focus on something close to you in the room. Now look past that and focus on something further away. Both have been there the whole time. It’s a matter of what we were focusing on.

As we get older our ability to effortlessly shift focus becomes impaired. We need bifocal lenses.

When we first start meditating, we use meditation as a kind of bifocal lens. But later our mind could become supple enough and flexible enough to effortlessly move between focusing on the foreground and focusing on the background.

The background is the meaningful silence, the unconditional yes, the limitless love.

July 12, 2009

What is. . .

Being present. . .

Without struggle. . .

Being present. . . to what is . . . without struggle

Meditation is about being present to what is, without struggle. Paradoxically, that sometimes may mean being present to the struggle. (How can that be? Seems illogical. . . It is a pointer. It is like a natural koan – something we cannot penetrate in advance with reasoning apparatus – something to be understood through life experience.)

In formal meditation and in daily life we may notice moments when we are just present, without struggle.

Sometimes our noticing this triggers a series of thoughts that takes us out of simple presence.

However, eventually we can become familiar with these moments of presence and allow them to be, for as long as they naturally last, without disrupting them and without trying to artificially prolong them (which is another way of disrupting them).

This natural presence is something that is intrinsic to our nature — a deep and fundamental part of our nature.

If we experience a moment of pure presence, in meditation or in daily life, we can be deeply grateful — our meditation was fruitful.

We do not spend most of our life being present and aware without struggle. It only occurs for moments. Over time, these moments can become longer, with familiarity.

It is hard for us to imagine how we could live a normal life maintaining simple presence. It is best no to try to imagine it, creating more fantasies, thoughts, and complications. Just trust the process.

It’s so easy to forget, and I have to remind myself time and time again, that meditation is a “process,” not a “state.” We can experience a “state” of concentration, absorption, clarity — and such states can last for several minutes, and seem somewhat stable. At some point our mind observes what’s going on and labels it: “This is a pleasant state. I hope this lasts awhile! What do I have to do to make it last? I want to come back here again!” If one thinks about it too much, the state may begin to disintegrate.

It is easy then to let one’s meditation become about pursuing this “state,” because it seems to feel very good, while it lasts.

This process of pleasurable states developing, and of then longing to recapture these states, and then of developing insight into this, seems to be part of the inner logic of the unfolding of a meditation practice.

“States” are good, because they are a demonstration that “something is happening,” and provide much of the initial motivation to practice. But all states are temporary, which is a good thing, LOL, because otherwise we could fall into a permanent state of unpleasant feeling!

The times when our meditation seems a bit more difficult are also good. Of course, sometimes there is a correctible reason for this — we haven’t been getting enough sleep, the room is very hot, we are sitting in an uncomfortable position. But other times, it is just in the nature of what is happening for us at that time. We’ve had a stressful day, something difficult is going on in our lives, we are coming down with a cold. . .

Even if it does not lead to a state of bliss, meditation at such times is fruitful because it gives us an opportunity to experiment with an alternate way of relating to our discomfort, our restlessness, our pain.

I recommend you read that sentence again.

Meditating in difficult circumstances is good, because difficult circumstances are bound to arise in our life. Sometimes we can avoid them, sometimes we can distract ourselves from them, but sometimes there is nowhere to run to and we have to just face them.

Meditation can help us practice in small ways for the larger difficulties that will arise.

The way to deal with difficulties in meditation is not to grit our teeth and bear them, but to look more closely at them and enter more deeply into them. Physical and emotional pain, when we look closely at it, is a series of sensations in the body and a series of thoughts. Generally we want to hold these at a distance. When we welcome these sensations and thoughts into our field of attention, look at them closely and without preconceptions, and enter into a more intimate relationship with them, we may find we can dance with them.

Sometimes they may transform. Sometimes they may disappear. Sometimes they may stay, but our relationship with them is different.

When a state of bliss arises, it is a good mediation. When a state of bliss does not arise, it is a good meditation. If you’ve had moments of awareness and awakeness, and moments of becoming intimate with your experience without preconceptions, you’ve had a good meditation.

When you feel you are trying too hard, and going nowhere, look into that. Who is trying? Trying to go where? In the end all that we have is this present moment. Not a story about the moment, but the bare reality of the moment. How deeply can we look into the moment. When we feel we are blocked can we look into that feeling of being blocked. Not taking for granted the story that there is a block, and someone that has to overcome that block, but looking freshly and innocently at what is going on in that moment?

It is exactly the same journey for all of us. Everything that I say here, I am saying for my own benefit. If you listen and hear something you can take away for yourself, please do so.

YESTERDAY I was sitting in a restaurant in Cambridge waiting for my food. As I was waiting I was people watching. A woman two tables down from mine turned toward me, noticed me looking at her, screwed up her face into (what appeared to be) an expression of disgust, and turned away.

(In reality, I don’t know that she was reacting to me. Perhaps she had an attack of indigestion at the moment that she looked in my direction. Or maybe she has a facial tic that causes her to look disgusted. . .But, for purposes of this example, the important thing is that I perceived her to be shooting me a disapproving look.)

My first reaction was to laugh. My next reaction was, “What’s wrong with her ?” I noticed that some part of me felt insulted and rebuffed and was reacting. Even as I was aware of this, she and her boyfriend had finished eating and were leaving. And as she walked out that reactive aspect of my self was silently sending her the thought: “Don’t think so highly of yourself ! You’re not all that !” I noticed that some part of my mind had not wanted to immediately let go of its feeling of justified anger, but had spun out that last thought, as she left.

I could, at that point, have tried to substitute a positive thought or wish toward her. But that didn’t seem like the way I needed to go at that point. I did not actually harbor any continuing ill will toward her. It was more like a momentary disturbance on the surface of the water rather than a big rock that had sunk to the bottom of the pond. It was clear that the issue was not so much about her, as about recognizing that the habit of feeling vulnerable to a perceived slight is very persistent, and a very common human tendency. It seemed more important to clearly look at the tendency, rather than to cover it over by focusing on generating a “good” loving thought toward this woman, to replace the “bad” critical thought. It really was not about her. It was about the reflex to feel vulnerable to judgment and then to immediately turn that around and deflect it back onto the other person.

My feeling is that, each time that I look directly at that pattern (perceived vulnerability, followed by attack) and see it clearly, it gets a bit weaker. This woman was my friend, in a way, for pointing out to me this continuing pattern, which I share with most people. Thoughts about her fell away, except for thinking that I should remember to write this up for the blog — it would make a good example. This is how we can work with the mind in daily life. This is one way we integrate meditation with our everday life. Our mind is apparently calm. We notice a disturbance. We begin to chase the disturbance outward toward the apparent outward “cause,” then we remember to look inward and see what disturbing emotion has arisen.

Chagdud Tulku used to say, “When we look at the world we think we are looking through a window, but actually we are looking in a mirror.” The world is full of little alarm clocks to wake us up from our sleep.

This does not mean that we do not take appropriate action to defend ourselves or other people, when necessary. But there is a difference between appropriate action and the extra layer of emotional reaction that comes from a mistaken understanding of things. For example, I would call the police to arrest someone if they were trying to break into my house. But I don’t have indulge in indignation over, “How dare THEY break into **MY** house!!” The main focus does not have to be on “MY.” The main focus can be that burglary is harmful and unsafe for the community at large (other people’s houses, as well as my own) and for the person that is breaking in. . . I might also wonder what it is that leads a person to being willing to break into people’s homes. And what happens to such people after they are caught. . .I might also buy better locks or start a neighborhood watch. . .Or I might not. . .I might also decide to meditate more and to be kinder to those I meet. . . I might realize that I take so much for granted (that my house is safe, that my things will be there when I get home). . .I might be thankful, and more fully appreciate the moments of my life, not taking them for granted. . .I might realize that any of my things can be stolen or destroyed or lost at any moment, and start thinking about what it is that truly nourishes me, beyond my things.

Here’s the important point in my example above: in reality, there was no problem. The negative thought that arose toward that woman was the playing out of an automatic reaction arising from deeply held beliefs about my self image. In reality there was never any threat, any offense, or anything to defend. The whole thing was unnecessary and unreal — like an illusion or a mirage, in a way — and yet, it played itself out. Shortly after the moment of becoming aware of it, and in no longer identifying with it, it dissipated almost as quickly as it had arisen.

~ * ~

There are infinite gates to the study and practice of meditative awareness. The common pathway is shamatha (collecting the mind) and vipassana (resting in awareness). But there are infinite methods and modifications, at least one or more of which will suited to each type of person.

www.leominster-meditation.com

Three levels of meditation
(1.) For individual health and well-being
(2.) To open the heart
(3.) To develop wisdom

Most people start out meditation in order to improve something and to feel good.

After persisting in meditation for awhile you may find that the path to your initial goal involves opening up to deeper levels of acceptance and warmth toward yourself, your moment-to-moment experience, and other people. You become more deeply aware of your interconnectedness to other people and to all of Life. Meditation begins to reconnect you to your Big Heart.

Over time, you also catch glimpses of vast sky-like mind and develop perspective and wisdom. Your understanding of interconnectedness deepens and you see that everything that happens arises from a web of interconnectedness. You become less reactive and more proactive.

The Importance of the Heart

A traditional meditation is on the “four brahma-viharas” or the four exalted emotions. These are lovingkindness (metta), sympathetic joy (mudita), compassion (karuna), and equanimity (upphek).

Sympathetic joy is the rejoicing in someone else’s good fortune. Compassion is feeling empathy for someone else’s bad fortune. From one point of view we could say that sympathetic joy and compassion are merely specialized forms of loving kindness.

Equanimity is what keeps us from getting “burned out” on compassion and loving kindness. Equanimity is not indifference — that is a mistaken understanding. Equanimity is what gives us the balance to extend caring in a way that is respectful of ourself and the other person.

Equanimity keeps things in perspective. We don’t always know what is best for a person. We can’t necessarily rescue people from the fate they have chosen. Sometimes there is a lesson that they must learn, even if it is painful.

Equanimity has a cooler flavor to it, but is not cold or indifferent. It balances the warmth of loving kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy.

Think of the famous Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can. . . .and the wisdom to know the difference. ” Equanimity would be similar to the serenity and wisdom elements.

Traditionally one meditates on loving kindness, then on sympathetic joy, then compassion, then finally equanimity. The sequencing of this teaches us an important lesson. Equanimity, or the basic awareness that we cultivate in silent meditation (vipassana), should be suffused with lovingkindness. The awareness is never cold, clinical, and detached. It has a basic warmth to it. It may be a subtle warmth, but it is intrinsic to true mindfulness.

————

to read more on the brahma-viharas go to www.brahmaviharas.org


Linger in the Aftertaste

When you ring a bell or pluck a guitar string, the sound gradually fades out, continuing to vibrate at less and less perceptible levels.

If you were at the meditation session where I brought the large singing bowl and struck it, you may remember that the reverberation lasted for quite a while before entirely dying out.

Similarly after you have finish eating a meal the aftertase lingers on your palate for awhile, unless you brush your teeth or chew some gum immediately after.

Or if someone bakes a pie, the aroma lingers in the kitchen air for some time afterward.

The smell of the shampoo clings to your hair. The fragrance of the soap remains on your skin.

So too with intentions.

Intentions set up a reverberation, a vibration, a subtle taste or fragrance, in our mind-body awareness.

Generally speaking, the more quiet your mind is, the deeper the intention reverberates.

When we sit quietly after silent meditation we intentionally radiate loving kindness to those around. As we send good wishes to all those within the field of our imagination, it sets up a vibration within us. You may remember that I invite you to slow down for a moment and rest in that flavor, color, vibration of loving-kindness within the field of awareness.

That mood or flavor slowly dissipates, like the sound of the ringing bell. But even after it is no longer as vivid and clear, it continues to subtly perfume our mind, speech, and actions, imperceptibly imparting its scent of loving-kindness to those we encounter.

Even when we become upset, the seasoning of loving kindness may cause our upset to be less harsh, or to pass more quickly.

It follows from this that if we can briefly touch in on the flavor of awareness and loving kindness a few times a day, it is like someone freshening their perfume, or taking in nourishment to keep their energy level up.

It takes only a moment to lightly touch in on awareness and loving kindness. This can be a moment of kindness toward ourselves, toward specific others, or toward the world in general.

Take a deep breath. Relax a little as you let the air out. Soften your gaze, or gaze inward, and let your attention sink into your heart, or your “hara” (the area two fingers below the navel) for another breath. Just touch and go. Think, “May everyone in this bulding be happy!” Or “May everyone on this street find peace.” (And remember that you are included in this!) Just that. Just for a moment.

Training like this, over and over, it becomes a mental imprint and suffuses the mind with positivity.

After awhile, try broadening your wish — “May all beings find peace!” Such a vast number of beings (human and animal) may seem a little abstract, so you might want to add a concrete group to make it more real, and less abstract: “May all beings, including everyone in this restaurant, be happy.”

We want to make this more than a rote formula. We want to infuse a moment of mindful presence into the intention.

Our first mission is always awareness.

Awareness of what is really so at this moment. . . and the next moment, , , and the next.  If you are angry in the moment, be aware that you are angry.  We don’t have to justify it, we don’t have to act it out, and we don’t have to suppress it.  We hold it in awareness.  We don’t have to fight with it.  We just hold it, like a parent holds a crying baby. We hold it with a gentle mindfulness.

Letting go of our anger is a good thing. But we have to differentiate between letting go and pushing away, masking, or repressing.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the ambition to become a saint. I don’t want to sleep on a bed of nails or force myself to stay awake all night. If that works for someone else, great. But it is not my way.

Recently someone wrote to me and said she was trying to visualize sending loving-kindness toward someone who had just been very, very mean to her. That sounds very heroic. And it could be a good thing to try.

I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone who feels like being heroic. Try it, if you feel inspired. Maybe you will have a breakthrough. But, if you don’t, please do not feel discouraged.

Sometimes baby steps are the best steps.

In discussing types of meditators, traditionally one type achieves sudden, dramatic progress. But a few of those who make rapid progress, also find themselves falling back just as suddenly. Then there are the slow, steady types. They do not progress rapidly, but their progress is stable.

So sudden breakthroughs are good, but so are baby steps.

Firstly, I recommend simply practicing the awareness exercise of noticing how your heart is at random times during the day. Focus on the subtle, low-level feelings of irritation, impatience, and dislike,

The subtle feelings are the easiest to overlook. When we are yelling hurtful words at someone, we are aware of it, even though we may find ourselves almost unable to stop the flow of angry words. But, how about being aware of the feeling of irritation gradually building?

It is easier to blow out a tiny flame than it is to stop a raging forest fire.

Being attuned to our subtle dislikes and irritations makes it easier to manage them before they flare into an out of control temper tantrum, which will end in hurt feelings and regret.

So, the first step is to be aware. Aware of the feelings in our body and the thoughts that go through our heads. Particularly when we are reacting to strangers. Because with strangers we are reacting mostly to our own preconceptions, projections, and prejudices.

The second step is curiosity. A gentle questioning: why am I irritated by this person? Frequently we will find that we have very flimsy reasons to be irritated: “I don’t like the way her mouth is hanging partly open like a stupid person.”

Notice, we are not trying to justify why we are irritated. “Of course, anyone would be irritated by a girl with purple hair and sixteen earrings. Only an idiot would dress like that.”

We are also not trying to judge ourselves. “I am a terrible person to be prejudiced against people who beg on the street. I should be like Mother Teresa. The fact that I am not proves what a worthless person I really am.”

If anything we could have a sense of humor about it. “Haha. So much irritation arising because the person ahead of me in the rapid checkout line has 10 items instead of 7. It’s really hilarious the way anger automatically arises.”

This is the awareness practice.

Taking that one baby step further we produce a new thought.

That’s another person, just like me. The fact that she has 10 items in her cart is just one facet of a complicated being. Perhaps she is in a hurry to get home to feed her child or to take care of her elderly mother. I really have no way of truly judging her. I’m just reacting out of automatic irritation, or a sense of “should.”

This thought does NOT have to COMPLETELY dissipate our feeling of irritation.

If all it does is soften it a little, that’s already a step forward.

A baby step is, in fact, a giant step.

Train this way until the noticing, the questioning, and the softening begin to become a habit. Then irritation becomes our friend. It wakes us up out of our sleep and causes us to look at what is going on in our mind and heart.

Practicing like this will gradually transform us into more open, loving, open, and flexible people with a sense of humor and few traces of self-righteousness.

At some point you may want to take this a step further and start actively projecting love toward people, mentally.

I recommend starting with those you care about. Don’t we often neglect them and take them for granted. Take time to mentally send love toward them. Let that intention be a physical feeling as you imagine that you actually can send love to them from a distance.

Then, when you are with them, don’t forget to demonstrate love in your actual words and actions.

Next we project love toward those we don’t have any special feelings toward — the waitress, the checkout clerk, the librarian. It can be a feeling in your body, an image of sending light or hearts toward them, or a thought “I wish you happiness.”

Finally we begin working with those we feel irritated toward, working our way up to the big ones.

If it gets too difficult, we can take a step back, then try again later.

When we feel we can’t or don’t want to project love toward someone, we state our willingness to learn.  “I’m willing to learn to want to project love toward Jane Smith.”

Or, if we don’t even have the willingness, “I wish to find the willingness to want to learn to project love toward Jane Smith.”

Start where you are! There is ALWAYS a starting place. You don’t ever have to give up.

Don’t forget to project love toward yourself, toward the wounded parts of you.

Remember that love is part of your Being. “I can project love to Jane Smith because I am (deep inside) the source of unconditional love.”

The base of all this is awareness practice. Awareness will take you to love.

Be gentle with yourself. We are too hard on ourselves. Love yourself as a good parent would love you.