Lojong Cards and Booklet

Lojong Cards and Booklet
This self-published deck and booklet are the intellectual property of Beverly King. Please do not copy or reproduce any photos or blog posts without permission.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Slogan Fifty-nine

Don’t expect applause.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            Throughout lojong practice, our actions are done with the purpose of benefiting all beings. Yet we humans find it hard not to have expectations for what we do; we seek approval, thanks, recognition or some sort of repayment (your scratch my back, I'll scratch yours). If we don't receive what we expect, we get huffy and feel justified in our resentment, effectively canceling out any intrinsic good feelings. But spiritual practice is done for its own sake and should be its own reward. Instead of expecting, we can be curious or inquisitive as we watch to see what unfolds. Pema Chodron explains, "We can begin to open our hearts to others when we have no hope of getting anything back."
Photo: A stack of pyrite (fool’s gold) nuggets.

            During the first year of my marriage, I worked at a federal lab that tested peanuts for aflatoxin. It wasn’t uncommon for us to work 11 or 12 hour days, especially during harvest time. I came home tired every weekday and had little energy for domestic tasks other than cooking supper for my husband and two stepsons. What I didn’t realize before I got married was how well my husband and his boys could tolerate dirt and clutter. I’d just assumed that once it got bad enough, they would naturally want to tidy things up. That supposition didn’t materialize. Living in such disorder makes me feel stressed, so I would drag myself out of bed on the weekends and clean house. It was a wonderful feeling when I was finished, yet no one seemed to notice but me. Pema Chodron once said, “I find out a lot about myself from what insults me.” And insulted was exactly how I felt! Yet if I’m honest, I’ll admit that what I did benefited me more than them. In the same way, my spiritual practice and any kind deeds I do may be of use to others, but ultimately I am the one who profits. No praise or thanks is necessary.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Slogan Fifty-eight

Don’t be frivolous.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            This slogan cautions us to be aware of how we spend our time and energy. We don’t have an endless supply of either, so we should make sure what we do with these resources is worthwhile. Our contemporary society has created a multitude of methods with which to distract ourselves. As an example, we may mindlessly surf the internet or flip channels on the television.  We don’t have to give up our lighthearted fun, but we do need to be paying attention. The difference between frivolity and play is how we feel afterward. Frivolity leaves us feeling restless and unsatisfied, while the result of play is a feeling of contentment.
Photo: A double-bloom daylily whose flowers only last for one day.

            I love the red clay of Georgia’s soil, except on laundry day or after a hard rain. On dirt roads and in fields, it’s easy for a vehicle to get bogged down when the ground is waterlogged. Tires will spin and spin but won’t go anywhere, and acceleration just makes it worse. The problem is traction; without friction, the tire can’t adhere to the ground and move the vehicle forward. Whether at work or play, I can spin my tires to avoid attending to what’s truly important. I might fill my day with doing good deeds, laboring to achieve a task or chasing the next pleasure. However, if the purpose underlying my busyness is distraction, then I’m doing myself a disservice. I need to wedge something beneath me for traction – hopefully a meditation cushion.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Slogan Fifty-seven

Don’t be jealous.
            Jealousy makes us prickly, irritable and full of resentment. It constricts our hearts and causes us to become more self-absorbed. We feel sure we’ve gotten a raw deal, that we are more deserving than another person. Whether we should have received a reward or commendation is not the issue; the reaction it produces in us is what is important. When we’ve become caught in this emotional trap, Norman Fischer recommends we respond with “sympathetic joy.” Can we imagine how we would feel in this person’s shoes? When we celebrate their happiness as if it were our own, we cultivate loving-kindness and weed out jealousy.
Photo: A cactus leans away from a begonia flower.

            My grandmother, who was born in 1896, wore a girdle her entire adult life. Even with the advent of pantyhose, she adamantly refused to give up her girdle. Though she wore it to shape her body, I couldn’t imagine wearing something so tight and constrictive even for a well-formed figure. In a sense, envy can squeeze my mind and heart into an unnatural shape too. It changes my perception and encourages me label myself and others as either “superior” or “inferior.” My thinking becomes rigid instead of flexible, and I begin to see the “haves” as unfriendly competitors. Any possibility of cooperative effort gets squashed. Instead of constructively using an unmet goal as motivation to work toward something, envy transforms it into a troubling emotion – a resentful feeling that sees the person who has what is desired as undeserving of it. Such jealousy affects me in a negative way that may not be readily apparent. The last line from one of Rumi’s poems offers a glimpse: “Jealousy won’t let me scatter the perfume to the wind.” Envy keeps my compassion hermetically sealed, preventing it from benefiting anyone, even myself.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Slogan Fifty-six

Don’t wallow in self-pity.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            There is a spiritual recorded by Sam Cooke and others that begins, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; nobody knows my sorrow.” This is precisely what our ego would like us to believe: we are special because no one suffers like we do and so could never imagine the pain we’re going through. When we are filled with self-pity, it isn’t because we are experiencing a difficult situation. It results from thinking that we have it far worse than anyone else. But we do have companions in this journey of life who share the same emotional joys and sorrows we do. The practice of tonglen permits us to take the misery we are feeling and focus on the thousands of other people who are at that moment experiencing the same pain. By breathing in the suffering of all and breathing out peace and comfort to all, we remember we are not alone. We reawaken our compassion and see the larger reality of life.
Photo: A battered Pearl Crescent butterfly in its last phase of life rests on a lantana shrub.

            The following meditation is my personal way of doing tonglen, a tool that helps me move away from self-absorption and toward a concern for the welfare of others:

Take a slow, gentle breath with a relaxed belly. Let the tension in your body melt as your muscles relax. Notice the weight of your body as it relaxes and the sensation of the chair as it supports you. Now imagine lying in a grassy meadow on a soft blanket. It is calm and peaceful here with nothing to disturb you. The sky above is a beautiful shade of blue; a few wispy, white clouds shade you from the glare of the sun. As you gaze upward, sense the spaciousness and freedom of the sky; it is much like the natural openness of your moment-to-moment awareness.

Now bring to mind what is presently causing you pain, whether it is emotional or physical. You may need to visualize the story around it to experience it fully. Begin to move your focus to the physical sensations this suffering causes in your body; explore the intensity and location of it. As you breathe in, notice how these feelings seem to constrict your heart and mind, how small it makes your world. With your next exhalation release this pain outward into the sky, as you say to yourself, “May I be free of the root of this suffering. May I find comfort and happiness.” Continue to breathe in as you gather your pain, and breathe out as you release it. If you have a spiritual mentor or a god of your own understanding, you might imagine them in your heart transforming your pain to joy. “May I be free of the root of this suffering. May I find comfort and happiness.”

As your heart begins to feel more open, remind yourself “Other people feel this too.” Whatever pain or suffering you’ve been experiencing; many others are going through the same kind of feeling. As you breathe in, reach out mentally to those who are suffering like you, with a desire to remove their pain. As you breathe out, say silently to yourself, “May you be free of the root of this suffering. May you find comfort and happiness.” As you send out these wishes, you might imagine people who are smiling and laughing. Again you may envision a mentor or spiritual being in your heart who transforms their pain. Continue for a moment to reach out to these people and send them joy. “May you be free of the root of this suffering. May you find comfort and happiness.”

Now think of something for which you are grateful. It may be as simple as a smile or a kind word. It may be for a friend or partner who has been supportive of you, or it may involve having a moment to enjoy the beauty of nature around you. Visualize this moment or person, and then gradually move your focus to your body. Does such gratitude warm and expand your heart? As you breathe in, focus on this sensation. As you enjoy this feeling, remind yourself, “Other people deserve to feel this too.” As you breathe out, send out a desire for others to feel such joy, saying “May your heart be filled with joy. May you be cheerful and carefree.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Slogan Fifty-five

Liberate yourself by examining and analyzing.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            To determine what is wrong with a patient, a doctor first asks about manifesting symptoms. This information then allows the physician to run more specific tests to uncover the reason for the illness. In lojong practice, we examine our symptoms by attending to our emotional disturbances and ego-clinging. Then we look closer and deeper, attempting to uncover the habitual patterns that cause our reactions. Through such an honest and fearless investigation, we can gain insights to free ourselves from these deeply rooted patterns. Liberation from these chronic habits will allow us to experience a calm and relaxed state that is authentic instead of superficial. 
Photo: Cross section of a pine tree showing the pith surrounded by tree rings.

            An archaeologist uncovers human remains and artifacts in order to learn about human history. Bones, tools and other items are carefully and meticulously excavated and then used to provide information about a culture's past, as well as how these people affected their environment. Likewise, digging below the surface of any emotional or mental disturbance can help me make sense of where I am by knowing how I got there. I can examine what is actually the cause of my suffering (rather than blaming something external). An objective investigation can keep my feelings from overwhelming me. Instead of focusing on the story around the emotion, what thoughts underlie it? Am I demanding the natural order of things – reality – to be different because it doesn’t fit with my expectations or desires? Excavating those habitual reactions can prove just how useless they are at relieving my misery. I can continue my old patterns, or I can liberate myself, accept life on life’s terms and develop a new way of responding with equanimity.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Slogan Fifty-four

Train wholeheartedly.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            Have you ever watched young children as they learn to walk or feed themselves? They fall frequently before they finally get their balance, and their attempts at getting food in their mouths can be incredibly messy. Yet they stay determined and don’t give up, gradually making progress as they persevere. Such resolve is the type of positive attitude this slogan encourages. Our egos may try to convince us spiritual practice is too difficult, but we should refuse to listen. Rather than quit, we can remain single-minded and courageous. Seeing the effects of continued practice in other people can inspire us to train wholeheartedly, so we too can grow spiritually.
Photo: A Canada gosling munches on the seeds of Bahia grass.

            Marty was a swimming instructor in our community who was committed to keeping kids safe in and around the water. Children who were terrified of taking a dip were her specialty; she wanted them to learn to love swimming as well as the skills she taught. She would coax the timid children in the water by showing how even her old, golden retriever could float on his back with her help. Goggles made it possible to see what treasures Marty had placed on the pool bottom (encouraging the hesitant ones to put their faces in the water). Once their confidence grew, she began teaching them how to use their legs and arms to propel themselves through the water. It was a constant balance of training the mind and body in order to navigate the world of water. No one was labeled as easy or hard to teach; each swimmer represented a unique challenge that required a lighthearted approach. Her wholehearted method is the same attitude I need to approach my spiritual study and practice - with a playful yet determined enthusiasm.  

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Slogan Fifty-three

Don’t vacillate.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            For those of us who are gardeners, we know the frustration of finding a ripe, delicious vegetable or fruit nibbled on by a bird or animal. They never seem to eat all of it, just a few bites before leaving it abandoned on the ground. We may respond to lojong the same way. Our first introduction may leave us excited and enthusiastic, but then work, family matters, hobbies or social activities may distract us. Soon we’ve forgotten about our intention to practice. Eventually though, we experience enough suffering that we are reminded of our spiritual commitment. We start out passionate about our practice once again, yet sooner or later those same disruptions or diversions veer us off track. We may keep repeating this cycle over and over, possibly coming to the conclusion that lojong is not useful at all. We fail to realize our lack of steady practice was what produced no long-term results. Even small, consistent amounts of practice are better than intense periods followed by nothing. The cumulative effects of lojong will be realized when we train on a regular basis.
Photo: A pear partially eaten and discarded by a squirrel.

          By 1950, 70% of American homes enjoyed hot and cold running water. It was a wonderful bathing improvement, unless someone took an extended hot shower. All the heated water would quickly be used up, leaving only cold water available for the next person. It would take time for the water to reheat again. I’ve often practiced in the same unbalanced way – full of heat to begin with which soon turned cold. My over-the-top enthusiasm would create impossible standards that were difficult to maintain. I might decide, for instance, that I’d meditate an hour each morning and an hour each evening without fail. But as soon as an unexpected event threw my schedule out of kilter, I was ready to chuck everything. As months passed, I might pick it up again with the same fervor only to have it disrupted again. This type of “all or nothing” thinking has never produced a steady, consistent practice for me. For that I need to temper my excitement with a more realistic approach – neither hot nor cold but warm.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Slogan Fifty-two

Don’t misinterpret.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            The ego likes to make sure all its efforts are self-serving, so it’s no surprise that we would misinterpret teachings to suit our own personal agenda. We seize a spiritual quality and apply it to an inappropriate object or circumstance.  This way we remain cozily tucked into our complacency and don’t have to worry about changing ourselves. For instance, we might explain our silence as patience and tolerance when actually we just want to avoid confrontation of any kind. Instead of being enthusiastic about our spiritual practice, we save our excitement for a winning bid on Ebay. In doling out compassion, we decide who is deserving of it and who is not. We manage to make fun a priority, but fail to schedule time to meditate. And though we experience joy, it is often based on a rival’s mistakes and misfortunes. These desirable qualities are meant to transform us, not give us an excuse to remain the same.
Photo: Not one flower but a cluster; a composite flower (zinnia) composed of small ray and disk flowers.

            I tend to overuse commas, colons, semicolons and dashes. When I have time, I try to double-check my punctuation by looking online for correct usage. Yesterday I was doing this when I came across some sites that showed what a difference a simple comma or colon can make in the meaning of a sentence. For instance:
A woman without her man is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.

And another:
I woke up in bed with my spouse, a chef, and a culinary arts instructor.
I woke up in bed with my spouse, a chef and a culinary arts instructor.

Now if you’re a man, you might prefer the first sentence; a woman might prefer the second. And if you are a monogamist, I imagine the fourth sentence would be favored over the third. The simple slogan of “don’t misinterpret” is a warning that my ego will translate meanings in a way that would favor me over another. As an example, the slogan “don’t transfer the ox’s load to the cow” could be interpreted as if I am the one being taken advantage of instead of the other way around. This device of the ego will only hinder my progress. Spiritual punctuation can bring me clarity and awareness, but only when I use it correctly. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Slogan Fifty-one

This time, practice the main points.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            We have all the elements we need, and the time to use them is now. Every situation we encounter offers us an opportunity for practice. The three main points of this slogan are:
  • Selflessness – We should put the benefit of others before our own; our concerns should not be self-centered.
  • Application – Practice is more important than analytical study; we need to apply what we’ve learned in our daily lives.
  • Bodhichitta – An enlightened heart and mind is characterized by acts of loving-kindness rather than a focus on self-improvement; bodhichitta transforms a rigid, dogmatic practice into a gentle, spiritual one.
Photo: A sundial, surrounded by Spanish moss, with three immature hickory nuts on its face.

            In 1986, I vaguely remember hearing that Halley’s Comet was going to move close enough to be seen from Earth. Because of other distractions in my life, it came and went without notice by me. Unfortunately that was probably my last chance to see it, because the comet won’t make another appearance until 2061. Letting that event slip past me is similar to the caution of slogan fifty-one: don’t waste any opportunity for spiritual development. This slogan also suggests I develop discrimination with my practice in three ways. The first is to remember the welfare of others is more important than my progress. It’s better to do good than to look good. The second is to move from the intellectual realm into the real world. Studying the slogans is a waste of time if I don’t put them into practice. The third point is to practice with gentleness and a warm heart rather than dutiful detachment. The purpose is to develop compassion, not rack up credit points that I can redeem.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Slogan Fifty

Don’t get swayed by external circumstances.
            A sailboat has two sails – a large mainsail and a small jib. If the boat only relied on these, the wind would send it in whatever direction the breeze blew. But the boom (or pole) allows the sails to be positioned, and the rudder and tiller act as a sort of steering wheel. Many of us permit circumstances (the wind) to affect our thoughts and emotions (the sails). However, the steady practice of lojong can help steer us; we may have no control over external conditions, but we can choose the internal direction we want to move toward.
Photo: A dove’s feather floats in a bird bath.

            On the south side of my house is a flowering dogwood that was planted long before I moved into my home. It cycles through all the seasons with white blooms in spring, a leafy canopy for summer, red berries during the autumn then bare branches throughout the winter. One year lightning hit a nearby pine and traveled up its trunk. Part of the tree died and had to be pruned, but it continued to survive. Last night a summer thunderstorm whipped the leafy branches into a frenzy, yet this morning it remains rooted in place (though minus a few leaves). My life has similar cycles, some painful and some pleasurable. The training of lojong encourages me to stay rooted in my practice regardless of what is going on around me. Pema Chodron spoke of how even Buddha had every challenge in the book thrown at him before he attained enlightenment: “On that evening what was different was that he simply held his seat, opened his heart to whatever might arise, didn’t shut down, and was fully there.” 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Slogan Forty-nine

Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            Imagine roots that invade and clog a home's septic system. At first we may hear strange gurgling noises and see the drains aren't emptying as fast as they normally do. Eventually we'll get the smelly overflow if we continue to pretend nothing is wrong. At this point, would we try lots of air freshener or call a plumber? In the same manner, we sometimes think we shouldn't dwell on anything negative in our spiritual practice, choosing to focus only on what is beautiful or sweet. But resentment and other not-so-nice feelings can cause problems if we don't investigate them. Instead of ignoring them, we can pause, watch and listen, noticing what caused our self-centered reaction. Judy Lief suggests asking ourselves, "What are we clinging to? What are we afraid of losing?" Tonglen can help us create space around the emotion. We may discover that clog is not as solid as we thought.
Photo: Stinky squid mushroom, known for attracting pollinators by its fetid smell.

            One of my favorite jobs as a young adult was being employed as a preschool teacher, especially working with three-year-olds. Besides learning number and alphabet basics, we worked on tasks that required coordination, such as cutting with scissors or tying shoes. Most of the kids – even those who had learned to tie their laces – preferred a quick knot to a time-consuming bow when on the playground. At naptime, I would gather the shoes and attempt to untangle the knots. This memory arises when I remember this slogan, because both actions require a patient curiosity to complete. The purpose of meditating on resentment isn’t to rehash the story around the injustice or frustration. It is an alternative to reacting with anger and escalating the problem. Looking beneath the pain is a way to discover what I’m attached to that is causing me to suffer. It is likely I’ll find there is something I’m afraid I will lose or fail to gain. Untangling my emotions will create a space for clarity and allow me to respond with wisdom and compassion. It sure beats tying a bow on top of a knot or just adding more knots.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Slogan Forty-eight

Train without bias in all areas.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet: 
           Humans are apt to put labels on everything. Our work week might be stamped "boring" while the weekend is labeled "fun." We might call one group of folks "judgmental" and another crowd "understanding." These labels clearly define who or what we prefer, yet this slogan tells us to train without such preferences. Tonglen meditation isn't just for the people we love and care about. The lojong slogans aren't meant to be picked through like a Russell Stover's box of chocolates, taking only those we like. If we are committed to our practice, we'll have no times, places or people who are off limits.
Photo: A retaining wall divides land from lake.

            When I was in my thirties, I became a spiritual seeker. I was a participant of many weekend seminars on subjects ranging from kabbalah to drumming circles. Amazon was constantly delivering books that covered a wide variety of philosophies and religions. I sought out discussions with people whose practices were divergent from my own. I thoroughly enjoyed the learning process, but the knowledge I acquired rarely left my reading chair or the venue of the seminar. My ego expanded but my spiritual practice did not.  Consequently, my attitude and lifestyle changed very little. The forty-eighth slogan is a nudge to actively apply lojong - in all situations with all people. Every moment of my life is a suitable arena for mind training. Instead of a weekend hobby, the slogans can become a way to live with compassion and awareness.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Slogan Forty-seven

Make the three gates inseparable.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            The "three gates" refer to the body, mind and speech; they are the three ways we relate with others. Often they work at cross-purposes instead of in sync. We might tell a friend we'll be happy to help her move (sincerely intending to follow through), but we get busy working on a project and fail to show up. Or if we do help, we're wondering how she's going to repay us the whole time we're carrying boxes. In both these situations, the mind, body and speech aren't on the same page. Lojong teaches that what we do, say and think should be inseparable and originate from a heart filled with loving-kindness. Gentleness, awareness and openness will characterize our interactions when we function in such a wholehearted way.
Photo: Three blooms of a pink woodsorrel (Oxalis debilis).

                My mind, body and speech can be either exits from or entrances to an awakened state. If I use thoughts, emotions, actions or words to validate my sense of identity (“me”), then I function as if these things are permanent and unchanging. When the natural course of life (reality) upends my expectations and chips away at this identity, I suffer. Yet something amazing can happen when I add mindfulness and compassion to these three gates. They begin working together to create an experience of being that is ungrasping and benevolent, an experience that transforms chaos into unconditional calm. What I think, feel, do and say will be of benefit to myself and others. As Tenzin Wangyal expressed, “No matter where we are or what we are doing, we can enter through the body into the higher experiences of eternal body, through speech into ceaseless speech, and through mind into undeluded mind.” What was originally my undoing now becomes a doorway to awareness.

Body and speech doggedly follow the mind without fail; they do as they are told. The behavior of the body and speech can have far-reaching consequences. Watch yourself during everyday situations and notice how the state of your mind has control over your speech and body and how it expresses itself.
~ Dagsay Tulku Rinpoche

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Slogan Forty-six

Don’t allow three things to diminish.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            We often start lojong full of enthusiasm with an intention to persevere in our practice. But then we get frustrated or bored, craving something new and more exciting. Our gratitude wanes, and we no longer cherish our teacher, the instructions or the personal commitment we made. Our mind training becomes just another experience to add to our spiritual resumé. This slogan counsels us to continually renew our appreciation for the opportunities and resources we’ve been given. Our devotion and respect will grow for our mentor as we see his or her commitment in teaching us. Joy will naturally develop when we realize the usefulness of lojong in the prevention of suffering. And when we treasure the freedom to practice provided by social support and an economic foundation, it can help us stay dedicated to our purpose.
Photo: Southern magnolia cones and leaves surround a single-flowered rose.

            At age sixty-six, my husband bought his first brand-new car. If a squashed bug or bird droppings get on it, he immediately cleans it off. He carries Windex and a roll of paper towels in the trunk of his car specifically for this purpose. When we go shopping, he chooses a parking spot in the outer area of the lot. He believes this will prevent the dings caused by other car doors and shopping carts. If any warning lights appear on the dashboard, he doesn’t hesitate to call the Honda service center and have the engine checked out. The owner’s manual for the car is about as thick as the Oxford English Dictionary, but he is doggedly making progress in reading it. He has worked hard to buy this car, and so he enthusiastically cares for it. With spiritual training, it is easy to take the available resources for granted when I have nearly effortless access. My respect, appreciation and dedication and can wane for my mentor, the teachings and my commitments. Yet without these three things, I won’t learn how to be compassionate towards myself and others. I will begin to feel separated rather than connected. And when challenges come, I will react emotionally rather than respond with wisdom.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Slogan Forty-five

Take on the three principal causes.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            The principal causes are those things that help us awaken and develop loving-kindness. They create the strong base needed for practicing lojong.
  • Teacher – The Sanskrit word used for a mentor in mind training is kalyanamitra, or spiritual friend. This is a person who can impart knowledge, offer advice and serve both as a guide and example. Such a mentor is not just there to encourage us, but to expose our true natures.
  • Spiritual instructions – The dharma helps us recognize that mind training is not only important but possible. We hear the instructions, contemplate their meaning, and integrate the wisdom into our daily lives.
  • Supportive environment –To create the conditions that permit us to practice, we must have adequate social and economic support. Such a system enables us to maintain our dedication.
Photo: Multi-stemmed trunk of crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica).

            If I were to go backpacking in a wilderness area, there are a few things I would make sure I had with me besides the basics of shelter, food and water. The first must-have would be someone to accompany me who was intimately familiar with the terrain, flora and fauna. His wisdom would helpful in such matters as what water sources were safe to drink from and whether the snake with the yellow stripes was harmless. The next items of great value would be a map and a compass. Hiking trails in the deep woods occasionally cross deer paths or old logging trails, and it is easily to mistake one for the other. If we suddenly discovered we’re not where we should be, these tools can help us get back on track. The last essential would be friends with whom to share the experience. We could encourage each other when the climbing got tough, and if someone got hurt, a couple could go for help while the others tended the injured person. In the same way, a mentor, instructions and support can help us successfully travel along our spiritual path.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Slogan Forty-four

Train in the three difficulties.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
          Imagine going to meet some companions for dinner and deciding to take a short-cut through a dark alley. Focused solely on not being late, we neglect to notice a shadowy figure behind us. Suddenly a bag is thrown over our head, and though we struggle and yell, we can’t free ourselves. Once our wallet has been taken, we are left bruised and shaken on the ground. Yet the very next weekend, we take the same short-cut. This scenario is much like dealing with our kleshas – the onset of intense feelings and thoughts caused by aversion or desire.  First we get blindsided by our emotions, then confused about how to handle them. Even after things settle down, we continue to wind up in the same place over and over. How can we work with these three difficulties? When we are mugged by a klesha, we can use it as a chance to wake up and identify it as the neurosis it is. Instead of choosing a habitual reaction, we can do something different. Finally, we can continue to train using these practices instead of allowing our emotions to control us.
Photo: Three ant lion (Myrmeleon sp.) sand traps.

            Do you remember the classic “snake in a can” gag? A tin labeled as salted, mixed nuts held a fabric-covered spring inside. When the lid was lifted, the “snake” would pop out, startling the unsuspecting person who opened the can. But once a person was aware of the joke, he couldn’t be fooled again. Unfortunately, we’re not so cognizant of our emotional states. The three difficulties spoken of in the forty-fourth slogan refers to the stages we go through as these intense states arise quickly, catch us off-guard, and continue to happen again and again. Training with them involves:
  • ·         Seeing them as an affliction that causes our suffering.
  • ·         Altering our response (stop fueling the emotions with our thoughts).
  • ·         Committing to continue this change (refuse to bite any “baited hooks”).
There’s no need to open that nut can when you already know what’s inside.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Slogan Forty-three

Observe these two, no matter what.
          People generally marry with the expectation that their vows will at least last longer than the honeymoon. But what happens when she realizes his idea of cleanliness and order doesn't match hers, or when he discovers she can't cook like mom? Hopefully their commitment to love will go deeper than any petty disagreements or challenges that arise. This slogan refers to the vow of refuge and the vow of the bodhisattva taken by those who choose to formally dedicate themselves to Buddhist practice. The vow of refuge involves accepting the Buddha as an example to follow, the dharma as truth, and the sangha as their community of fellow practitioners. The vow of the bodhisattva is a devotion to the welfare of all sentient beings. For those of us with an informal practice, these vows might simply mean a commitment to continue working on ourselves and helping others. As Norman Fischer explains, "Live your life with your eyes and heart wide-open. No matter what."
Photo: Blooms of a geranium and a begonia held in the hand of a Buddha statue.

            How well do you make and maintain personal commitments, dedicating yourself to a cause or activity? I’m very good at making them, but keeping them is not as easy. My “I” eventually thinks it deserves a break, which usually leads me to abandoning my commitment altogether. I was recently reading an article by Thupten Jinpa in which he spoke of turning intentions into motivations. He described an intention as deliberate, “an articulation of a conscious goal,” while he explained a motivation was “the desire to act accompanied with a sense of purpose.” My intention might point me in the right direction, but it is my motivation which will get me moving and provide the fuel to keep me going. What could possibly motivate my intention to develop wisdom and compassion while devoting myself to the welfare of others? Suffering. Buddhist teachings and practices are a map that points the way to freedom.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Slogan Forty-two

Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            Some days we drag our feet, feeling like an overloaded mule burdened with stress, worries and obligations. Other days we are full of energy, enjoying the spacious freedom of a wild mustang as it races across the open plain. When we feel like a mule, we may excuse ourselves from practice saying, “When I don’t have so much drama going on, I’ll get back to it.” When we feel like the mustang, we reason that life has to slow down before we can find time to squeeze in our practice. Either way, the intensity of life wraps itself around us, and we lose our bearings. Instead of waiting for conditions to be just right, this slogan encourages us to be steady and consistent no matter what is going on. When things are going great, they’ll eventually change; when things are awful, they’ll change sooner or later too. Our spiritual practice helps us meet the ups and downs with patience, a patience that is not passive but allows us to meet what comes courageously and creatively.
Photo: A peach pit and a slice of peach on a sweet potato vine leaf.

            When I first began studying this slogan, I thought of a phrase used to describe life when it wasn't unfolding as desired: “the pits.” Being from Georgia, this expression prompted me to compare the sweet, juicy flesh of a peach with its rough, hard pit. No matter which part of life I’m currently experiencing – the pleasant, sweet side or the unpleasant, rough side – it will change in time like the natural cycle of a growing season. The fertilized peach blossom produces a fruit, which eventually ripens then rots, and then leaves behind a pit that holds the potential for a new peach tree. If I can patiently maintain my spiritual practice, I won’t become obsessed no matter which part of the peach is on my plate. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Slogan Forty-one

Two activities: one at the beginning, one at the end.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            Before our feet even hit the floor in the morning, our mind is busy with our plans of the day. By evening, after a day full of activities, all we want to do is crawl back into our bed and get a good night sleep. But this slogan suggests we use two bookends to support our day – a reminder of our practice in the morning and a review of it in the evening. We begin with the intention that we will think, speak and act mindfully and with an open heart; we dedicate what we will do in the hours ahead to the benefit of others. This activity helps us start our day in a calm, positive frame of mind. At night, we look objectively at the places we stayed firm and the places we slipped in our dedication. We don’t use the assessment to beat ourselves up or brag, but to help us make progress – each day is only a small part of a training period. Our review allows us to unload the stress of the day and view our actions with clarity. Both activities can lift our spirits and encourage us in sustaining our practice.
Photo: Two pine cones with a pile of shredded cone debris (created by squirrels eating the seeds out of green cones).

            I've got a stack of books to read on my bedside table. Some are purely for pleasure reading, one is for the book club, a few are for learning about interests of mine, and several are for spiritual contemplation and growth. When I bought them, my intention was to read every page of each one. Of course the easy-to-read novels I've almost finished; a few books with a more difficult or technical subject, I'm barely past the introduction. Yet reading and understanding just a few pages a day is progress, no matter how slow. None of them are library books, so I don't need to finish them within a certain time-frame. Likewise, as I begin my day with the aspiration to let the lojong slogans guide my thoughts and actions, I don't need to berate myself for less than perfect results. There is a phrase used in twelve-step groups that encourages "progress not perfection." My mistakes can be used to help me see more clearly how to change and what to do differently. They are only the few pages left to turn, until I reach the next chapter. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Slogan Forty

Correct all wrongs with one intention.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            On the Appalachian Trail in the eastern U.S., white paint blazes are painted on trees, rocks and posts to mark the trail. It is suggested that if hikers go more than a quarter of a mile without seeing a blaze, they should turn around to avoid getting lost. As we travel along on our spiritual journey, we will meet both internal and external obstacles. Emotional or physical struggles may cause us to become disillusioned with our practice, wondering if what we're doing even matters. During these challenges, how can we keep from losing our way? What can help us stay connected to our practice? We can remember that other people suffer just as we do, and we can reaffirm our intention to be of service to them. The way out of spiraling self-concern is through our dedication to assist all beings.
Photo: A wire basket prevents a green pepper plant from flopping over as it grows.

            During the fall, the fair comes to our town. When I was a teenager, I always rode the Round Up, an amusement ride with a shape similar to a wheel that had open, cage-like sides on the rim. The ride would spin round and round until centrifugal force pushed riders into the cage wall. It would then tilt vertically, with nothing but the centrifugal force holding the riders in place. When life presents me with challenges that feel devastating or overwhelming, my self-concern can keep me stuck as if I were on a never-ending ride of the Round Up. The "off" lever gets pulled when my self-preoccupation is replaced by gentle compassion directed outward, as I realize other people suffer as I do. My willingness to be of benefit to them can help me get my bearings once again.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Slogan Thirty-nine

All activities should be done with one intention.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            What thread runs through all of our daily activities? What motivation is behind our goals, projects and efforts? Usually our intention is centered on getting what we desire. We look to reward ourselves first before being concerned about anyone else. However, lojong involves a commitment to gentleness along with a willingness to benefit others – the essence of the bodhisattva vow. There’s no need to wage war on our ego, because this consideration means we are also compassionate toward ourselves. But instead of thinking only from a self-centered perspective, we can maintain a spirit of benevolence. Even the simple act of eating can be dedicated to other people, as we intend its use to help us reach out with loving-kindness.
Photo: A Virginia creeper clings to the trunk of a pine tree.

            Mentally make a list of all your weekly activities, including people with whom you interact, hobbies and obligations. Now imagine choosing a bead for each item on the list, possibly using shape, color or design to represent each one. If you were going to string all those beads to make a necklace, you would have to choose a strong fiber so it wouldn’t break with the weight. Slogan thirty-nine suggests that we use the sturdy thread of bodhicitta, the desire for an awakened mind. This longing has at its essence loving-kindness; we wish to alleviate everyone’s suffering, including our own. Pema Chodron related this story:
When I was about six years old I received the essential bodhichitta teaching from an old woman sitting in the sun. I was walking by her house one day feeling lonely, unloved and mad, kicking anything I could find. Laughing, she said to me, “Little girl, don’t you go letting life harden your heart.” Right there, I received this pith instruction: we can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Slogan Thirty-eight

Don’t seek others’ pain as the limbs of your own happiness.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            Seeking happiness at the expense of others is a common characteristic of humans. Instead of concern, we feel gratified that someone else has worse problems than we do. We are secretly thrilled when a person we dislike faces misfortune, because we believe he or she deserves it. When someone loses, we are delighted if that increases our chances at winning. Yet if something wonderful happens to our adversary, we become upset; the memories of past hurts haunt us. These reactions are built on the idea that we can find joy through the suffering of other people. But such reasoning is flawed and contrary to the purpose of lojong practice. Trying to wrest happiness from such external events will only leave us feeling empty and depressed. If we allow it, compassion can teach us happiness is self-generating through acts of benevolence.
Photo: A squashed crape myrtle blossom run over by a car.

            When I was in middle school, I met Rita; I was an introvert, and she was extremely shy. We developed a deep friendship, finding a freedom in fully trusting each other. But as it turned out, she was one of those late bloomers who gained self-confidence as she got older. In high school she became a cheerleader and found a whole new set of friends. It wasn’t that Rita became snobby or mean; her time schedule just didn't allow her any free time for us to hang out. I was resentful of her new popularity status and the life she now led. If I learned she and a boyfriend had broken up or that she struggled in a particular class, I was delighted. But when something good happened to her, it made me burn with envy and anger. Have you ever seen a dog choke collar that tightens around the neck if pulled? I lived my life that way with her unknowingly holding the leash. I was miserable until I finally took responsibility for my own joy. What a relief it was to realize I could take off that collar!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Slogan Thirty-seven

Don’t make gods into demons.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            If we start an exercise program, we might initially be very enthusiastic about it. We go out and buy special equipment or clothes and plan the days and times we’ll practice. But when we get around to actually exercising, we may discover it’s not as much fun as we thought it would be. We soon slack off our schedule or decide we’ll only do our favorite workouts, ignoring the ones that are hard. Our spiritual training can also follow the same path, as we are at first eager but then find some parts unpleasant or unsatisfying. At this point, we’ve turned our “gods” into “demons.” Yet our purpose is to transform our minds not coddle our egos by doing what is easy or makes us look good. We need to apply medicine where the injury is, regardless of whether it is comfortable or not.
Photo: Two halves of the same apple, one beginning to brown due to oxidation.

When I decided to give yoga a try, I was lucky to find a wonderful teacher. Carlanda had a studio in her home and a loyal group of students. She not only taught us the postures and breathing techniques but the philosophy behind yoga as well. We had an amicable, easygoing group, and I soon developed several friendships. After enjoying her classes for many years, Carlanda moved and our group disbanded. For several months I decided to do yoga on my own, but I missed the camaraderie. An acquaintance told me of a new yoga group that had started; the classes were reasonably priced so I signed up. The teacher was well trained and knowledgeable, but she led an intensive flow of postures that was demanding. After attending several classes that pushed me out of my comfort zone, I began grumbling. "Those other women in their expensive outfits must think this is a fashion show." I griped about the hardwood floors hurting my knees and the other students being clannish. What had happened to my original love for and dedication to yoga? Because the new class was more challenging, I was looking for an excuse to quit. The "god" had been made into a "demon." 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Slogan Thirty-six

Don’t act with a twist.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            At times we get caught in the illusion that our spiritual practice is like a stock exchange. We may perform a generous act or grant our forgiveness to someone, but underneath, we expect to be repaid in some way. The “twist” spoken of in this slogan refers to those ulterior motives. We want people to think we’re a great person instead of doing benevolent deeds for the sake of kindness. We crave acknowledgement and admiration for our efforts. In reality, it may be impossible to be completely unselfish without looking for some payoff. But we can keep a check on our motivations and be aware of how we crave respect and honor. We can choose to train not for a reward, but because it is the better way to live.
Photo: Tendril of a Smilax vine used to help it climb other plants or supports.

          I mailed a surprise package to some friends over the holidays, and thanks to the USPS tracking service, I knew exactly the day it was delivered. Excitedly I waited to hear from them, but days passed with no "thank-you" note, call or email. As the days turned to weeks, my joyful mood changed to righteous indignation. I became angry at the same people I had originally desired to make happy. What could cause such an emotional about-face? The knot in my knickers was the result of my own expectations. Instead of enjoying the fun behind the intended surprise, I spoiled it through anticipation built on assumptions. In a 2004 New York Times Magazine interview, physicist Stephen Hawking was asked how he kept his spirits up since his life was drastically altered at age 21 by an incurable motor-neuron disease. He replied, "My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus." I need to be aware of the twists I add to my actions, or I may miss out on those bonuses.  

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Slogan Thirty-five

Don’t try to be the fastest.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:             
            Even in our spiritual practice, we can become competitive, striving to achieve honor and distinction. Yet the struggle to outperform and outsmart doesn't work in this arena. It is a distraction that causes us to lose our gentleness and benevolence. Our practice is not a timed event but a lifetime affair; impatience won't speed up our progress. This slogan doesn't mean we shouldn't try to excel in all areas of our lives, rather it recommends that we use our past successes and failures to compete against instead of other people.
Photo: Rotund disc snail on a moss-covered limestone rock.

            When I do a balancing pose in yoga, I fix my eyes on one unmoving point. This technique is called drishti, a method that helps me with my wobble by maintaining a one-pointed focus. The thirty-fifth slogan draws attention to how we often become distracted and thrown off balance by the competitive side of our personality. I can easily get drawn into wanting to be the prettiest, smartest, or practically any other adjective that means I’m the best. What is the motive behind that longing for an “est” label? I call it the desire for “extra-special treatment.” My ego wants me to be acknowledged and lauded for my efforts and abilities. I crave those looks of awe and adoration. Now there’s nothing wrong with trying to become more skillful or endeavoring to make progress. But competition means I seek to gain something that others want without a wish to share - I want it all for myself. Cooperation and compassion become unimportant because these qualities won’t help me achieve that goal. Such striving is what causes a spiritual wobble; I get distracted by what is trivial and lose sight of what is of true worth. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Slogan Thirty-four

Don’t transfer the ox’s load to the cow.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet: 
            Ask a group of people if they want to have a party, and there will probably be a large show of hands. But ask this same group who would be willing to set up tables, prepare the food, or stay and clean up afterward, and most of them will likely scatter. We like to have fun and demand our rights, but we frequently run from responsibilities. This slogan asks us to check ourselves to see if we are avoiding commitments and shifting the burden of obligations to other people. Our load should be determined by our capabilities; we ought to avoid piling up duties on someone with less experience and time, especially if they are already overloaded. If the task is worthwhile and we have the freedom and ability, perhaps we should raise our hand rather than hide.
Photo: A dogwood tree supports a huge, fallen pine limb.

            I was listening to Larry Wilmore on The Nightly Show as he explained how differently a First World (industrialized) country defines a problem as opposed to a Third World (developing) country: “We’re all familiar with First World problems. Like when I have to turn on the subtitles on Netflix because I’m eating Doritos too loudly.” His example made me laugh, but it also directed a light on how those of us with “more” live our lives. We think our problems and obligations are more important or overwhelming than those of anyone else. We define our time as more valuable and only grudgingly give it away. Yet if I’m honest, I’ll realize how self-indulgent this kind of thinking is. My excuses are a convenient way to cover up my laziness and add to the load of another person. Rather than being a reason to avoid responsibility, having what I do should inspire me to carry the weight I’m capable of supporting.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Slogan Thirty-three

Don’t bring things to a painful point.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            Humans have a way of identifying and exploiting the weaknesses of other people for their own benefit. We may criticize someone, pretending to "help," when really we enjoy the power of making them appear deficient. Using our position (by having something the other person needs), we may manipulate them to get what we want. Sore spots can become a target, as we aim a kick in order to reinforce a person's liabilities. Bringing things to a painful point means we try to intentionally humiliate or bully someone. Instead, the bodhisattva ideal suggests we focus on encouraging their positive qualities rather than turning their inadequacies into our gain.
Photo: Thorns on the stem of a rose bush.

            When I was in middle school, my stepfather developed a punishment for me and my brother when he caught us fighting or arguing. He would sit in a chair and order us to scrap with fists and feet while he watched. We were not allowed to stop unless he directed us, and he generally waited until one of us was about to seriously injure the other. This form of discipline made as much sense to me as parents who spank a child to make them stop crying. How could violence produce nonviolence? This slogan prompts me to reinforce the positive behavior of others instead of encouraging or emphasizing their problems. Adding to the suffering of another person only causes separation and alienation; it fails to identify and focus on the actual problem. I must also question why I seem to derive such pleasure from rubbing salt in the wound of another. There’s enough pain in the world already without me amplifying it.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Slogan Thirty-two

Don’t wait in ambush.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            What normally happens when we feel insulted or slighted by another person? While we nurse our bruised egos, we cling to our grudges and resentments as elaborate plans are made for revenge. We wait patiently, gathering information that could be damaging, then attack unexpectedly when that person is vulnerable. Meanwhile, we lose the opportunity for spiritual practice and forget to enjoy the present moment in which we live. Enormous amounts of time and energy are wasted as we lurk and scheme instead of using these resources in more constructive ways. Pema Chodron describes such retaliation as the path of a coward, not the path of a warrior. A spiritual warrior would be willing to listen and speak with an open heart.
Photo: A ladybug watches for aphids on an Eastern black nightshade.

            I am almost convinced a Southern woman came up with the expression “revenge is a dish best served cold.” The Deep South has a tradition of being polite (while avoiding the truth), which can only lead to pretense. This form of “nice” can become a sneaky way to cover up one’s ulterior motives. I live next door to a city baseball park and have to contend with noise, crowds, litter and parking problems six months out of the year. One season I noticed a field manager had gotten in the daily habit of parking his truck on the side of the street by my home. From my kitchen window, I watched him take frequent cigarette breaks in his truck (there was a “no smoking” policy at the park). Instead of leaving the butts in his ashtray, he would flick them out the window into my yard. After a few dozen had collected there, I got angry. Rather than confront him directly with a request to stop, I asked him, “Do you know who’s been leaving all these cigarette butts here?” He responded that he had no idea. So while he was busy at the field, I slipped outside with my dustpan, swept them all up and dumped them in the back of his very clean truck. Yet I never felt any real satisfaction afterward and often worried about payback from him. Bent on revenge, I failed to see my resentment kept me stuck in a cycle of misery. Respectful and honest communication would have likely achieved what I wanted but failed to receive. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Slogan Thirty-one

Don’t malign others.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
            Our words carry great power, and we need to be sensitive to how we use them in expressing ourselves. There is often a huge chasm between what we say and what is heard, especially when the words we say involve criticism or judgment. To malign someone means to speak about them in a spiteful way – in other words, with an intention to harm. This slogan encourages us to refrain from deliberately hurting someone by what we say to them or about them. The Victorian poet Mary Ann Pietzer advised considering three things before we open our mouths: “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
Photo: Ganoderma lucidum – a wood-decaying bracket fungus on an oak tree.

          Not too long ago, I replaced some worn-out furniture in my den with new pieces – two chairs, a couch and a bookcase. When the old furniture was removed, there were imprints on the carpet from where the pieces had rested. No amount of vacuuming seemed to raise the fibers again; they are a permanent reminder of what was there. Angry words, gossip, unfounded accusations or cruel taunts are all ways my words can malign others. No matter how many times I apologize, make amends, and try to right what was wrong, they still leave an indelible impression on the person I’ve harmed. When I’ve been on the receiving end of such injury, I tend to want to protect myself rather than be open and vulnerable around that person. My trust has been betrayed, and I am hesitant to expose myself. I wonder how many people I have damaged in this way, who feel they must stay guarded around me? Like the divots in the carpet, my words can have long-term consequences, and I should choose them with care.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Slogan Thirty

Don’t be so predictable.
From the Lojong for the Layperson booklet:
          Why is it that family and friends can so easily push our buttons or manipulate us? The answer is because our behavior is so predictable. We are like programmed robots; we react a certain way depending on whether a stimulus is painful or pleasurable. But with awareness we can pause instead of being carried away, responding from a less selfish and impassioned perspective. When our ego is not so busy defending itself, a spacious vista opens before us, full of endless, fresh possibilities.
Photo: On green moss, a row of cowrie shells with a cerith shell in the middle.

            Insurance companies make a profit by using statistics – a collection and analysis of numerical data used to compute probabilities. They've figured out that certain humans generally act in certain ways, so they use this to their advantage. For instance if you’re a married female between the ages of 25 and 65, your car insurance rates will be lower. They've found that men, single people, senior citizens and teens are riskier to insure. I’m sure my family and close friends could make similar predictions about me. Like a doctor testing a reflex, they know pretty well what my reaction will be to certain people or situations. They might say, “Don’t bring up that subject, or she’ll get angry and start and argument.” Or they could explain, “If she’s really afraid, sometimes it seems like she’s mad.” Yet the insurance companies know there are anomalies, people who deviate from their calculations. Slogan thirty encourages me to be one of those folks, someone who doesn't have a conditioned pattern of behavior. Keep them guessing!