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, 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.