Friday, March 29, 2013

Opening to life

Greetings, friends. Yes, I have been quiet. Nothing has coalesced into the need to be expressed, but that will happen. Be patient.

In the meantime, I want to point you to something I just discovered a few days ago, and urge you to read it. Cultivating Self-Affection During Tricky Times, by Dr. Cara Barker.

For me, it was a great follow-up on my last post, as I struggle for self-acceptance, affection, love and compassion.

Cara's writing -- with its sense of true caring and love being imparted to the reader as an individual -- is magical. See if you don't agree.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Are you kind to yourself? If so, how? If not, why?

This question arose for me yesterday. I don't remember what started it, but at some point early in the day I decided I was going to spend the day being kind to myself and that opened up a really big, ugly hornet's nest that's still swarming.

Some of the ways I've liked to be kind to myself in the past included long, lazy stretches in the steam room at the DAC in Eugene, or a nice massage at a nearby spa (usually preceded by a lazy stretch in the steam room at the DAC). Or a drive to the coast for some good fish & chips (or even some good fish & chips in town, for that matter) and a walk on a beach -- any beach, even if it was cold and wet. Maybe a drive into the mountains for some hiking, or waterfall watching, or just being.

None of that is available to me here, even if I had the money for a massage, for example. Especially on a Sunday. I couldn't think of one thing to do for myself that would be a kindness, a small bit of pampering. That realization brought on the hornet's nest. And saddened me. How could that be? My mind kept trying to draw me in to give this some serious consideration, but I carefully and intentionally avoided the whole idea. No meditation, no time without music or other sound, no time not reading, or doing crosswords, or wasting time on the internet. I just couldn't look at this. Didn't want to look at it.

By this morning I was willing to sit with it for awhile in meditation -- with no answers. Then I walked to the library -- walking is one of the best times for me to think. I began seeing ways that I was hard on myself, unkind to myself. I tried writing down a list of the ways I'm unkind to myself, but only came up with general categories that I know are filled with countless specific examples. I have a list of 'shoulds' and 'shouldn'ts' a mile long. I criticize myself (anytime I'm not perfect, which is all the time), I deny myself foods I like (but I don't want to gain weight, so how do I work with that one?). Is it any wonder I don't know how to be kind to myself?

If we're not kind to ourselves, how can we accept kindness from others? How can we be kind to others? It's like loving yourself, or holding yourself in compassion. It has to come from the inside first -- but for so many of us it's the hardest thing to do. I've found that I don't even know how to do it, especially when I live in isolation in a place that doesn't offer much in the way of opportunities for pampering. It shouldn't (there's that word again!) be all about pampering anyway, should it? There's something deeper -- I just haven't quite dug it out yet.

Open up your awareness. Listen to your own inner voice, self-talk, and listen closely. How often is it filled with shoulds and shouldn'ts, criticism, judging, and other negativities aimed at yourself? If it is -- rebel!  Consciously do the opposite. Indulge the whim. Ignore the criticism. When you hear 'I shouldn't' do this or that -- do it anyway! You want that piece of chocolate? Eat it! Your body doesn't feel like a hard workout today? Let it rest! And above all -- don't feel guilty for any of it. Try this for a week or so, see if you feel any better.

That's what I'm going to do.

Monday, March 11, 2013

What is compassion, and how do we get it

What is compassion? I think we probably all have an intellectual understanding of the word, a dictionary definition along the lines of 'Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it,' or words to that effect.  Some of us seem to have it, others not so much. I've been one of the latter, and that in itself has been the subject of much meditation, much effort to correct, much concern, much questioning. A good Buddhist is compassionate, after all. Why was this so lacking in me? I had a major breakthrough on this subject this morning in meditation. But before I get into that, I want to explore the subject a little more.

First of all, I've learned over the years that you can't just decide to be compassionate, or beg and plead for compassion to arise. For most of us, it's inherently either there or not there. Some people seem born with great amounts of compassion. Many of these seem to gravitate to helping professions of one kind or another. Others use their innate compassion within their families or friends. I know many people who have great compassion. The rest of us struggle with it (even if we don't know we are doing so).

In my case, I've always had great compassion for animals of all kinds, and have had moments and times of great compassion for the suffering of those humans that I loved. I'm capable of generalized compassion for people around the world suffering from one weather phenomenon or another, or starving because of corrupt governments. But most of the time, I've learned that I was so wrapped up in my own struggles and sufferings that I simply didn't see the struggles and sufferings of others for what they were.

One thing that seems to be consistently taught in Buddhism and other spiritual practices concerns love: without love for oneself, how can one love another? Some teachers that I respect say that compassion springs from love -- including the idea that compassion for oneself springs from love for oneself. That's something else I lack, although I've had some cracks in that armor in recent months. And that probably explains the dearth of compassion for others that I've come to see so clearly. It's also said that compassion ripens over the course of our practice, as wisdom grows and we see things more clearly.

In A Path With Heart, Jack Kornfield talks about an exercise he often uses with groups. First, he asks them to reflect upon death, to imagine themselves at the end of their lives. Then, he asks them to look back over their lives and bring to mind two good deeds that they have done. Most people, he says, come up with small things. He says 'the things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. They are the moments when we touch one another, when we are there in the most attentive or caring way'.  Some people, he says, find this exercise very difficult. No good deeds come to mind, or if something does arise, it's immediately rejected. We judge ourselves too harshly.  I fall into that category -- although deep in my heart I know I've done many good deeds, I've never had any arise when I try that exercise. I am my worst enemy, my harshest judge, my strongest critic.

A couple of years ago I was listening to Sayalay Susila in an online recording where she talked about how shocked she was when she first began teaching in the West to see how few of us actually love ourselves. She said that in Malaysia, where she's from, and other Asian countries, everybody loves themselves.  In my mind, there must be some crucial sense of self or nurturing that children in those countries receive, compared to the way children are raised in the West.  To help us learn to love ourselves, she offered some metta phrases that I've used often over the last couple of years, although I'm not really sure how much they've helped. Part of the problem has been that I've simply been unable to wish these kind thoughts upon myself. I could mouth the words, or think the words, but there wasn't much sincerity behind them. Still, I keep them taped to my computer monitor and I use them lots in meditation:

May I love myself just as I am,
May I sense my worthiness and well-being,
May I trust this world,
May I hold myself in compassion,
May I meet the suffering and ignorance of others with compassion.

Note how that pesky word 'compassion' sneaks in there. I guess you really can't have one without the other. But how do you get them?

Many years ago I remember reading in one of Jack Kornfield's books a method of doing this. He suggested that you close your eyes and imagine that your adult self is holding your child self in a deep, loving embrace. I could do that -- envision an old photograph of myself as a child and hold that child closely cuddled in my lap, see her suffering, and offer her love and compassion, but it was pretty limited and certainly not lasting. It's much easier to find compassion for a suffering child than it is to have compassion for -- or even see -- the suffering of the adult who 'ought to be able to handle such things'. The sad truth is that most of us can't handle our suffering on our own, other than by ignoring, covering up, self-medicating or perhaps going off into the darkness of depression. And make no mistake, we are all suffering in one way or another. Back to Jack Kornfield's method, I tried it for awhile but eventually stopped because it didn't seem to be making any difference.

Fast forward a lot of years. Since listening to Sayalay's talk I've used  her metta phrases countless times, in and out of meditation. I've used other metta phrases in the same way. Trying hard to find even small glimpses of love for myself, compassion for myself. Last March I attended a metta retreat at Southern Dharma taught by Ayya Sobhana, of Aranya Bodhi in California. I've studied and used metta for years, but this was my first actual metta retreat. Following the usual format she had us choose various people in our lives as examples of the various categories of people we wished to send metta to during the week. A respected teacher or mentor, a good friend, a loved one, a neutral person, and an enemy -- and oneself. What I learned the most during that week -- and it brought great sorrow to me at the time -- was that I could not find love for myself at all, nor could I even choose one person in my life who stood out as a 'loved one'.  It was a sobering week for me and frankly, not a great deal has changed.

There have, however, been small steps. I have great compassion for the nuns at Aranya Bodhi, for example. I see and feel the struggles of their daily lives in rather primitive surroundings (they don't see it as such -- in fact they are thriving and happy), and I have a strong wish to alleviate and ease some of their struggles and suffering (as seen through my eyes). Last fall, driving home after 3 weeks at the Southeast Vipassana Center in south Georgia, my mind and body were suddenly overwhelmed with a glowing sense of well-being, happiness and something new that was unmistakably love for myself. That deep realization, the glow, the wonderment of it all, stayed with me most of the way home. So this is what it feels like!

Eventually the glow wore off, as these moments inevitably do, but there was a crack in the wall. A big one. In recent weeks of meditation I've begun each morning meditation with lots of metta -- aimed mostly at myself in an effort to widen the crack. I began speaking the words aloud, softly, in an effort to better sense their meaning, and to keep my mind from wandering. There have been days when I've felt the walls go down -- but in time they always go back up, although I do believe they become weaker with each incident and will eventually be swept away completely. Part of these recent meditations included something else I recently learned somewhere -- probably from Jack Kornfield again, perhaps others -- which is to envision myself wrapped in love and compassion as I spoke these metta phrases. Not surprisingly, I had some difficulties with that, but there were enough small successes to keep me trying.

This morning I went back to Jack's original advice -- the adult me and the child me. After the years of study and effort, I was indeed able to see and feel the suffering of this small child I was holding. I remembered how she suffered, how unhappy she was, and I was filled with compassion for her suffering, could wrap myself in that compassion, deeply. I stayed with that for awhile, then one of those magical moments/insights we look for in our practice arose and I suddenly saw very clearly the connection that exists between that young, suffering 'me' and all others. I saw that all children suffer in one way or another, just as all children take that suffering with them into their adult lives in one way or another. The deep compassion I was feeling for the child 'me' spread instantly and naturally outward to all others around the world and my mind and body were filled with a wonderful, indeed physical, glow that encompassed peace, equanimity, love, compassion and all sorts of other feelings. I literally felt this glow moving outward to others, wrapping them just as it wrapped myself. It was such an extraordinary moment that I just stayed with it for the balance of the hour, knowing its value and importance, wanting to absorb as much of it as I could.

It wasn't the most important insight/experience I've had in my practice, but it ranks right up there -- especially if it actually makes a noticeable, lasting change. I can only hope that this was powerful enough to shatter barriers forever. Only time will tell, but today feels really, really good.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lullaby for Buddhists

Now, I know that our practice does not generally include music, but a few days ago someone on the Huffington Post mentioned this in a comment -- can't remember the article, probably something to do with relaxation or maybe sleep. Since I have issues with sleep, and also needed a little push to make me begin meditating before bedtime again, I took a listen and liked what I heard.

It's simply metta blessings with gently vocal music background -- from Malaysia, I believe. I've been using it at the beginning of my pre-bedtime meditation, and find that it is perfect for unwinding and relaxing at the end of the day. As an added benefit, the silent meditation that follows is more rewarding because after the 10 minutes of music and metta, my mind is clear and relaxed and happy to sit quietly for the rest of the hour. Sometimes I continue to relax the body, but since I'm now going to bed relaxed and free of tension and anxiety, I find that the level of tension and anxiety held within my body has lessened greatly. With a mind and body this relaxed, it's easy to use the rest of the hour for quiet contemplation, or slip into concentration.

It's so peaceful that sometimes I listen during the day, outside meditation. Try it!

Chant of Metta by Imee Ooi.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Wisdom 2.0

I recently spent a fascinating and enlightening weekend watching a live-stream from something called the Wisdom 2.0 summit , from Silicon Valley. Personally, I never gave much thought to the idea of mindfulness/wisdom/spirituality connected with the tech industry. I'm overwhelmed by my ignorance. The industry is crawling with people who care about the world, and about other people, and who do something about it. Who knew?

I don't know how long they'll leave the various videos up on the above-referenced page, but they do say that all of them, plus the ones from last year's conference, will continue to be available online. To find them, start with their home page, then from the drop down menus on the upper right, select media/video.

It's hard to choose one speaker or panel to highlight, because each and every one had much to offer, much to make me think, much to raise my own awareness and already-existing drive to do something with whatever remains of my life to make this world a better place. Still, I can point out some highlights for me personally. You might connect more with the veterans, or the inner-city kids, or any one of the others.

For me, the most powerful talk was that given by Marianne Williamson. In fact, I just watched it again while working out. I don't know who she is -- never heard of her before -- but I sure like what she had to say. She talked largely about addressing the poverty and suffering in the world -- and she issued a challenge to the tech industry that I think will not go unheard (since a whole lot of tech execs were in the room). Powerful. Her talk was Sunday before the lunch break, so you won't have to scroll down too far on the page to find it.

Perhaps the most fascinating, for me, was an interview of Bill Ford (as in Ford Motors) by Jack Kornfield, one of the best meditation teachers this country has known. Turns out they've been friends and teacher/student for 20 years or so, which in and of itself isn't surprising. What's surprising to me is Bill's humanity, his compassion and caring and how he uses that love, compassion, caring and such that he's learned from Jack in his life, and in the way he runs FMC. That's what it's all about, people. Meditating, being spiritual (whether Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Islamic or secular), sending loving kindness into the world -- all great stuff to do for yourself. But what makes magic out of it is when you take it into your workplace, into your relationships with others, into the world at large, and not in a proselytizing way where you try to convince others that your way is the right way, the only way, but in a way of shining your own love and compassion and caring into the life of every sentient being you encounter, without judgment. Bill Ford is doing that, and the simple knowledge that the CEO of a major corporation in this country is running that corporation from that viewpoint gave me more hope and inspiration for the future of the country than I can say. He battled the board of directors over environmental issues at their plants. He says we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels. An auto manufacturing exec? It's a lengthy talk, but worth the time. It was the final event on Saturday, so you'll have to scroll down a bit to find it.

Another was a young woman named Leah Pearlman. Her talk is short, and sweet, and personal -- expressed with drawings she calls Dharma Comics. It's all about loving yourself -- all parts of yourself, even the mean and ugly parts.  You'll have to scroll past the Bill Ford interview to find it -- I think it was Saturday morning.

So -- have a look, and have a listen. There's something there for everyone.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What does the world want to do through you?

I recently posed this question on my other blog, after a weekend spent watching Wisdom 2.0 from Silicon Valley. It's a question that led Wisdom 2.0's organizer, Soren Gordhamer to put this wonderful weekend together four years ago. He said he'd been going through some of the usual difficulties many face in this country these days: divorce and loss of a job. He asked himself this question every day for almost a year before the answer came. In the four years since, the conference has grown by leaps and bounds and is indeed a wonderful thing to do for the world through Soren.

When I say I 'posed the question' previously, what that really means is that I used the same headline to talk about the Wisdom 2.0 weekend. I didn't really discuss the question then, but I'd like to do that today because it's weighing heavily on my mind.

I've made numerous references on the other blog about wanting something meaningful to do with the rest of my life. I'm 70, but healthy enough that barring catastrophe, I could easily live another 15 or 20 years. And I don't want to spend those years in the proverbial rocking chair. Not all of my prior posts have been about doing something for the world -- some have been quite selfish. There was this one about becoming a nomad. There's this one, that mostly poses questions with a few possible answers. And this one that poses questions with still different possible answers. And even this one way back in June. More recently, the 'plan' has been to try and work out a way to spend half the year lounging on the beach near Ensenada, Mexico, and the other half at one Buddhist monastery or another as a resident. That still holds some good possibilities although this morning I'm beginning to feel that this is somewhat selfish (the time in Mexico part!).

Most of these blog posts and questions, however, came along before I heard Soren's question. In the week and a half since, I've asked myself this question daily, in meditation. Lately, I've been tailoring it a bit, asking also 'what does the Dhamma want to do through me', and 'how can I best be used in the Dhamma'. Starting this blog came to me in meditation one day after pondering these questions -- down to the title and purpose. But, even I don't suffer under any illusions that this blog is going to change or help the world in any way. Maybe it'll be of interest to a few people, and that would be great, but there are stronger, better and more qualified voices out there when it comes to making a serious impact on the world. Spending time at a monastery is a great way to help in the Dhamma, since that entails work -- using whatever skills I may have that the monastery has need for.

Kuti at Aranya Bodhi where I lived last summer

Most of the time, I can't get past the burning sense that the hermitage in California is where the need is, and this is where I should go. The nuns and lay people are wonderful -- I learned to love them dearly last summer when I spent two weeks with them. The nuns live happily and without complaint in this beautiful, but chilly, redwood forest with only the most basic needs of shelter: a few wooden kuti huts (small cabins) scattered throughout the forest, heated with wood or propane, a few tents. My visit last summer was intended as an opportunity for me to see the place before relocating there this very spring -- but despite thermal clothing I was so cold the entire time that I could not enjoy the experience, and certainly couldn't envision returning there to live.

It's a beautiful place.
But still, for many reasons they need me (or someone) to be on the premises handling financial/bookkeeping issues. I, however, have been aiming at places in warmer climates -- a monastery near Austin, Texas for one, and Mexico. So right now, I'm really torn.

What does the Dhamma want to do through me? And how may I best be used in the Dhamma? This would certainly be a good answer to both questions, but other questions are then raised. One would be 'am I unselfish enough to live in the cold in order to do so?' or, 'do I want to live year-round in any monastic environment?'  Both are hard questions for me to answer with 'yes'. Warm weather still calls (I could help the monks at the monastery in Austin with my writing/editing skills and be warm). The idea of spending half the year without living under monastic precepts calls (I still like the occasional glass of wine, or some good jazz).

The monastery in Austin where the climate suits me -- although I haven't visited yet and may or may not be invited to spend time there.

But what is most important? Doing what I want or being unselfish enough to help these truly worthy and good nuns who need the help? And how serious am I about heeding the answers that come from the questions posed, if I can't answer this call? On the other hand, how much of value could I really contribute if I were cold and unhappy?

Much of this is in my mind -- as is most of what we humans endure as suffering in our lifespans -- and I know the answers will come as I continue to ask and listen, find a way of comfort with all those issues that hold me back. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Resting in consciousness

Back in 2009 my morning mail brought my semi-annual newsletter from Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, California. Inside that was an excerpt from a then-new book by Jack Kornfield, founder of Spirit Rock. It's a full page excerpt and as I began to read I was at first confused by the term 'Rest in Consciousness". What does that mean, Jack? Of course, as I read on he answered that question, in detail, until I could understand it and understand that here was the answer to my questions, the lesson I have been meant to learn from my present situation.

One of the most basic tenets of Buddhism is that everything changes. The goal, simply put, is to watch these changes occur without reacting in fear or craving. Hard for us simple humans to do. It was also hard to encapsulate all I learned that morning and all that is in this excerpt into a few words on this page, but I think these quotes from the excerpt perhaps explain it best in the fewest words:

"To rest in consciousness is the opposite of contraction and fear. When we rest in consciousness we become unafraid of the changing conditions of life." He goes on to say that we can simply notice the two distinct dimensions to our life: the ever-changing flow of experiences, and that which knows the experiences. And finally, he says:

"When we learn to rest in awareness there's both caring and a silence. There is listening for what's the next thing to do and awareness of all that's happening, a big space and a connected feeling of love. When there is enough space, our whole being can both apprehend the situation and be at ease. We see the dance of life, we dance beautifully, yet we're not caught in it. In any situation, we can open up, relax, and return to the sky-like nature of consciousness."

That day years ago, I have learned to rest in consciousness, if only for short moments. But I know that short moments lead to longer moments which in turn lead to totality. Thank you, for this lesson. And thank you for placing the situation before me so that I could learn. I'm still not at that wonderful 100% level, but I understand the lesson and know how to reach that point.

I also ordered and thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is entitled The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Philosophy.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The effects of anger

Last April I transcribed a talk for my teacher, Sayalay Susila. This was a talk given at Bhavana in August of 2011, and it really struck a nerve each time I read through it this time during the editing process, just as it did when I first heard it live at Bhavana. If you're prone to doubt the validity of what she's saying in the following excerpts, consider anger in your own life, first. I have personally observed countless times in the last 6 or 7 years when anger you have inside really does affect others -- friends or strangers -- even though you think you are keeping it inside yourself. And vice versa, I know from experience (for the last two years at my last job, for one example), where being in the presence of an angry person can have an adverse effect on me. I'm sure you can find similar instances.

There was a time in Eugene, Oregon when I had lots of anger, and I observed that even people I'd encounter hiking the opposite direction from me on a popular trail up a small mountain in the area reacted to me negatively. I'd wonder why these people seemed so unfriendly, even though I'd said or done nothing to them. In time, I reflected on this a great deal as I hiked that trail (which I did quite often), and then I began to really see and hear the internal dialogue, such as 'damn, noisy kids coming', or 'a loose dog coming'. I heard judgments that affected the way I felt about those strangers, and thus it was easy to see that my own anger and judging might be influencing their obvious avoidance of me.

So, I began to experiment. When I'd see someone coming, I'd let go of whatever angry or judging thoughts I might have about them, and smile. Inevitably, every person or group of persons I treated with a smile (an inner smile as well as a physical smile) would respond in a more positive way.  Although I no longer have as much anger in my life, I struggled early last year and the previous year to stop my habit of anger, or annoyance mostly, with something or other when I was inside a store. Inevitably, my bad mood would affect the person who checked me out.

As I continued to find success with breaking the pattern, I also broke the pattern of unpleasant responses from others.  So, read what Sayalay has to say here, and give it some thought before discounting the sense behind her words. I haven't asked her if I could do this, but since her purpose is to teach, I hope she does not object! Please note that English is not her first language (she speaks six or seven!), and that when I transcribe and edit her words I try to leave as much of her personality and manner of speech as possible. I correct grammar, sometimes rearrange sentences to flow a bit better, but strive to leave her words as untouched as I can.

"According to Buddha’s teachings, and according to Chinese medicine, all emotions, all unwholesome mental states, affect the organs of our body. For example, anger affects the liver. Fear affects the kidneys. Every unwholesome thought hurts the organs, the internal organs. If a person gets angry very often, then if you go and see a Chinese physician, they know your liver is no good.  Because of the anger, our health becomes affected. When you get very angry, this energy travels from the internal up to the external, and if your good friend happens to come along, the friend will quickly turn away because the energy is so unbearable, even though you do not scold your good friend. But when you get angry, no one will come to approach you because the internal fire element has spread out to the external.
"This also has been shown by one of the Japanese scientists called the Immortal Masaru. I think you all have heard about this book, Messages of Water. He took one cup of water and uttered good words, he said ‘I’m grateful’ to this water. Then he put some of that water under a microscope and saw that the water had become very beautiful crystals. At another time he took water and said ‘you fool’, and other harsh speech to this water, then he put the sample under the microscope and this water had deformed crystals. Very angry crystals. So, even the water, which we think is inanimate being, still responds to our emotions.  How about a human being, a plant, the sea, the mountains, the moon, the sun, and everything on earth? 

 "Buddha said, indeed, when man becomes extremely corrupt in thoughts and deeds the energy rushes from this extensive earth up to the orbit of the moon, the suns and stars, reaching even the realm of space and the whole organic world. Our unwholesome thought is responsible for the destruction of the world, for all the destructive weather that we have now, the earthquakes, the tsunami, the hurricanes and so on. In fact our unwholesome thought, the energy from our unwholesome thought, travels far and affects the whole organic world. These are consequences."
Think about that, next time you're angry, or next time you listen to one of the many talking heads ranting and raving on TV and radio. All that anger really does affect us, and our world.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


My favorite Buddhist retreat center is the Bhavana Society, in West Virginia. While I was there for a 2-week,  year-end retreat in December of 2011, I was driven to write some things down. This is one of them.

A-NEE-cha. Perhaps the most important Pali word those following the Buddhist path need to know. This trip to Bhavana could not have illustrated the meaning better. Summer's dense greenery has turned to winter's bare branches, a thick bed of brown leaves and lots of downed trees.

Roughly translated, Anicca means 'impermanence', yet according to Bhante Gunaratana it means a great deal more than that. Like so many words from ancient languages, there is no clear English word that conveys the full meaning, so 'impermanence' has to do. He suggests we learn the word and use it, to benefit from its full meaning. Does my English-fed mind truly understand the Pali nuances? It's not a question I can answer, but I can tell you that when I contemplate 'anicca' (a word I learned 7 years ago at my first retreat) in my meditation, I do seem to feel a tad different than when I contemplate 'impermanence.'

We contemplate anicca, or impermanence, because the entirety of the Buddha's teaching can pretty much be boiled down to this word. He taught that the cause of all suffering is craving (greed), or its opposite, aversion. And yet, since everything in this world -- this universe -- is impermanent, we can never find happiness, or freedom from suffering, from grasping and trying to hold onto pleasant feelings, perceptions, ideas and circumstances, or from angrily pushing away or against feelings, perceptions, ideas and circumstances that we find less appealing. It just doesn't happen. That shiny new car, or that new love in your life, satisfy a greed or desire, but only temporarily. Once the newness of either wears away, we're mostly off to some new object or idea to 'make us happy.'

Everything changes.  The oceans, rivers,mountains and trees -- even the stars in the sky -- are constantly changing. And so, my friend, are you. Does your body look the same in the mirror as it did 20 or 40 years ago? One year ago? We age. We mature, hopefully. Our body loses old cells by the millions daily, replaces them with new. We have ways of making us live longer, but death and aging are inevitable.

Our ideas change, too.  When we look closely at the feelings of body and mind we see constant change. Things arise, they pass away. Nothing stays the same. Yet, we grasp at objects, people, ideas for happiness, even though it's impossible for that object, person or idea to remain constant.

So, we're back to anicca. We contemplate everything as impermanent, unable to give us lasting happiness. Along with that we realize that these feelings or desires are not 'ours', since we cannot control them or hold on to them. They are mere products of the mind, which with close attention we can watch arise and pass away, arise and pass away. Regarded as impermanent, we cannot grab hold and develop attachment, cause suffering. And that, to answer many questions, is a good part of 'what do you do up there?". Anicca, anicca, anicca.