Sailing the Worldly Winds

A Buddhist Way Through the Ups and Downs of Life
Donate to Help Maintain the Toolkit!

Sailing the Worldly Winds

A Buddhist Way Through the Ups and Downs of Life
Donate to Help Maintain the Toolkit!

Support the next Home Retreat!


We hope you found the Home Retreat helpful.
 As we all take care of each other through this extraordinary time we are committed to staying online with you for as long as it takes – and beyond.

Our next retreat, Being Divine Online (Meditations on Love), is now live!

If you can, donate and help us reach more people like you.

Make a regular gift and we can build a Toolkit Team for the future.

Thank you from our team and from the online community around the world!

May you be well!

Subscribe now to get the Dharma Toolkit Newsletter and we’ll keep you posted by email on new resources as they become available.

If you prefer to get your inspiration on social media, we’ll be there too: connect with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Support the next Home Retreat!

We hope you found the Home Retreat helpful. As we all take care of each other through this extraordinary time we are committed to staying online with you for as long as it takes – and beyond.

Our next retreat, Being Divine Online (Meditations on Love) is now live!

If you can, donate and help us reach more people like you.

Make a regular gift and we can build a Toolkit Team for the future.

Thank you from our team and from the online community around the world!

May you be well!

Subscribe now to get the Dharma Toolkit Newsletter and we’ll keep you posted by email on new resources as they become available.

If you prefer to get your inspiration on social media, we’ll be there too: connect with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Day 1    Day 2    Day 3    Day 4  

Day 5    Day 6    Day 7

Home Retreats can be tailored to your needs during the lockdown.

We provide:

  • Daily, specially recorded teachings
  • Related Dharma resources
  • Support, perspective and inspiration all week long from our team on the Community Toolkit.
  • And a chance to connect with the retreat leader to ask questions about your practice.

Whether you have the time to engage with a full-on, urban-retreat style week at home – or are super occupied already with kids or work and just want some useful structure to book-end your days with a little calm and inspiration: this is for you.

***

Gain and Loss
Praise and Blame
Fame and Infamy
Pleasure and Pain

How do we really get on in this world? Tossed around by gain, buffeted by loss, carried high by praise, cast down by blame, how can we not be ground under, lose all direction, confidence, and sense of purpose?

The Buddha had clear guidance on how to rise above these ‘worldly winds’, and Vajragupta – with help from friends around the world – opens up for us the Buddha’s compassionate yet uncompromising teaching. Using reflections, exercises and suggestions for daily practice, this retreat can help you find greater equanimity and perspective in the ups and downs – big and small – of everyday life.

Join us for meditation every week day

Connect with others taking part on the Community Toolkit space!

Listen to this retreat’s Q & A on the Worldly Winds

Home Retreats can be tailored to your needs during the lockdown.

We provide:

  • Daily, specially recorded teachings
  • Related Dharma resources
  • Support, perspective and inspiration all week long from our team on the Community Toolkit.
  • And a chance to connect with the retreat leader to ask questions about your practice.

Whether you have the time to engage with a full-on, urban-retreat style week at home – or are super occupied already with kids or work and just want some useful structure to book-end your days with a little calm and inspiration: this is for you.

***

Gain and Loss
Praise and Blame
Fame and Infamy
Pleasure and Pain

How do we really get on in this world? Tossed around by gain, buffeted by loss, carried high by praise, cast down by blame, how can we not be ground under, lose all direction, confidence, and sense of purpose?

The Buddha had clear guidance on how to rise above these ‘worldly winds’, and Vajragupta – with help from friends around the world – opens up for us the Buddha’s compassionate yet uncompromising teaching. Using reflections, exercises and suggestions for daily practice, this retreat can help you find greater equanimity and perspective in the ups and downs – big and small – of everyday life.

Join us for meditation every week day

Connect with others taking part on the Community Toolkit space!

Listen to this retreat’s Q & A on the Worldly Winds


Day 1: INTRODUCING THE WORLDLY WINDS

Reflection by Vajragupta: Blown by the Wind?

If you haven’t done so already, I’d suggest first watching or listening to my introductory talk above on the worldly winds. I explain why the worldly winds can be such a relevant and helpful teaching, and give examples of how they can blow about our lives, day to day.  If possible, watch the talk now (it’s on my other post), and then do the following reflection…

There are lots of ways to reflect – maybe you already have your own method for reflection. But if not, here is one suggestion:

Firstly, you need time to sit quietly, so that busy thoughts can settle, and more considered thoughts can arise. Have a pencil and paper and jot down ideas, observations and memories as they occur to you.

  • Do you recognise the worldly winds blowing in your life? Try to recall small or large instances of the winds that have blown you around in the last few days.
  • Now think about patterns or themes that tend to loom large or recur often in your life. You can write a list, or you can do one of those spidery diagrams.
  • Are there particular worldly winds that blow around you more frequently than others?
  • Are there some that tend to affect you more strongly?
  • Are there certain kinds of situation in which you are more susceptible to being blown around?

Try to pay attention to both directions – in other words, how you may be affected by pleasure as well as pain, gain as well as loss. Often it is easier to notice when the worldly winds are blowing in the ‘negative’ direction, and we just don’t notice our response when they blow the other way.

Are there other varying circumstances of life that don’t quite seem to fit into the traditional formulation? What are they? (For example, a friend of mine realised he was influenced by desire for success and fear of failure. They were “worldly winds” for him.

Suggested daily practice:
In the next few days, we’re going to look at the worldly winds in more detail, and then look at how to respond to them more skilfully. But for the next day, as you go about your day, just bear the teaching in mind. Try to notice those situations – large or small – where the worldly winds may be blowing. You may find that – as you look more closely – you begin to see more instances of them blowing, moment by moment.

See you tomorrow – when we’ll start looking at how to work with the Worldly Winds!

Further Resources
Read ‘Buddying up on Home Retreat’

Listen to ‘Vajragupta’s Retreat Podcast’


Day 1: INTRODUCING THE WORLDLY WINDS

Reflection by Vajragupta: Blown by the Wind? (Tap to read)

If you haven’t done so already, I’d suggest first watching or listening to my introductory talk above on the worldly winds. I explain why the worldly winds can be such a relevant and helpful teaching, and give examples of how they can blow about our lives, day to day.  If possible, watch the talk now (it’s on my other post), and then do the following reflection…

There are lots of ways to reflect – maybe you already have your own method for reflection. But if not, here is one suggestion:

Firstly, you need time to sit quietly, so that busy thoughts can settle, and more considered thoughts can arise. Have a pencil and paper and jot down ideas, observations and memories as they occur to you.

  • Do you recognise the worldly winds blowing in your life? Try to recall small or large instances of the winds that have blown you around in the last few days.
  • Now think about patterns or themes that tend to loom large or recur often in your life. You can write a list, or you can do one of those spidery diagrams.
  • Are there particular worldly winds that blow around you more frequently than others?
  • Are there some that tend to affect you more strongly?
  • Are there certain kinds of situation in which you are more susceptible to being blown around?

Try to pay attention to both directions – in other words, how you may be affected by pleasure as well as pain, gain as well as loss. Often it is easier to notice when the worldly winds are blowing in the ‘negative’ direction, and we just don’t notice our response when they blow the other way.

Are there other varying circumstances of life that don’t quite seem to fit into the traditional formulation? What are they? (For example, a friend of mine realised he was influenced by desire for success and fear of failure. They were “worldly winds” for him.

Suggested daily practice:
In the next few days, we’re going to look at the worldly winds in more detail, and then look at how to respond to them more skilfully. But for the next day, as you go about your day, just bear the teaching in mind. Try to notice those situations – large or small – where the worldly winds may be blowing. You may find that – as you look more closely – you begin to see more instances of them blowing, moment by moment.

See you tomorrow – when we’ll start looking at how to work with the Worldly Winds!

Further Resources
Read ‘Buddying up on Home Retreat’

Listen to ‘Vajragupta’s Retreat Podcast’


Day 2: working with THE WORLDLY WINDS

Reflection by Vajragupta: Sailing the Worldly Winds

Welcome back to the Home Retreat! Yesterday I was asking you to identify situations in your daily life where the worldly winds were blowing, and to be more aware of your response to them. How have you got on with that? Was it easy or difficult? Was yesterday a calm or stormy day?!

Like yesterday, we’re going to listen to a 20 minute video talk – to get ideas and input – and then reflect on how those teachings apply to our lives. In the subsequent days, there will be less input, just a bit of a daily “top-up”… you won’t need to be on-line for so long each day. So, again quite a bit to read today.

Seeing the worldly winds as oppportunities, not obstacles
Today we are going to look more at how to respond when we see the worldly winds blowing. Rather than reacting and just trying to swing back from loss to gain, from blame to praise, and so on, we can try to respond with awareness of the worldly winds. We can try to turn those swings back and forth into spiritual opportunities. If we’ve allowed our mood or self-view to be swayed by them, this is our chance to regain the initiative. We see the worldly winds as teachers, spurring us on to develop patience, courage, or whatever response the situation calls for. We welcome the challenge, relish the chance to grow. Just having this attitude, bringing it to mind, remembering it in the thick of things, already makes a difference. We’ve regained the initiative. We’ve found a way to engage meaningfully and creatively with our circumstances. We may begin to feel quite differently about the situation we’re in.

So first I’d suggest listening to another 20 minute talk from me on seeing the worldly winds as opportunities, not obstacles. After you’ve watched the talk, do the following reflection…

Reflection: sailing with the worldly winds
Here we begin to see the worldly winds as opportunities for spiritual practice

Go back to your notes on yesterday’s reflection, where you looked at how the worldly winds blow in your life. Now reflect on whether there are ways you could turn these specific situations into opportunities.

  • Could the worldly winds become spiritual teachers? What would be the qualities that would stop you swinging between opposites, and help you rise above the worldly winds?
  • Are there ways you could respond with generosity to times of gain and loss?
  • Can you see instances in your life in which you could meet fame and infamy with individuality?
  • How might you practise truthfulness when the worldly winds of praise and blame are blowing around you?
  • Can you see opportunities to bring mindfulness into situations of pleasure and pain?

The qualities above are only some possible suggestions. You may think of others that are appropriate to your situation. This may take time, so don’t worry if ‘answers’ do not come straight away.

When you’re ready, I invite you to go on to consider how you’d like to work with ‘your’ worldly winds in the coming days. I’ll be suggesting you make some clear resolutions and begin to keep a Practice Diary to record how you get on. This is what I suggest:

Choose your material under just one of the four pairs of worldly winds to work with, to try to put into practice, in the coming days. It’s more realistic to focus on just one pair, rather than try to take on too much at once.

1. Make a clear resolve.
So, first of all, make a clear resolve. What are you going to try to practise this week? In other words, form some precepts – some principles and guidelines for training. Make them as specific as you can, not just general vague statements of your good intention. Be realistic – it’s better to come up with one or two precepts that you’ll actively engage with than ten big precepts that are likely to remain on the level of aspiration. Or rather, have the big aspiration, but remember it is also crucial to translate that into a few more practical propositions.

2. Begin to keep a practice diary
Print out six copies of the Home Retreat practice diary. We’re going to be using this diary quite a lot in the coming week. I suggest you use it in order to concretise your reflections and to write down all you intend to do during the coming week. The point is to help you to implement your intentions. Therefore it is very important that you don’t feel that you have to fill in every box for every day.

There is a separate page for every day to allow space for making each day’s commitment appropriate to what you are doing that day. Many people start off by writing too many commitments down on the first day retreat and have to change the diaries during the week. That is okay! We are doing the retreat in order to learn about how to bring our practice into our lives in a realistic way, and part of that learning process is to be flexible. What we don’t want is anyone to feel guilty and a failure because they had expectations that they couldn’t fulfil.

On the first sheet (i.e. today’s) record your resolutions in the top left section of the page.

You can also, at the end of each day, reflect on how the day went, writing down something in the “review” sections of that day’s diary, and then look forward to the next day’s diary, changing or adjusting any of your resolutions as appropriate. But today, concentrate on the “resolve” section.

Suggested meditation:
You could take some time in your meditation to reflect on how the worldly winds could shift from being obstacles into opportunities. Imagine yourself in a situation in which you can tend to get blown about, and then try to see, or feel, how you would deal with it if you were at your very best. Or maybe think about how someone you admire would respond, or even what the Buddha would do in that situation. Answers do not always come straight-away, so don’t try to “force” it or feel impatient. But sometimes, reflecting and imagining like this, you see something afresh, you sense a new possibility…

Further Resources
Read ‘Truthfulness as Teacher’


Day 2: working with THE WORLDLY WINDS

Reflection by Vajragupta: Sailing the Worldly Winds (Tap to read)

Welcome back to the Home Retreat! Yesterday I was asking you to identify situations in your daily life where the worldly winds were blowing, and to be more aware of your response to them. How have you got on with that? Was it easy or difficult? Was yesterday a calm or stormy day?!

Like yesterday, we’re going to listen to a 20 minute video talk – to get ideas and input – and then reflect on how those teachings apply to our lives. In the subsequent days, there will be less input, just a bit of a daily “top-up”… you won’t need to be on-line for so long each day. So, again quite a bit to read today.

Seeing the worldly winds as oppportunities, not obstacles
Today we are going to look more at how to respond when we see the worldly winds blowing. Rather than reacting and just trying to swing back from loss to gain, from blame to praise, and so on, we can try to respond with awareness of the worldly winds. We can try to turn those swings back and forth into spiritual opportunities. If we’ve allowed our mood or self-view to be swayed by them, this is our chance to regain the initiative. We see the worldly winds as teachers, spurring us on to develop patience, courage, or whatever response the situation calls for. We welcome the challenge, relish the chance to grow. Just having this attitude, bringing it to mind, remembering it in the thick of things, already makes a difference. We’ve regained the initiative. We’ve found a way to engage meaningfully and creatively with our circumstances. We may begin to feel quite differently about the situation we’re in.

So first I’d suggest listening to another 20 minute talk from me on seeing the worldly winds as opportunities, not obstacles. After you’ve watched the talk, do the following reflection…

Reflection: sailing with the worldly winds
Here we begin to see the worldly winds as opportunities for spiritual practice

Go back to your notes on yesterday’s reflection, where you looked at how the worldly winds blow in your life. Now reflect on whether there are ways you could turn these specific situations into opportunities.

  • Could the worldly winds become spiritual teachers? What would be the qualities that would stop you swinging between opposites, and help you rise above the worldly winds?
  • Are there ways you could respond with generosity to times of gain and loss?
  • Can you see instances in your life in which you could meet fame and infamy with individuality?
  • How might you practise truthfulness when the worldly winds of praise and blame are blowing around you?
  • Can you see opportunities to bring mindfulness into situations of pleasure and pain?

The qualities above are only some possible suggestions. You may think of others that are appropriate to your situation. This may take time, so don’t worry if ‘answers’ do not come straight away.

When you’re ready, I invite you to go on to consider how you’d like to work with ‘your’ worldly winds in the coming days. I’ll be suggesting you make some clear resolutions and begin to keep a Practice Diary to record how you get on. This is what I suggest:

Choose your material under just one of the four pairs of worldly winds to work with, to try to put into practice, in the coming days. It’s more realistic to focus on just one pair, rather than try to take on too much at once.

1. Make a clear resolve.
So, first of all, make a clear resolve. What are you going to try to practise this week? In other words, form some precepts – some principles and guidelines for training. Make them as specific as you can, not just general vague statements of your good intention. Be realistic – it’s better to come up with one or two precepts that you’ll actively engage with than ten big precepts that are likely to remain on the level of aspiration. Or rather, have the big aspiration, but remember it is also crucial to translate that into a few more practical propositions.

2. Begin to keep a practice diary
Print out six copies of the Home Retreat practice diary. We’re going to be using this diary quite a lot in the coming week. I suggest you use it in order to concretise your reflections and to write down all you intend to do during the coming week. The point is to help you to implement your intentions. Therefore it is very important that you don’t feel that you have to fill in every box for every day.

There is a separate page for every day to allow space for making each day’s commitment appropriate to what you are doing that day. Many people start off by writing too many commitments down on the first day retreat and have to change the diaries during the week. That is okay! We are doing the retreat in order to learn about how to bring our practice into our lives in a realistic way, and part of that learning process is to be flexible. What we don’t want is anyone to feel guilty and a failure because they had expectations that they couldn’t fulfil.

On the first sheet (i.e. today’s) record your resolutions in the top left section of the page.

You can also, at the end of each day, reflect on how the day went, writing down something in the “review” sections of that day’s diary, and then look forward to the next day’s diary, changing or adjusting any of your resolutions as appropriate. But today, concentrate on the “resolve” section.

Suggested meditation:
You could take some time in your meditation to reflect on how the worldly winds could shift from being obstacles into opportunities. Imagine yourself in a situation in which you can tend to get blown about, and then try to see, or feel, how you would deal with it if you were at your very best. Or maybe think about how someone you admire would respond, or even what the Buddha would do in that situation. Answers do not always come straight-away, so don’t try to “force” it or feel impatient. But sometimes, reflecting and imagining like this, you see something afresh, you sense a new possibility…

Further Resources
Read ‘Truthfulness as Teacher’


Day 3: practising with the worldly winds

Reflection by Vajragupta: Working with Reminders – Remembering to Remember

In the first two days we’ve tried to become more aware of when the worldly winds blow in our lives, and also look for ways we can respond more creatively and skilfully to them. Yesterday we made use of the “resolve” section of the urban retreat practice diary to help us with this. Today we are going to look at the “remind” section of that diary.

“Resolve” and “remind” are the first two parts of a simple, really practical, nuts-and-bolts toolbox which I’ll be presenting during the retreat. I’m hoping it will help you keep your practice on course day-to-day, in the midst of a busy life. There’s three parts in all: resolve-remind-review, they’re designed to work together to help us create the conditions that support practice. Support is very important: often we don’t put sufficient supports in place and so our practice can run thin, or go off-beam.

So, as well as a clear “resolve” we need reminders to help us remember to practice when we’re in the midst of busyness that can distract us from our deeper purpose, when the winds are blowing, or maybe when there’s a storm.

Reflection: reminders
Here are three practical suggestions for reminders…

i) Slogans
Form your resolutions into really pithy (maybe even funny) slogans. Pin them up on your desk, or use those magnetic letters on your fridge to spell them out, or make them your computer screensaver for the week. You could also read books or poems, or listen to on-line Dharma talks, that are reminders of your true purpose.

ii) Rituals
Create rituals that also help to remind you. Perhaps have two-minute mindfulness breaks in your day. Or chant a mantra whilst walking to work, or every time you are using the lift at the office. During the International Urban Retreat lots of people will be chanting the Padmasambhava mantra. (There is more information on this in the suggested meditation section below.)At home, you can have readings and reflections that relate to and deepen your resolutions. Or wear something that reminds you of them, or create a special shrine.

iii) Friends
If you know someone else who is doing the urban retreat, then you could ‘buddy-up’ with them for a week or so, so you can talk to each other about your resolutions and progress in practising them. Make a date with them; don’t just leave it that one of you will contact the other, as you know what will happen then! Meet for coffee, or chat on the telephone or, at the very least, text each other. Meeting and talking will also act as a reminder and a support.

Suggested daily practice:
Fill-in the “remind” section of the urban retreat practice diary and incorporate those reminders into your daily routine. You may be surprised what a difference it makes in enabling you to recall and carry-out your good intentions in the midst of daily life.

Don’t forget you can also listen to the ten-minute talk each day – you will find it alongside this.

Suggested meditation:
You might like to include the following dedication ceremony in your morning meditation practice – again reminding you of your resolve and providing inspiration for the day to come.

You might also like to chant the Padmasambhava mantra during the week, when you sit, but also during the day. Padmasambhava took the Dharma to Tibet, overcoming many obstacles and difficulties on the way. He is the master of transformation; it is said that the stronger the worldly winds blow, the stronger he becomes, as he is able to convert their energy into something inspired and positive. You can chant the mantra with that aspiration, or chant it asking Padmasambhava to help you. If you don’t know the mantra, you can find out about it here, and listen to it being chanted.

After you’re done with the reflections for today, we suggest joining in if you can tomorrow with one of our two daily meditations, You can see what time these happen where you live.

Join us for meditation!

Dedication ceremony

For the benefit of all beings
For the happiness of all beings
With body, speech and mind,
I dedicate this day.

Abandoning harmfulness,
To kindness I dedicate this day.
Abandoning selfishness,
To sharing I dedicate this day.
Abandoning indulgence,
To contentment I dedicate this day.
Abandoning false speech,
To truth I dedicate this day.
Abandoning intoxication,
To clear awareness I dedicate this day.

To Buddhahood,
To Dharma,
To Sangha,
With the blessings of the Bodhisattvas,
For the benefit of all,
I dedicate this day.

Further Resources
Read ‘How I’m Remembering to Remember’

Listen to ‘Home Retreat Q & A with Vajragupta’


Day 3: practising with the worldly winds

Reflection by Vajragupta: Working with Reminders – Remembering to Remember (Tap to read)

In the first two days we’ve tried to become more aware of when the worldly winds blow in our lives, and also look for ways we can respond more creatively and skilfully to them. Yesterday we made use of the “resolve” section of the urban retreat practice diary to help us with this. Today we are going to look at the “remind” section of that diary.

“Resolve” and “remind” are the first two parts of a simple, really practical, nuts-and-bolts toolbox which I’ll be presenting during the retreat. I’m hoping it will help you keep your practice on course day-to-day, in the midst of a busy life. There’s three parts in all: resolve-remind-review, they’re designed to work together to help us create the conditions that support practice. Support is very important: often we don’t put sufficient supports in place and so our practice can run thin, or go off-beam.

So, as well as a clear “resolve” we need reminders to help us remember to practice when we’re in the midst of busyness that can distract us from our deeper purpose, when the winds are blowing, or maybe when there’s a storm.

Reflection: reminders
Here are three practical suggestions for reminders…

i) Slogans
Form your resolutions into really pithy (maybe even funny) slogans. Pin them up on your desk, or use those magnetic letters on your fridge to spell them out, or make them your computer screensaver for the week. You could also read books or poems, or listen to on-line Dharma talks, that are reminders of your true purpose.

ii) Rituals
Create rituals that also help to remind you. Perhaps have two-minute mindfulness breaks in your day. Or chant a mantra whilst walking to work, or every time you are using the lift at the office. During the International Urban Retreat lots of people will be chanting the Padmasambhava mantra. (There is more information on this in the suggested meditation section below.)At home, you can have readings and reflections that relate to and deepen your resolutions. Or wear something that reminds you of them, or create a special shrine.

iii) Friends
If you know someone else who is doing the urban retreat, then you could ‘buddy-up’ with them for a week or so, so you can talk to each other about your resolutions and progress in practising them. Make a date with them; don’t just leave it that one of you will contact the other, as you know what will happen then! Meet for coffee, or chat on the telephone or, at the very least, text each other. Meeting and talking will also act as a reminder and a support.

Suggested daily practice:
Fill-in the “remind” section of the urban retreat practice diary and incorporate those reminders into your daily routine. You may be surprised what a difference it makes in enabling you to recall and carry-out your good intentions in the midst of daily life.

Don’t forget you can also listen to the ten-minute talk each day – you will find it alongside this.

Suggested meditation:
You might like to include the following dedication ceremony in your morning meditation practice – again reminding you of your resolve and providing inspiration for the day to come.

You might also like to chant the Padmasambhava mantra during the week, when you sit, but also during the day. Padmasambhava took the Dharma to Tibet, overcoming many obstacles and difficulties on the way. He is the master of transformation; it is said that the stronger the worldly winds blow, the stronger he becomes, as he is able to convert their energy into something inspired and positive. You can chant the mantra with that aspiration, or chant it asking Padmasambhava to help you. If you don’t know the mantra, you can find out about it here, and listen to it being chanted.

After you’re done with the reflections for today, we suggest joining in if you can tomorrow with one of our two daily meditations, You can see what time these happen where you live.

Join us for meditation!

Dedication ceremony

For the benefit of all beings
For the happiness of all beings
With body, speech and mind,
I dedicate this day.

Abandoning harmfulness,
To kindness I dedicate this day.
Abandoning selfishness,
To sharing I dedicate this day.
Abandoning indulgence,
To contentment I dedicate this day.
Abandoning false speech,
To truth I dedicate this day.
Abandoning intoxication,
To clear awareness I dedicate this day.

To Buddhahood,
To Dharma,
To Sangha,
With the blessings of the Bodhisattvas,
For the benefit of all,
I dedicate this day.

Further Resources
Read ‘How I’m Remembering to Remember’

Listen to ‘Home Retreat Q & A with Vajragupta’


Day 4: experiencing the worldly winds

Reflection by Vajragupta: How’s it going? Learning to Review our Practice

The Home Retreat is now well under way. Over the weekend we learnt about the worldly winds, how we might turn them from obstacles into spiritual opportunities, and then we made our own personal practice resolutions. We set up various “reminders” to help us keep clear about our sense of purpose even when we’re in the thick of it. Today we’ll explore the “review” section of the practice diary.

This is the last main section of the diary, and it’s there because it’s important to review how your practice is going, as you go along, so you can make necessary adjustments. It is like steering a yacht through waves and wind. You steer carefully, keeping an eye on where you are heading, and you also stay aware of what weather conditions loom on the horizon. You are always reviewing, making any necessary adjustments to the sails and the rudder, as well preparing for what lies ahead.

Types of change
Although early on in our spiritual life there are some things that seem to change quite quickly, most change is slow and subtle. There are highs and lows of practice, but there can also be long periods where you are trundling along and it all seems pretty ordinary. As long as you’re engaged in what you’re doing, that is probably OK, but if it goes on like that for too long you may want to introduce more of a stretch and challenge into your life and practice.

Change isn’t always noticeable; sometimes we don’t give ourselves credit for the changes we’ve made, because we simply don’t notice them. We get used to ourselves, and think this is how we’ve always been. Sometimes it is our friends and acquaintances who reflect back to us how much we’ve changed.

We can also tend to perfectionism in practice, wanting to get it exactly right, and then swinging into defeatism when we don’t, thinking we’ll never change. Perfectionism, thinking that anything less than perfect is total failure, is a subtle form of eternalism (the belief in a perfect, unchanging state). Defeatism, thinking ‘It was less than perfect, so I failed’, is a subtle form of nihilism (the belief that things, in the end, come to nothing). Buddhism rejects both these views, because they are both equally static and fail to realize that life is a continuous process of making and re-making. In fact, you could see perfectionism and defeatism as another pair of worldly winds; creativity could be the Dharma-door that rises above them.

Suggested reflections: reviewing your practice
So, today, ask yourself how your practice with the Worldly Winds is going.

  • Are my precepts/resolutions proving helpful and realistic?
  • Am I learning anything?
  • Do I need to refine my precepts – perhaps making them a bit more specific, or adjusting the precept to take into account what I’ve learned so far?
  • Do I need to be a bit more realistic, or could I be more ambitious?
  • Shall I focus on fewer worldly winds, or just one precept?

Make notes in your diary about how it is going – both in your daily practice and also your meditation practice. This will help you be more aware of what you’ve learned – both the successes and the need for more practice. It will also strengthen your resolve for the future – which, of course, starts tomorrow! In this way we get a cycle of ‘Resolve-Remind-Review’ and back to the first stage again. Do this review at the end of every day if you can.

Suggested diary practice:
Fill in the review section of yesterday’s diary page, opposite the ‘Resolve’ column.  Try to make conscious any adjustments and changes you’re making to how you plan to  practice in the coming days. Remember that making your intentions more conscious and specific increases your chances of actually following-through! You’re aiming for resolutions that are realistic, but also stretch you somewhat – how much is, of course, up to you.

Suggested meditation:
Be clear which meditation you’re going to do today, when, and for roughly how long.  Then, afterwards, make sure you also find some time to review how it went, and make any necessary changes to your approach. And make plans for tomorrow…

Further Resources
Read ‘Changing Practice in Times of Crisis’


Day 4: experiencing the worldly winds

Reflection by Vajragupta: How’s it going? Learning to Review our Practice (Tap to read)

The Home Retreat is now well under way. Over the weekend we learnt about the worldly winds, how we might turn them from obstacles into spiritual opportunities, and then we made our own personal practice resolutions. We set up various “reminders” to help us keep clear about our sense of purpose even when we’re in the thick of it. Today we’ll explore the “review” section of the practice diary.

This is the last main section of the diary, and it’s there because it’s important to review how your practice is going, as you go along, so you can make necessary adjustments. It is like steering a yacht through waves and wind. You steer carefully, keeping an eye on where you are heading, and you also stay aware of what weather conditions loom on the horizon. You are always reviewing, making any necessary adjustments to the sails and the rudder, as well preparing for what lies ahead.

Types of change
Although early on in our spiritual life there are some things that seem to change quite quickly, most change is slow and subtle. There are highs and lows of practice, but there can also be long periods where you are trundling along and it all seems pretty ordinary. As long as you’re engaged in what you’re doing, that is probably OK, but if it goes on like that for too long you may want to introduce more of a stretch and challenge into your life and practice.

Change isn’t always noticeable; sometimes we don’t give ourselves credit for the changes we’ve made, because we simply don’t notice them. We get used to ourselves, and think this is how we’ve always been. Sometimes it is our friends and acquaintances who reflect back to us how much we’ve changed.

We can also tend to perfectionism in practice, wanting to get it exactly right, and then swinging into defeatism when we don’t, thinking we’ll never change. Perfectionism, thinking that anything less than perfect is total failure, is a subtle form of eternalism (the belief in a perfect, unchanging state). Defeatism, thinking ‘It was less than perfect, so I failed’, is a subtle form of nihilism (the belief that things, in the end, come to nothing). Buddhism rejects both these views, because they are both equally static and fail to realize that life is a continuous process of making and re-making. In fact, you could see perfectionism and defeatism as another pair of worldly winds; creativity could be the Dharma-door that rises above them.

Suggested reflections: reviewing your practice
So, today, ask yourself how your practice with the Worldly Winds is going.

  • Are my precepts/resolutions proving helpful and realistic?
  • Am I learning anything?
  • Do I need to refine my precepts – perhaps making them a bit more specific, or adjusting the precept to take into account what I’ve learned so far?
  • Do I need to be a bit more realistic, or could I be more ambitious?
  • Shall I focus on fewer worldly winds, or just one precept?

Make notes in your diary about how it is going – both in your daily practice and also your meditation practice. This will help you be more aware of what you’ve learned – both the successes and the need for more practice. It will also strengthen your resolve for the future – which, of course, starts tomorrow! In this way we get a cycle of ‘Resolve-Remind-Review’ and back to the first stage again. Do this review at the end of every day if you can.

Suggested diary practice:
Fill in the review section of yesterday’s diary page, opposite the ‘Resolve’ column.  Try to make conscious any adjustments and changes you’re making to how you plan to  practice in the coming days. Remember that making your intentions more conscious and specific increases your chances of actually following-through! You’re aiming for resolutions that are realistic, but also stretch you somewhat – how much is, of course, up to you.

Suggested meditation:
Be clear which meditation you’re going to do today, when, and for roughly how long.  Then, afterwards, make sure you also find some time to review how it went, and make any necessary changes to your approach. And make plans for tomorrow…

Further Resources
Read ‘Changing Practice in Times of Crisis’


Day 5: understanding the worldly winds

Reflection by Vajragupta: How’s it going? Learning to review our practice

We’re now making use of all three sections of the practice diary – resolve, remind, and review. Have another look at your diary today, and reflect on how the practice is going. You can print more pages, if you need to, anytime.

Today, we’re going to have a bit more “Dharma input”. We’re going to look a bit more closely at what is happening when we’re caught by the worldly winds. We’re going to look at the ‘stories’ that go on in our minds.

There is some text to read – which will probably take about ten minutes reading time. Then there are suggestions for applying this material in daily life and in meditation.

The stories we tell
When the Buddha gave this teaching of the worldly winds he made it quite clear that they would blow around everyone. But it was the ‘spiritually immature’ that would be most buffeted by them, he said. Their minds would remain consumed by gain or loss, praise or blame, and so on. Whilst they would welcome the wind blowing one way, they would rebel against it when it blew the other. But a ‘well-trained disciple of the Buddha’, the text goes on to say, does not become consumed by them, does not ‘welcome’ or ‘rebel’.   You can read the Buddha’s actual words on the Access to Insight website  – it’s known as the Lokavipatti Sutta.

Often what this welcoming and rebelling consists of is a story. Much of the time we are telling ourselves a story; we have an ongoing commentary in our head. As we go through our day, we explain and interpret it to ourselves, often only subconsciously.

Stronger emotions give rise to, in a way are, the strongest, keenest felt, most urgent stories. For example, someone makes a remark that I find really irritating. Later that day I may notice how I’m playing and replaying that conversation in my head. I tell the story to myself about twenty times, each time embellishing it with more commentary and analysis about how utterly unreasonable they were. I think of clever, scathing remarks that I wish I’d thought of at the time. I fantasise about the final, irrefutable put-down I’ll deliver when we meet tomorrow.

Triggering a story
These stories can be so quickly triggered. Someone annoys us, and almost immediately there is a fully-formed story in our heads about why they did this, and how they dared do that. How are we able to form quite involved stories so quickly? We draw on our past. The stories are based on the ways we’ve interpreted our experience on previous occasions. If we’ve had difficulty with that person before, or even with someone who reminds us of that person, then associations and explanations from our past come readily to mind.

There are stories that are triggered by fear, or ill-will, and there are also stories triggered by longing and craving. Falling in love involves telling ourselves a story, just as falling into hatred and ill-will does. We fantasise, we play and replay situations in our mind. We wonder how he or she will respond if we do one thing, or if we say the other. Often, however, it can be harder to spot the stories that arise out of craving than those that arise out of aversion. The latter are more obviously painful; we can see that the story is only going to end in tears. But stories that arise out of craving can seem more enjoyable and stimulating, a harmless little fantasy. It is easier to believe in them, to convince ourselves that it could end happily ever after.

Mental proliferation
This tendency to mental commentary and storytelling is referred to by the Buddha as papañca, a Pali term which means something like ‘mental proliferation’, and which describes well the quality and tone of those kinds of thoughts. They do proliferate, breed and spread out all over the place. Sometimes the story seems clear and vivid in our minds; sometimes it is more vague and shadowy. Either way, we create an interpretation of events which may be highly subjective, even quite untrue. We then act unwisely and blunderingly, basing our actions on our own fantasy, our hopes or fears, and not on what is really going on.

How do we work with all this? Once you’ve noticed what you are doing, slam the brakes on papañca. Just try to stop telling those stories. But don’t block off from what is happening; stay with the experience underlying the stories. Try to remember what actually happened and to acknowledge your feelings. Stay with the objective situation rather than the subjective interpretation, the bare facts rather than the embellishments.

In other words, separate out observation from interpretation. This doesn’t mean not evaluating or judging a situation. If, for example, you’ve found someone irritating, you may need to think about what their motive was, and so on. You have to make judgements and decisions. But try to make them based on observation, and not on the stories of craving and aversion that are spinning their own interpretations in your head. This is what being judgemental in the negative sense is: an evaluation based on our own longing and fearing. Depending on whether what someone did accords with our own desires, we invent a story about them being a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person. Young hooligans…

So, I’m driving along and a man in another car pushes out in front of me. I can immediately start telling myself he is a ‘young hooligan who shouldn’t be allowed on the roads’. But I don’t know. Maybe he is trying to get to a hospital quickly because his child has been taken ill. Maybe he is just like me: a commuter, prone to anxiety and absent-mindedness, who doesn’t want to be late for work. Or maybe he is young, pushy and aggressive, but even so, is the label ‘hooligan’ accurate?

Stopping papañca is not easy. Whilst you can sometimes see what you are doing and come to a sharp stop, at other times the stories have a momentum of their own, they press in on you, they sweep you along. The emotions that are driving them are simply too powerful. We go with them because it seems less painful, or more pleasurable. We don’t want to face the pain or disappointment of what has actually happened. In these cases, even if we can’t stop ourselves straight away, we can still watch ourselves, observe what we’re doing, and this will have the effect of gradually helping us to see that the stories are just stories. We just need to keep asking ourselves, gently but firmly, if those stories are really true and helpful.

Of course we cannot avoid all storytelling and commentary. We do need to reflect on our experience and talk with ourselves about it. This is how we learn and become more self-aware. There can be helpful and liberating stories too. The need is to distinguish stories driven by craving and aversion from stories informed by awareness and loving-kindness. Some stories resist and resent the reality of a situation. Other stories face up to what happened and try to imagine a more creative response. We can idly daydream, or we can dare to dream.

For example, there is someone with whom I’ve had a difficult and painful relationship. I may have a story about how awful and unreasonable he is, and how nothing I do or say will make any difference to his behaviour. A more helpful inner dialogue would consider how I could be different towards him, and would remember that he can change too. It wouldn’t be naïve or gullible, but would try to imagine a better possibility.

Suggested daily practice:
With kindly awareness, begin to investigate your thought-processes more deeply, to listen to the running commentaries you make, to be more aware of the kind of stories you tell. You are trying to watch the thoughts without telling yourself you are a good or bad person for having them – to do that is just another story you are telling yourself. Just be kind and understanding towards yourself. Here are two suggestions for how to go about investigating those stories:

Simply observe your thought processes the next time you notice yourself being blown about by the worldly winds.

  • When you experience blame, pain, gain, or whatever, do you notice mental proliferation kicking into gear?
  • Or, just walking down a street, as you pass people by, ask yourself what happens. Do you, ever so subtly and fleetingly, start to comment, compare, label and interpret? (’She’s good looking, I bet he’s loaded, he looks a bit rough, I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her’ and so on.) You may start to notice just how strong and all-pervasive this tendency to mental proliferation is.

In all these cases, notice the quality and tone of the thoughts, as well as the content of what you are thinking.

  • What is the difference in tone between these thoughts and thinking that is more reflective and skilful?
  • Is there a difference in emotional tone, and in the quality of the thought?

In all cases, stepping back and observing, bringing awareness to these tendencies to mental proliferation will have a positive effect. It will help to slow the process down, and allow time for a more skilful response.

Further Resources
Read ‘Only Possibilities’


Day 5: understanding the worldly winds

Reflection by Vajragupta: How’s it going? Learning to review our practice (Tap to read)

We’re now making use of all three sections of the practice diary – resolve, remind, and review. Have another look at your diary today, and reflect on how the practice is going. You can print more pages, if you need to, anytime.

Today, we’re going to have a bit more “Dharma input”. We’re going to look a bit more closely at what is happening when we’re caught by the worldly winds. We’re going to look at the ‘stories’ that go on in our minds.

There is some text to read – which will probably take about ten minutes reading time. Then there are suggestions for applying this material in daily life and in meditation.

The stories we tell
When the Buddha gave this teaching of the worldly winds he made it quite clear that they would blow around everyone. But it was the ‘spiritually immature’ that would be most buffeted by them, he said. Their minds would remain consumed by gain or loss, praise or blame, and so on. Whilst they would welcome the wind blowing one way, they would rebel against it when it blew the other. But a ‘well-trained disciple of the Buddha’, the text goes on to say, does not become consumed by them, does not ‘welcome’ or ‘rebel’.   You can read the Buddha’s actual words on the Access to Insight website  – it’s known as the Lokavipatti Sutta.

Often what this welcoming and rebelling consists of is a story. Much of the time we are telling ourselves a story; we have an ongoing commentary in our head. As we go through our day, we explain and interpret it to ourselves, often only subconsciously.

Stronger emotions give rise to, in a way are, the strongest, keenest felt, most urgent stories. For example, someone makes a remark that I find really irritating. Later that day I may notice how I’m playing and replaying that conversation in my head. I tell the story to myself about twenty times, each time embellishing it with more commentary and analysis about how utterly unreasonable they were. I think of clever, scathing remarks that I wish I’d thought of at the time. I fantasise about the final, irrefutable put-down I’ll deliver when we meet tomorrow.

Triggering a story
These stories can be so quickly triggered. Someone annoys us, and almost immediately there is a fully-formed story in our heads about why they did this, and how they dared do that. How are we able to form quite involved stories so quickly? We draw on our past. The stories are based on the ways we’ve interpreted our experience on previous occasions. If we’ve had difficulty with that person before, or even with someone who reminds us of that person, then associations and explanations from our past come readily to mind.

There are stories that are triggered by fear, or ill-will, and there are also stories triggered by longing and craving. Falling in love involves telling ourselves a story, just as falling into hatred and ill-will does. We fantasise, we play and replay situations in our mind. We wonder how he or she will respond if we do one thing, or if we say the other. Often, however, it can be harder to spot the stories that arise out of craving than those that arise out of aversion. The latter are more obviously painful; we can see that the story is only going to end in tears. But stories that arise out of craving can seem more enjoyable and stimulating, a harmless little fantasy. It is easier to believe in them, to convince ourselves that it could end happily ever after.

Mental proliferation
This tendency to mental commentary and storytelling is referred to by the Buddha as papañca, a Pali term which means something like ‘mental proliferation’, and which describes well the quality and tone of those kinds of thoughts. They do proliferate, breed and spread out all over the place. Sometimes the story seems clear and vivid in our minds; sometimes it is more vague and shadowy. Either way, we create an interpretation of events which may be highly subjective, even quite untrue. We then act unwisely and blunderingly, basing our actions on our own fantasy, our hopes or fears, and not on what is really going on.

How do we work with all this? Once you’ve noticed what you are doing, slam the brakes on papañca. Just try to stop telling those stories. But don’t block off from what is happening; stay with the experience underlying the stories. Try to remember what actually happened and to acknowledge your feelings. Stay with the objective situation rather than the subjective interpretation, the bare facts rather than the embellishments.

In other words, separate out observation from interpretation. This doesn’t mean not evaluating or judging a situation. If, for example, you’ve found someone irritating, you may need to think about what their motive was, and so on. You have to make judgements and decisions. But try to make them based on observation, and not on the stories of craving and aversion that are spinning their own interpretations in your head. This is what being judgemental in the negative sense is: an evaluation based on our own longing and fearing. Depending on whether what someone did accords with our own desires, we invent a story about them being a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person. Young hooligans…

So, I’m driving along and a man in another car pushes out in front of me. I can immediately start telling myself he is a ‘young hooligan who shouldn’t be allowed on the roads’. But I don’t know. Maybe he is trying to get to a hospital quickly because his child has been taken ill. Maybe he is just like me: a commuter, prone to anxiety and absent-mindedness, who doesn’t want to be late for work. Or maybe he is young, pushy and aggressive, but even so, is the label ‘hooligan’ accurate?

Stopping papañca is not easy. Whilst you can sometimes see what you are doing and come to a sharp stop, at other times the stories have a momentum of their own, they press in on you, they sweep you along. The emotions that are driving them are simply too powerful. We go with them because it seems less painful, or more pleasurable. We don’t want to face the pain or disappointment of what has actually happened. In these cases, even if we can’t stop ourselves straight away, we can still watch ourselves, observe what we’re doing, and this will have the effect of gradually helping us to see that the stories are just stories. We just need to keep asking ourselves, gently but firmly, if those stories are really true and helpful.

Of course we cannot avoid all storytelling and commentary. We do need to reflect on our experience and talk with ourselves about it. This is how we learn and become more self-aware. There can be helpful and liberating stories too. The need is to distinguish stories driven by craving and aversion from stories informed by awareness and loving-kindness. Some stories resist and resent the reality of a situation. Other stories face up to what happened and try to imagine a more creative response. We can idly daydream, or we can dare to dream.

For example, there is someone with whom I’ve had a difficult and painful relationship. I may have a story about how awful and unreasonable he is, and how nothing I do or say will make any difference to his behaviour. A more helpful inner dialogue would consider how I could be different towards him, and would remember that he can change too. It wouldn’t be naïve or gullible, but would try to imagine a better possibility.

Suggested daily practice:
With kindly awareness, begin to investigate your thought-processes more deeply, to listen to the running commentaries you make, to be more aware of the kind of stories you tell. You are trying to watch the thoughts without telling yourself you are a good or bad person for having them – to do that is just another story you are telling yourself. Just be kind and understanding towards yourself. Here are two suggestions for how to go about investigating those stories:

Simply observe your thought processes the next time you notice yourself being blown about by the worldly winds.

  • When you experience blame, pain, gain, or whatever, do you notice mental proliferation kicking into gear?
  • Or, just walking down a street, as you pass people by, ask yourself what happens. Do you, ever so subtly and fleetingly, start to comment, compare, label and interpret? (’She’s good looking, I bet he’s loaded, he looks a bit rough, I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her’ and so on.) You may start to notice just how strong and all-pervasive this tendency to mental proliferation is.

In all these cases, notice the quality and tone of the thoughts, as well as the content of what you are thinking.

  • What is the difference in tone between these thoughts and thinking that is more reflective and skilful?
  • Is there a difference in emotional tone, and in the quality of the thought?

In all cases, stepping back and observing, bringing awareness to these tendencies to mental proliferation will have a positive effect. It will help to slow the process down, and allow time for a more skilful response.

Further Resources
Read ‘Only Possibilities’


Day 6: reflecting on the worldly winds

Reflection by Vajragupta: Meditating on the Worldly Winds

Mindfulness of our thoughts in meditation
Yesterday we looked at how our craving or aversion towards how the worldly winds are blowing often takes the form of a “story” – an on-going mental commentary which seeks to justify our emotional response. We did an exercise in trying to spot those stories as they arise in our minds as we go about our day. Was this easy or difficult? Thoughts are fast and fleeting, so maybe it is hard to spot them arising. Perhaps you only notice the stories once they’re more fully formed. It can feel like the story is telling you, rather that you are telling the story! So, don’t worry if it is going to take more time and practice. Just keep trying to be mindful of thoughts, and gradually more awareness comes.

Today, we are going to focus on mindfulness of thoughts in meditation. In a way, watching thoughts in meditation can be easier, because we don’t have anything else to do and can just step-back from the thoughts and watch them. But, for exactly the same reason, it can also be very challenging: we don’t have anything else to do, so our mind seeks distraction, whisking us away into thoughts!

Suggested meditation:
We’re going to practice mindfulness of thoughts and “stories” in our meditation practice.

  • After choosing your time and place, and preparing  for meditation in the usual way, start the meditation with body awareness, to ground yourself.
  • Then, have some time watching the breath, to introduce a quality of focus.
  • But then turn your attention to become aware of your thoughts.
  • Be aware also of the emotional tones and bodily feelings that accompany such thoughts.
  • Then you can start to let-go of any unhelpful thoughts.

There is an important principle here. We can only begin to ‘let-go’ once we’ve got in touch with our experience. Otherwise we can start trying to mould and control our experience prematurely, in a way that may actually block us off from it. A more open, broad awareness needs to come first, but then we apply a more investigative, discriminative awareness. We need connection before correction.

This stage is not about beating yourself up for unhelpful thoughts or emotions, or wishing you weren’t experiencing them, or trying to pretend you’re not, or gritting your teeth and saying that if you were a proper meditator you’d be able to make them go away.

You just sit, try to remain aware, and try not to engage with negative thoughts and emotions, but to let go of them. You feel their effect, their quality and emotional tone, and continue to let them go. You look at your own actions and responses in the world, not blaming how you feel on others.

You are more able to see the stories you’ve been telling, and have a critical distance from them. You can begin to drop negative, limiting, unhelpful stories. You just say ‘no’ to them, gently but firmly. You tell them, ‘Sorry, but you’re not helping, so I’m giving you up.’

At the same time, you allow and encourage positive thoughts and emotions.

Suggested daily practice:
As well as working with the above meditation, the suggestion is to take some time in your day to return to the practice dairy, to review how it is going. We are now over halfway through the week!  Here are some reflections for you:

Are there any changes of approach you want to make?

  • Are my precepts/resolutions proving helpful and realistic?
  • Am I learning anything?
  • Do I need to refine the precepts – perhaps making them a bit more specific, or adjusting the precept to take into account what I’ve learned so far?
  • Do I need to be a bit more realistic, or could I be more ambitious?

Are my “reminders” working?

  • Do I need to reconnect with them – perhaps chanting the mantra more, or doing the dedication practice?
  • What’s helpful?
  • What actually works?

The retreat will be over soon. Buddhism speaks of ‘this precious opportunity’ – I encourage you to make use of the last few days, and try to keep a sense of purpose and momentum.

Further Resources
Read ‘Letting Go’

Listen to ‘Buddhism and Inequality’ by Vajragupta


Day 6: reflecting on the worldly winds

Reflection by Vajragupta: Meditating on the Worldly Winds (Tap to read)

Mindfulness of our thoughts in meditation
Yesterday we looked at how our craving or aversion towards how the worldly winds are blowing often takes the form of a “story” – an on-going mental commentary which seeks to justify our emotional response. We did an exercise in trying to spot those stories as they arise in our minds as we go about our day. Was this easy or difficult? Thoughts are fast and fleeting, so maybe it is hard to spot them arising. Perhaps you only notice the stories once they’re more fully formed. It can feel like the story is telling you, rather that you are telling the story! So, don’t worry if it is going to take more time and practice. Just keep trying to be mindful of thoughts, and gradually more awareness comes.

Today, we are going to focus on mindfulness of thoughts in meditation. In a way, watching thoughts in meditation can be easier, because we don’t have anything else to do and can just step-back from the thoughts and watch them. But, for exactly the same reason, it can also be very challenging: we don’t have anything else to do, so our mind seeks distraction, whisking us away into thoughts!

Suggested meditation:
We’re going to practice mindfulness of thoughts and “stories” in our meditation practice.

  • After choosing your time and place, and preparing  for meditation in the usual way, start the meditation with body awareness, to ground yourself.
  • Then, have some time watching the breath, to introduce a quality of focus.
  • But then turn your attention to become aware of your thoughts.
  • Be aware also of the emotional tones and bodily feelings that accompany such thoughts.
  • Then you can start to let-go of any unhelpful thoughts.

There is an important principle here. We can only begin to ‘let-go’ once we’ve got in touch with our experience. Otherwise we can start trying to mould and control our experience prematurely, in a way that may actually block us off from it. A more open, broad awareness needs to come first, but then we apply a more investigative, discriminative awareness. We need connection before correction.

This stage is not about beating yourself up for unhelpful thoughts or emotions, or wishing you weren’t experiencing them, or trying to pretend you’re not, or gritting your teeth and saying that if you were a proper meditator you’d be able to make them go away.

You just sit, try to remain aware, and try not to engage with negative thoughts and emotions, but to let go of them. You feel their effect, their quality and emotional tone, and continue to let them go. You look at your own actions and responses in the world, not blaming how you feel on others.

You are more able to see the stories you’ve been telling, and have a critical distance from them. You can begin to drop negative, limiting, unhelpful stories. You just say ‘no’ to them, gently but firmly. You tell them, ‘Sorry, but you’re not helping, so I’m giving you up.’

At the same time, you allow and encourage positive thoughts and emotions.

Suggested daily practice:
As well as working with the above meditation, the suggestion is to take some time in your day to return to the practice dairy, to review how it is going. We are now over halfway through the week!  Here are some reflections for you:

Are there any changes of approach you want to make?

  • Are my precepts/resolutions proving helpful and realistic?
  • Am I learning anything?
  • Do I need to refine the precepts – perhaps making them a bit more specific, or adjusting the precept to take into account what I’ve learned so far?
  • Do I need to be a bit more realistic, or could I be more ambitious?

Are my “reminders” working?

  • Do I need to reconnect with them – perhaps chanting the mantra more, or doing the dedication practice?
  • What’s helpful?
  • What actually works?

The retreat will be over soon. Buddhism speaks of ‘this precious opportunity’ – I encourage you to make use of the last few days, and try to keep a sense of purpose and momentum.

Further Resources
Read ‘Letting Go’

Listen to ‘Buddhism and Inequality’ by Vajragupta


Day 7: living through the worldly winds

Reflection by Vajragupta: Letting Go

Today is the last bit of “Dharma input”. We are going to explore the ideas of “control” and “influence”. I’d like to invite you to read the following short text, and then take some time to do the reflection – and to bear the material in mind as you go about your practice today.

Tomorrow is the last day of the retreat, and will be spent reviewing what we’ve learnt and thinking about what we can take forward into the future…

Distinguishing control from influence
Imagine we’re in the midst of a situation in which the worldly winds are blowing.  Once we’ve spotted what’s going on, we can think about what is happening in terms of control and influence. Ask yourself what’s happening.

  • To what extent is it really under your control, if at all?
  • Or is it outside your control?
  • Do you need to change and adapt?
  • Can you respond to the situation in a way that will have a helpful influence on your state of mind, and, if possible, on the situation around you?

In other words, ask yourself what is a ‘given’ in the situation, and what is a ‘possible’.  What we can’t control, we just have to accept. But when there is something we can influence, well, let’s try to do what we can. Herea are two examples:

  •  A loved one is in hospital, seriously ill, and you are waiting for them to be transferred to a specialist ward. It is so urgent and important to you, and yet it depends on factors – the busyness of the hospital staff, the availability of a bed in the new ward – which are entirely outside your control. This lack of control is likely to cause us stress and anxiety if we don’t recognise and work with it. But maybe there are small ways in which you can have a helpful influence: speaking calmly to the hospital staff to ensure the issue is on their radar, and telling the patient and other relatives the objective facts of the situation.
  • Or you’re on your way to the airport to catch a flight and your train has been cancelled. Again, the situation is outside your control, but how you respond will influence your state of mind and that of others around you. A calmer response will lead to more presence of mind, which may lead you to remembering that you’ve got a friend who is off work this week, and that means he might be able to give you a lift…

There is a well-known story of a Zen master who was flying back home after visiting his disciples in a foreign country. He and one of his students, who was escorting him to the airport, were waiting for the bus, but it hadn’t turned up. The student was anxious, pacing up and down the pavement, making panicky calls on her mobile phone. At one point she looked across at the Zen teacher. He was just sitting on his suitcase, enjoying the sunshine. She realised that not only was he not worried, he wasn’t even waiting. He knew there was nothing to be done, and could drop all desire to control the situation, and, instead, simply sit in the sun.

Giving up isn’t easy…
Of course, accepting things that are outside our control, giving up on wishing something will go a particular way, and letting go of our frustration because it went the other, is not always easy. Sometimes the emotions at play are strong. But the first task is to recognise more clearly the situation we are in, to bring more awareness in. Knowing the nature of the worldly winds and distinguishing between control and influence may help us do that.  You can see it as a stepping-back into a broader perspective. From this perspective we may be able to see other possibilities that just weren’t apparent to us when we were caught up in the situation.

Suggested daily practice: a reflection on ‘control’ and ‘influence’
Closing your eyes, relaxing for a few minutes, try to imagine yourself in a situation from your life where one or another of the worldly winds is blowing on you. Bring the bare facts of the situation to mind, and allow any feelings associated with it to come up, without getting ‘blown away’ by them, of course!

Having reconnected with that experience, look and try to see how you might be resisting the situation, how you might be trying to retain the illusion of control.

  • How does that manifest?
  • What does it feel like?
  • What would it feel like to be able to give up control and just do what you can to have a positive influence?

Reflecting in this way may help you to connect with how it felt, and to recall the kinds of thoughts that were going on. It may also enable you to imagine a different kind of response, and what that would look and feel like.

Suggested meditation:
Don’t forget there are loads of other people practising like you. Many thousands around the world. It might you give fresh inspiration to bear them in mind, and know that they are bearing you in mind.

You could do a session of metta bhavana – again sending positive intentions around the world!

Further Resources
Read ‘Only One Thing Among Many’

Read ‘Personal Reflections on the Sailing the Worldly Winds’

Find more post-retreat resources


Day 7: living through the worldly winds

Reflection by Vajragupta: Letting Go (Tap to read)

Today is the last bit of “Dharma input”. We are going to explore the ideas of “control” and “influence”. I’d like to invite you to read the following short text, and then take some time to do the reflection – and to bear the material in mind as you go about your practice today.

Tomorrow is the last day of the retreat, and will be spent reviewing what we’ve learnt and thinking about what we can take forward into the future…

Distinguishing control from influence
Imagine we’re in the midst of a situation in which the worldly winds are blowing.  Once we’ve spotted what’s going on, we can think about what is happening in terms of control and influence. Ask yourself what’s happening.

  • To what extent is it really under your control, if at all?
  • Or is it outside your control?
  • Do you need to change and adapt?
  • Can you respond to the situation in a way that will have a helpful influence on your state of mind, and, if possible, on the situation around you?

In other words, ask yourself what is a ‘given’ in the situation, and what is a ‘possible’.  What we can’t control, we just have to accept. But when there is something we can influence, well, let’s try to do what we can. Herea are two examples:

  •  A loved one is in hospital, seriously ill, and you are waiting for them to be transferred to a specialist ward. It is so urgent and important to you, and yet it depends on factors – the busyness of the hospital staff, the availability of a bed in the new ward – which are entirely outside your control. This lack of control is likely to cause us stress and anxiety if we don’t recognise and work with it. But maybe there are small ways in which you can have a helpful influence: speaking calmly to the hospital staff to ensure the issue is on their radar, and telling the patient and other relatives the objective facts of the situation.
  • Or you’re on your way to the airport to catch a flight and your train has been cancelled. Again, the situation is outside your control, but how you respond will influence your state of mind and that of others around you. A calmer response will lead to more presence of mind, which may lead you to remembering that you’ve got a friend who is off work this week, and that means he might be able to give you a lift…

There is a well-known story of a Zen master who was flying back home after visiting his disciples in a foreign country. He and one of his students, who was escorting him to the airport, were waiting for the bus, but it hadn’t turned up. The student was anxious, pacing up and down the pavement, making panicky calls on her mobile phone. At one point she looked across at the Zen teacher. He was just sitting on his suitcase, enjoying the sunshine. She realised that not only was he not worried, he wasn’t even waiting. He knew there was nothing to be done, and could drop all desire to control the situation, and, instead, simply sit in the sun.

Giving up isn’t easy…
Of course, accepting things that are outside our control, giving up on wishing something will go a particular way, and letting go of our frustration because it went the other, is not always easy. Sometimes the emotions at play are strong. But the first task is to recognise more clearly the situation we are in, to bring more awareness in. Knowing the nature of the worldly winds and distinguishing between control and influence may help us do that.  You can see it as a stepping-back into a broader perspective. From this perspective we may be able to see other possibilities that just weren’t apparent to us when we were caught up in the situation.

Suggested daily practice: a reflection on ‘control’ and ‘influence’
Closing your eyes, relaxing for a few minutes, try to imagine yourself in a situation from your life where one or another of the worldly winds is blowing on you. Bring the bare facts of the situation to mind, and allow any feelings associated with it to come up, without getting ‘blown away’ by them, of course!

Having reconnected with that experience, look and try to see how you might be resisting the situation, how you might be trying to retain the illusion of control.

  • How does that manifest?
  • What does it feel like?
  • What would it feel like to be able to give up control and just do what you can to have a positive influence?

Reflecting in this way may help you to connect with how it felt, and to recall the kinds of thoughts that were going on. It may also enable you to imagine a different kind of response, and what that would look and feel like.

Suggested meditation:
Don’t forget there are loads of other people practising like you. Many thousands around the world. It might you give fresh inspiration to bear them in mind, and know that they are bearing you in mind.

You could do a session of metta bhavana – again sending positive intentions around the world!

Further Resources
Read ‘Only One Thing Among Many’

Read ‘Personal Reflections on the Sailing the Worldly Winds’

Find more post-retreat resources

 

With deep thanks to Vajragupta for his generosity in providing the resources for this course. And to Maitridevi, Vidyamala, Subhuti, Ratnavyuha, and Yashosagar for theirs.

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