How have you changed over the past 22 months?
What teachings do you understand better today than you did 22 months ago? How has that knowledge helped you be more at peace?
Are you aware of how you might be leaving your compassion on the cushion and not taking it out with you into your day?
Where are the inconsistencies? What views/habits/judgments do you need to re-evaluate?
How will your kindness practice help you bridge any inconsistencies?
How does seeing through the lens of impermanence allow you to live more in the present moment?
If you were trying to convince someone to incorporate Tonglen into their daily practice, what reasons would you give?
How does thinking about your practice to benefit all beings help motivate you?
How does moving towards your suffering, and embracing it, feel different than avoiding it?
Why do you think our greatest opportunities to wake up happen through our suffering?
How do you feel when your heart is open with gratitude? Do you feel more connected? More whole?
How many things in this moment, can you find to be grateful for?
Is it your experience that you feel better when you meditate every day? In what ways?
What are your typical obstacles to meditating every day? Twice a day?
How can you plan ahead to not let these obstacles interfere with your practice?
What kinds of situations/emotions/thought habits do you most commonly push back on?
Do you recognize when you’re pushing back?
How is mindfulness/remembering an integral part of staying on the path for you?
What do you think the difference is between a burglar who is being mindful and someone being mindful on the spiritual path?
Over the past few years, what attachments have you already let go because of your understanding of impermanence, emptiness, and cause and effect?
If you can let go of your attachment to the long line and are now free from the suffering of wishing that to be different – what is stopping you from letting go of your attachment to what people think of you?
While our intention is always to be kind to all living beings, we can’t always control how others perceive us – keeping that in mind how much more at peace would you be if you were no longer worried about what other people think of you? Is what others think about you permanent or impermanent?
In what ways are you consciously nurturing and cultivating positive and wholesome mind states? Is there anything more you could be doing?
In what ways are you unconsciously nurturing and cultivating negative and unwholesome mind states? How could you abandon these mind states more readily? What could you limit that lends more towards these unwholesome mindstates?
What changes could/will/should you make in your life to be more aligned with Right Action?
How will you remember to keep checking back in with Right Action to make sure you are on the 8-fold path?
How close do you imagine the relationship is between your beliefs and your thoughts?
By looking at the kinds of thoughts that trouble you the most, and that recur the most often – what is the belief behind those thoughts?
What instructions would you give the sentinels guarding your thoughts?
Which thoughts would you tell them to be wary of?
Which thoughts would you tell them to always allow in?
In what ways are you already practicing wise speech?
In what areas of speech do you need to work on to be more aligned with wise speech?
Why is the intention to practice wise speech so important?
How much of the time do you think wise speech means not speaking at all?
Reflecting back on your life, through all the wisdom that you now have, was there a time when you were so attached to an object of your desire that you didn’t even see the suffering/dissatisfaction it was causing you?
Where are you having difficulty letting go of your attachments to desire?
What role does fear play in your desires?
What does it mean to you to take refuge in your Buddha Nature?
How would your life be different if you trusted your Buddha Nature more than you trusted your ego?
Why do you flow more easily when you rest in your Buddha Nature?
How would you best describe the vibration of your Buddha Nature?
In what ways does your energy affect the way you see the world and yourself?
What activities can you reduce and or increase to stay in the frequency of your Buddha Nature?
Buddha of Kindness
Buddha of Love
Buddha of Friendship
Buddha of Connection
Buddha of Equanimity
Buddha of Forgiveness
Buddha of Compassion
Buddha of Peace
Buddha of Humility
What does it mean to you to wake up?
How do you think you would feel each day if you were awake?
If you could have $100 million dollars or be enlightened (wake up), which would you choose?
In what ways does your perception of reality change when your thoughts are ego-based?
Do you think the objective reality of the world you are in versus the subjective thought-created simulation is safer or more dangerous? Why?
Given the multiple levels of simulation that we are creating, what can you do to experience the world more directly?
Have you found you are better able to regulate your emotions and feelings when you are tuned into your energy levels?
How has being more aware of your energy helped you in dealing with difficult situations?
Do you feel more connected with your breath when you are more attuned to your energy?
What kinds of thoughts continue to fuel the energy of the emotions of your past? (i.e., “ I don’t want…,” “This shouldn’t have happened…,” “They shouldn’t have…,” “If only…”)
Describe the energy of these emotions, how do you feel them in your body? (i.e., tight, gripping, constricting, unsettling, painful, agitating, tiring, draining, fearful, anxious…)
How would being aware of the energy beforehand help you to create space for them (and allow you to do the kenosis practice) when they arise?
How would you describe the energy you feel most of the time?
Are you aware of when your energy downshifts?
How is the practice of Kenosis helping you in releasing unpleasant energy?
If you were to be asked “do you know who you are” how would you answer?
How do you think kenosis (emptying the vessel) relates to emptiness?
One week into the 21-day meditation commitment how are you feeling about your practice?
What is the difference in how you feel throughout the day when you meditate within the first hour versus later in the day or not at all?
How have kindness practices helped you to be more mindful and present?
In what ways does the ego keep arising and prevent you from being present? i.e., judging, comparing, chasing, worrying…
Which mindfulness tools are you committed to using to help keep bringing yourself back into the present moment?
What changes could you make in your day to help you remember to be more mindful?
How does your current meditation practice fit into your lifestyle? Is it a priority? Or is it something that sometimes gets done and sometimes doesn’t?
What changes would you make to your practice, ie., the amount of time you’re spending meditating, the way you prioritize it, and the types of practices you’re doing, to continue your path of kindness, compassion, and wisdom?
What are some common challenges/situations that you habitually impute badness or unpleasantness onto?
Can you reflect upon these situations through the wisdom of emptiness and see how these situations are neither inherently bad nor inherently good?
How do you see the challenges in your life as part of your spiritual path?
Are the visualizations helping you to see yourself as a Buddha? The Golden Buddha of Kindness?
If you’re struggling to see yourself as the Golden Buddha of Kindness, what thoughts and /or beliefs are creating that conflict?
What practices/teachings could help you to see yourself as the Golden Buddha of Kindness?
In what ways have you, in the past, given up your power as being the creator of your life?
Knowing your personal mind habits better than anyone else, how can you be more prepared to not give up your power and stay true to what is most important to you?
How does the Buddha of Kindness meditation tie into creating the life you want?
Giving yourself an honest assessment how do you feel about your progress on this path?
What teachings and practices have helped you the most to reduce suffering and increase connection?
If you could go back in time to the exact day you started on this path, what would you tell your younger self?
If you were to create a dating profile for your ego, what qualities would you put down?
Doing the same for your True Self, what qualities would you put down?
What are three things you can do each day to keep reminding yourself your ego does not exist independent of “I” thoughts (and therefore does not exist from its own side) and to help you connect back to your True Self?
How does it make you feel to know you are creating your own reality?
Do you see more possibilities? More connections? More wonder?
What changes would you make to your daily routine knowing you are creating your reality?
Like the sound of a falling tree does not exist without someone to hear it, do you think your ego exists independent of you?
Does it exist independent of “I/me” thoughts?
If your ego does not inherently exist (ie., it does not exist independent of something else) does seeing its true nature free you from it?
What kind of an effect has seeing yourself as the Buddha of Kindness had on your ego?
In what ways would practicing the Buddha of Kindness meditation every day change you?
In what ways have you seen yourself as limited and fixed over your lifetime?
With your understanding of emptiness so far, and that the way you see yourself is inter-dependent – do you believe you can be the Buddha of Kindness?
Do you believe that your kindness affects the way others see their world too?
Which quality* gives you the feeling of being whole, connected, and at peace:
Intelligence or Kindness?
Stature or Kindness?
Physical beauty or Kindness?
Which one should you focus on the most?
*Please note I am not bashing the other qualities – just trying to bring our attention to what is most important.
What have you enjoyed so far about the visualization practices? And how have they helped you? (and if you’d be willing to share your answer to this question with me, I’d very much appreciate it.)
What qualities would you expect the Buddha of Kindness to have? Are these qualities you would like to see more of in yourself?
How do you imagine visualizing yourself as the Buddha of Kindness will benefit you and those around you?
Since starting on your spiritual path, what teachings are you really “getting”? Meaning, you see yourself about to repeat an unconscious habit that leads to dissatisfaction and you pull yourself back “knowing” it will only lead to unhappiness.
Why do you think the repetition of these teachings is so necessary for really “seeing” how the mind works?
Are there any familiar ways that you see yourself “Becoming”? ie., I’ll be happy when the holiday starts, I’ll be happy at the end of the day, I’ll be happy once the errands are done… How long does that happiness actually last?
How does the “ego practice” of contemplating the bad qualities of another person affect your spiritual practice?
Why do you think this practice is so effective at helping us change the way we see another person?
Does seeing people through the lens of loving-kindness change the way you see yourself?
What is your most familiar “just this one thing”?
How do your emotions and feelings change when “just this one thing” has arisen?
If everything outside of your true nature is impermanent, could it ever really be “just this one thing”?
Which practices/tools help you the most to be OK and not resist the winds of change (impermanence)?
How does seeing your experience on this planet as a ride liberate you?
What types of thoughts will you be more prepared for that cause you to forget who you are?
Is there a daily affirmation or mantra that you could come up with to say throughout the day that would help you remember who you are and that you’re on a ride?
What qualities would you use to describe your True Self (also called: Buddha Nature, Soul, Spirit, Universal Consciousness…)?
Are these qualities influenced in any way by external conditions?
When you feel more connected with your True Self, do you also feel a deeper connection to the world, nature, other beings? Why do you think that is?
How many times throughout your life have you experienced pleasant or unpleasant conditions and at that moment believed, “Now I’ll never have to worry again!,” or “This is so awful, my life is over!” Has this ever been true?
While you would never turn away pleasant conditions – in what ways does clinging to pleasant conditions cause you dissatisfaction, anxiety, and/or fear?
Besides meditation, how else do you directly experience your Buddha-Nature, Soul, Spirit…?
After a particularly deep, centered meditation can you recall if you are bothered more or less by the changing events around you?
Do you see in your own life how your relationships have always been changing – some relationships get stronger, some more distant and some drop off?
Does seeing the impermanence of your relationships give you a greater feeling of appreciation for the people that are in your life right now?
Why is setting boundaries around people that can drain your energy and bring you down an incredible act of kindness to yourself?
If you have a relationship that is harmful to you and yet you are unable to remove this person from your life (maybe it’s a colleague, family, one friend within a larger group of friends – there can be any number of good reasons why we are unable to remove this person entirely from our lives) – how would you set boundaries while still having this person in your life?
Can you identify the types of thoughts that trouble you the most? Self-doubt, feelings of unworthiness, resentment, anger, disappointment…
Reflecting on these familiar thoughts can you see their impermanence? That they have a beginning, a middle (often drawn out through clinging), and an end?
Have these familiar (but not permanent) thoughts ever brought you peace, joy, feelings of contentment, connection, love?
How would you feel if you could really see their impermanent nature and be free of the clinging and suffering?
If you were to do the visualization on the wisdom of impermanence a few times a week (or even once a week) do you think it would reduce your attachment to these thoughts and their suffering?
Is there anything on this planet that you can think of that isn’t changing?
How frequently do you think your emotions, energy, and mood change? Is it every few minutes, hourly, daily?
When you’re coming off a particularly joyful, happy state of being and your energy is shifting, how do you react to that change?
What types of things could you do to be kinder to yourself when your energy is down-shifting?
Do you agree that if you want to change yourself you have to change your behaviors and habits?
Since starting your spiritual path what behaviors and habits have you already changed?
What new behaviors and habits have you taken on that bring you more peace of mind, joy, and connection?
What behaviors and habits (which definitely includes thought habits) are you still wishing to lose?
Which practices and/or tools would be the most effective in helping you change that behavior?
When the ego is present does it come more often in the form of “chasing” or “resisting”? (It may be equally split between the two or one is emphasized over the other – each of us is different and it’s good to know which one we’re more familiar with.)
Are you aware of the energy of survival when you’re chasing or resisting?
How much of the time do you think this survival energy is lurking under the surface?
How do you feel when you are energetically connected to your heart (really describe this as best you can – helps you to be more familiar with it)?
In general, how would you describe your energy?
Can you identify which activities increase your energy and help you to feel lighter and which ones drain your energy weighing you down?
How much do you think the way you feel energetically influences your mood?
If you could wave a magic wand and change your energy, what would you change it to be like?
When reflecting on your acts of kindness, whether to yourself, others, or the planet, how do you see yourself?
How does this image of yourself differ when looking through the lens of kindness versus looking through the lens of the ego?
Which image do you think is more accurate?
Do you believe that the way you see yourself is intricately tied to the way you view your life either positively or negatively?
What kind of thoughts do you regularly have about yourself or others that are unkind?
Do you believe that the intention of kindness is more powerful than the ego?
Have you felt any difference in the way you see yourself since we started practicing kindness more deliberately? If so, how?
How does waking up and thinking about all the ways you are going to practice kindness make you feel each day?
How does going to sleep reflecting on all the kind acts you’ve done make you feel?
Do you have any favorite ways you like to practice kindness?
Do you think there’s any difference in the way you feel when practicing kindness for people you know versus strangers? Why is that?
When you reflect on the kind acts you’ve done does it make you feel better about who you are? Why?
Under what conditions is it challenging for you to practice kindness?
Why do you think the practice of kindness is so easily forgotten?
What are your intentions for your spiritual path? Are you clear about what you want?
Looking back on everything you’ve done so far on your spiritual path, do you consider that time well spent? Are you reaping the benefits today of all the hard work your past self put in?
How much gratitude do you feel towards your past self for putting the wheels in motion to set you on this path? For all the hard work that’s already been put in?
How committed are you to expanding and nurturing your qualities of joy, peace, love, kindness, generosity, gratitude, and happiness?
What beliefs do you have about yourself that limit how you see yourself? How has this limited view held you back on your spiritual path?
What are the most common triggers for you? Is it a particular person? Type of person? Type of situation?
Aside from the external conditions that cause you to get triggered, what are the inner conditions that make it easier for you to get triggered?
If you wrote down on a piece of paper all the ways in which you get triggered, and you read that paper each day, do you think it would help you be less triggered? Why?
What other compassion and wisdom practices would you include in the symbolic satchel you are wearing around your neck? If you were to write all these down below the common ways you are triggered, do you think that would help you remember to use them?
How much more awake and happier are you since you started on your spiritual path?
How did you feel seeing yourself as being enlightened?
What did your day look like as an enlightened being? How did it differ from a typical day?
Do you believe you can become enlightened?
When your mentor showed you how they see you, how did you feel?
Did it help to see yourself through the eyes of your mentor?
Do you think how your mentor sees you is more accurate? Why?
How do you feel when you are lost in the thought-created image of yourself?
When you’re in touch with your heart center, feeling care, kindness, gratitude, or compassion – how does that feel? Does it feel more real?
What do you need to do to spend more time staying connected to who you really are?
Is there a recurring thought/story that causes you to feel like a victim?
How long have you been carrying this story around?
In what ways does this story weigh you down?
Why do you think doing a generosity visualization helps protect you from the victim?
Visualization Meditation Practice.
How did you feel doing the visualization practice?
How did you feel the rest of the day after doing the practice? Were you calmer and more relaxed?
Have you had any moments since we did the meditation on Sunday where you were struggling and you felt your Mentor’s presence, guiding you, comforting you, teaching you?
Do you have a sense of the power of this practice?
Please watch this video before doing the visualization practice so you can get a little more familiar with what we are going to be doing.
When asked the question, “what is it that you want more than anything else in the world for yourself,” think of a person that already embodies these qualities.
In the class, I shared that I’ve been using the Dalai Lama. When I think of the Dalai Lama I try to think of ALL the qualities I associate with him: kindness, generosity, forgiveness, gratitude, humility, playfulness, curiosity, wisdom, compassion…
Some of you have already shared with me the person that embodies the qualities you wish to nurture in yourself – they’ve ranged from Jesus to someone’s father, to a dear friend.
The person can be alive or passed, mythical or real.
Think of a time when the scorekeeper was making you angry and resentful towards another person. While there may have been some truth to your contribution versus the other person, was the type of thinking you were engaging in moving you closer to “what you want more than anything in this world for yourself” or further away?
Did it improve your relationship with this other person or make it worse?
Were there any perceivable benefits to seeing the world through the lens of, “I’m doing so much and they’re doing nothing”?
How did you feel when reflecting on the kindness of countless beings that help you to live your life every day?
While reflecting on the kindness of others did it move you closer to “what you want more than anything in this world for yourself” or further away?
Can you see how pausing for just a few moments before each meal and reflecting on the people that helped make this meal possible (right down to the person that planted the seed) will help to keep your heart open and keep all the ego characters away?
What is something that you do every day and often that you could turn into a prompt to remind you to have more moments of gratitude?
Which compassion practice feels the best to you and why? (Forgiveness, Loving-Kindness, Gratitude, Compassion, “Just like me…”)
Which compassion practices feel the most awkward to you and why?
How do you think you would be changed if you did some type of informal (off the mat) compassion practice every day?
What was something that you worried a great deal about recently and yet your worst fears didn’t come true? Do you think worrying had any impact on the outcome?
Of all the things you’ve worried about during your lifetime, how many were truly life and death situations?
Why do you think gratitude is such a good preventative practice to worrying?
Describe how you feel when you experience gratitude?
Can you think of a situation where you judged someone for misbehaving and yet you have done a similar thing in the past?
How do you rationalize your behavior and your friends behavior versus a stranger?
When you’re judging another person in what ways are you closed off?
Have you ever been unfairly judged by another person? How did you feel about it?
Why do you think the more compassionate a person is the less likely they are to judge another person?
While we are all attached to pleasant conditions, which specific attachments get most easily triggered for you?
Are you aware of any specific kinds of conditions/people that trigger your attachments?
What changes would you be willing to make in order to decrease the possibility of your attachments being triggered?
What could you be doing more of that would decrease the possibility of your attachments being triggered?
How would you feel to be free of attachment to pleasant conditions?
The degree to which we are suffering is directly correlated to how much we are clinging. We cling through our thoughts and the stories we tell ourselves and the stories are based on wrong views. Views that deny the reality of the world – that sometimes people will be unkind to use, lie to use, try to take advantage of us, be annoying to us… This isn’t a cynical view of the world, because it’s a relatively small number of people doing this – but the reality is we all have experiences with these types of people at some time in our life. Expect it so you won’t be caught off guard. And then to remember that each person is the way they are because of countless causes and conditions, often through no fault of their own – it’s not personal. And while we may be annoyed with someone one moment, the next moment the annoyance is gone – it’s all fleeting. We are clinging to that which is impermanent – a very good definition of suffering!
The Validator is always looking for praise, approval, acceptance, and validation that we are a good person. While there is nothing wrong with praise, approval, acceptance… it becomes a problem for us when we need it. Whenever the ego arises (in any form or character) it separates us out and creates a feeling of disconnection, this is what causes us to need the validation. The ego creates the separation and then sends us looking outwards to feel whole. It’s a painful cycle that is repeated over and over.
The Controller is behind all the other ego characters – it’s ALWAYS present. What we are looking to see in the Controller is how when we try to control things, that we don’t have any control over, WE end up being controlled. When we can’t put our thoughts down, then we are no longer in control of ourselves. It’s like being in a mind-made prison. Freedom is to see how painful this is, how we aren’t getting the results we want externally and we definitely aren’t getting the internal results we want, when we try to control.
Every time we complain we are reinforcing a belief that “this shouldn’t be happening,” and that we can only be happy when we get what we want, and when we don’t get what we don’t want. We are also reinforcing a habitual response of mentally pushing back on that which we find unpleasant. Complaining is not without consequences and we need to see it more clearly when we’re doing it. Our practice when it comes to complaining (and all the ego characters) is equanimity. To not get tossed around by external events as they arise but simply to notice how they arise and pass away, always holding steady on the inside.
We should all be meditating every day now. Having a daily meditation practice helps to train our brain for calm and away from fear, it reduces activity in the Default Mode Network (the mind wandering part of our brain – where the Ego lives), and helps keep us in touch with that quiet, stillness inside that we so desperately want to connect with. Committing to one-minute of meditation every day is a good way to trick your brain into meditating daily, and once you can get yourself to sit on the cushion, most times you will end up meditating more than one minute. And we should never forget that daily meditation is the foundation for our mindfulness practice!
Our views and opinions are constantly changing and they are not who we are. And yet, we take it so personally when someone disagrees with us/has a different viewpoint as though we’ve been personally attacked. What we’re trying to see is the attachment to our views and opinions and how this causes us and others harm. A really powerful pointer for recognizing when we’re lost in defending our views is “But I’m Right!” We forget that we’ve been wrong before and that our views are always changing throughout our lifetime.
Whether we’re planning a trip, what we’re going to do later today, or rehearsing a conversation we need to have – this all comes under the domain of the Perpetual Planner. This is a fairly common habit to rehash over and over. What’s going to happen in the future – attaching ourselves to the outcome and ensuring our continued unconsciousness. Identifying this thought pattern clearly brings it more into awareness where it cannot exist. In addition, knowing how harmful this kind of thinking is gives us the power to let the thoughts go more easily and come back into the present moment, where we can live our lives more fully and peacefully.
We know the pain the ego causes us but what does it mean to live without the ego controlling us all the time?
As we begin a deep dive into exploring the different characters our ego plays, we start with an understanding of how transient the ego is.
Knowing that anger lateralizes to the left hemisphere and how the left hemisphere just wants to be right – we can skillfully activate the right hemisphere through compassion which seeks truth.
Understanding how the two hemispheres of our brain work together can help us reduce our suffering. This talk is based on the work of Dr. Iain McGilchrist, “The Master and his Emissary, The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.”
We don’t often realize how subservient we are to our thoughts. Allowing them to pull us in a million different directions, causing us a great deal of suffering in the process. When we understand that we should be the masters of our thoughts instead of the other way around, we start to recognize the problem and gain back our power.
Learning to let go of our attachment to views and opinions by seeing how impermanent they are, and often how flat-out wrong they are!
This is the most important question we ask ourselves every day. Keep it close to your heart so that you allow the answer to be a guide and pointer for you in how to respond to life more skillfully and wisely.
Mindfulness, along with meditation, is the foundation of our practice on the spiritual path. It is the practice of coming into the body and experiencing the world through our senses: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling (without commenting). This is how we become one with our experience. This is how we experience joy, peace, satisfaction, and connection. Being with whatever it is that’s arising and fully experiencing it.
A lot of our life is filled with unpleasant moments: challenges, blame, criticism, and lots of mundane boring moments. Our typical response is to push back on these moments as though we shouldn’t be experiencing them. With this simple self-compassion practice, you can learn to be with difficult moments and still be OK.
Too much of the time our minds are unfriendly because there is a fight going on inside our heads, where we are mentally resisting what’s happening. This is what creates unfriendly internal conditions, which then causes us to see the world as unfriendly too. A friendly mind is one that is continuously surrendering to whatever it is that’s arising at this moment. We resist surrendering because it’s scary. It’s unknown. It’s hard to acknowledge we don’t have control over the world. And yet, it is in the process of surrendering, of moving towards our fears and through them, that we are finally free.
Life is filled with A LOT of mundane moments: waiting in line, running errands, doing chores… We have an expectation that life should always be exciting and then push back on any moment that is less than exciting, resulting in a lot of anxiety and tension. Learning to be OK with the mundane moments of life (which is where we spend most of our time) is how we can find more peace in our lives.
We seldom realize how many different roles we are playing throughout the day, depending upon whom we are with or what we are doing. And we are almost never aware of how much pain it causes us to try and live up to a perfect image of who we think we are supposed to be at that moment. Recognizing the pain of this futile attempt is what frees us.