How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Discuss your personal experience with the Dharma here. How has it enriched your life? What challenges does it present?

How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby Roland » Sun Apr 06, 2014 12:56 am

There are long periods of time where practice is consistent. I do formal practice daily, but there is the continuity throughout the day, filling most of the day (as much as I can sustain it). But inevitably, every year or two, I experience severe suffering through some violent health problem that I perceive as almost killing me... I think I've been very close to the edge of death multiple times.

I can expand awareness, spread out, continue practice, but when these health cataclysms occur, there is a collapsing down and I get a sort of tunnel vision where I am very worried, focusing too much on my health issue, which I think actually makes it worse and induces a sort of downward spiral. I am still able to keep up some kind of daily formal practice, but there is no connection with it. I'm just sitting there worried about my health instead of meditating. I am familiar with the sort of yin and yang of practice, how it is a sort of sin wave if you were to graph it, but in these events it is sometimes completely absent. I think I'm still dealing with some residual trauma of my last health crisis which occurred a few months ago.

There comes a point of clarity near the beginning of recovery. Then I have an "aha!" moment and I start to deepen practice again. Although these events are horrendous, I always learn a lot in myriad ways when I spring back from almost dying, so in a way, they actually help deepen my practice exponentially more than before the event happened, or so I feel.

I am asking for your help. My question is, how do I keep practice going in such difficult circumstances? What are your experiences with extreme suffering and continuing practice? Another way of asking the question is: "How do I experience this and be at peace at the same time?" Is it possible to exist on a level where you can experience extreme pain but at the same time be at peace and exuding love for all beings? It seems like many high lamas are able to achieve this level of reality.

How do I keep my heart open in hell?
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby bob » Sun Apr 06, 2014 2:28 am

Roland wrote:How do I keep my heart open in hell?



Brother,

You chose this life to have these experiences as a way to explore what you are made of, especially in the midst of extreme physical distress. By nature, we are curious and fearless spirit beings, and so we try to taste all sorts of possibilities of experience, both human and otherwise, pleasant and otherwise. Your practice is not "in spite of" the pain, but the pain and its attendant issues IS the practice.

Now, once in human form, experiencing the raw and visceral nature of extreme physical pain, you may wonder what you were thinking when you chose this sort of life, because we as humans don't have access to the much more comprehensive level of understanding available to us when we agreed to take on the 3-D role. It typically looks a lot easier than it turns out to be, because we come in with a kind of amnesia that prevents us from being able to see the bigger picture, where such choices make perfect sense.

So, your purpose this time around may likely be: finding equanimity in the midst of great challenges. Well, how to do that -- that's a life koan. What helps is to first realize that everything changes. This will give you some perspective, because you know that the pain will eventually diminish. No pleasure or pain lasts forever, both are transient modifications of consciousness.

Furthermore, when the pain lessens a bit, you can find great reason for gratitude, and so by putting your attention on the gratitude, rather than on the tendency towards self-pity, you are able to effect a real change in attitude, and when attitude changes, experience follows suit. Fundamentally, you can begin to notice that, the more you find to be grateful about, the more you are given to be grateful about, whereas, the more you complain, the more you are given to complain about.

My Mate has suffered more than any person I've met, having contracted Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of 9 in a most pernicious form, and it has eaten away a good portion of her bones, necessitating multiple hip replacements, knee replacements, gnarled hands, and constant agonizing pain. Nevertheless, she is the happiest person I have met, and that includes many so-called saints and purportedly advanced practitioners I have been graced to meet along the way.
She is a very strong practitioner of the principle of finding joy in the midst of hell, by first recognizing directly, over the course of years of persistent inquiry, that she is not the body or its conditions. Secondly, she can track minute changes in the body's pain, celebrating even a little relief when the pain diminishes somewhat. Thirdly, she uses the pain experience to develop deeper and deeper compassion for all suffering sentience, and in that way is able to recognize more and more that all of us are not separate, that one person's joys and sorrows are everyone's joys and sorrows, and in that light, her experiences become more universal than personal.

This is hard to describe in words, but you will know what I mean if you persevere and don't lose heart. If you are able to inquire in the midst of it all, you will eventually be very thankful for having stayed the course, for true enlightenment is earned by throwing yourself fully into the trenches, not by floating above them in some detached concept of emptiness.

May you find the grace to make the best use of this opportunity!

:anjali:
Last edited by bob on Sun Apr 06, 2014 2:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sun Apr 06, 2014 2:34 am

Roland wrote:There are long periods of time where practice is consistent. I do formal practice daily, but there is the continuity throughout the day, filling most of the day (as much as I can sustain it). But inevitably, every year or two, I experience severe suffering through some violent health problem that I perceive as almost killing me... I think I've been very close to the edge of death multiple times.

I can expand awareness, spread out, continue practice, but when these health cataclysms occur, there is a collapsing down and I get a sort of tunnel vision where I am very worried, focusing too much on my health issue, which I think actually makes it worse and induces a sort of downward spiral. I am still able to keep up some kind of daily formal practice, but there is no connection with it. I'm just sitting there worried about my health instead of meditating. I am familiar with the sort of yin and yang of practice, how it is a sort of sin wave if you were to graph it, but in these events it is sometimes completely absent. I think I'm still dealing with some residual trauma of my last health crisis which occurred a few months ago.

There comes a point of clarity near the beginning of recovery. Then I have an "aha!" moment and I start to deepen practice again. Although these events are horrendous, I always learn a lot in myriad ways when I spring back from almost dying, so in a way, they actually help deepen my practice exponentially more than before the event happened, or so I feel.

I am asking for your help. My question is, how do I keep practice going in such difficult circumstances? What are your experiences with extreme suffering and continuing practice? Another way of asking the question is: "How do I experience this and be at peace at the same time?" Is it possible to exist on a level where you can experience extreme pain but at the same time be at peace and exuding love for all beings? It seems like many high lamas are able to achieve this level of reality.

How do I keep my heart open in hell?


Were you really close to death, or is it more anxiety that you were?

I have medical anxiety that comes out whenever I have long term health issues, likely from PTSD due to a childhood of medical trauma.. Of course I am now just old enough that I always have one nagging health issue, even though it's often "minor", it doesn't always feel like it.

The best advice I got was 1) sitting with the emotions, and 2) contemplating what I would do differently (if anything) if I really was dying, and spending a day believing I would die soon. It was scary, but it helped.

I have also tried EMDR therapy..it worked as a kind of triage when I was really bad.

I don't know what else to say other than express some solidarity...since i've been through something similar.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby ReasonAndRhyme » Sun Apr 06, 2014 4:39 am

I can't say anything about this from experience, but I think maybe you'll find Garchen Rinpoche's biography inspiring. He was imprisoned by the Chinese for 20 years - certainly a hell experience - and is one of the most inspiring teachers of our time. Christina Lundberg made a wonderful documentary about him:

For the Benefit of all Beings - The Extraordinary Life of Garchen Triptul Rinpoche
"Forget about being clever, and simply remain." Guru Rinpoche, Treasures from Juniper Ridge
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby Roland » Sun Apr 06, 2014 4:58 am

I am always contemplating death and impermanence. It all passes and is constantly morphing. These things I know very deeply. The problem I have is knowing that at the same time that my body is shutting down... easier said than done, so to speak. With most difficult circumstances, I welcome them with openness because an opportunity has presented itself to practice. There wouldn't be much genuine practice if every thing always went well, I think.

I appreciate your responses. Maybe if I go into a little more detail?

For example, one health problem I had for about a month was severe, debilitating stomach pain after I ate. I assume it was some sort of tear, but the western medical paradigm failed me as they so often do. I wasn't anxious, but the pain was so brutal that I would be crawling on my hands and knees, dizzy, blurred vision and it was the only time I've cried as an adult from physical pain. This is an entire level of pain that I didn't even know was possible. At some point in the thick of it, I accepted death - I wasn't afraid of it, so I did learn something. I thought it would actually be better. When the body is completely broken, it is literally not worth it anymore. I wasn't suicidal, but there were times that I was totally ready to die. Does this make sense? I wasn't afraid of death, I am afraid of all the horrendous agony that might lead up to death, when it is happening.

The most recent issue was that I was having violent allergic reactions and poisoning. The heart was stopping, beating fast, slowing down, asthma attacks, confusion, severe inflammation, extreme fear and anxiety because of it. This happened multiple times per day for about a month, and again the medical community failed me. I had anxiety this time and it was caused by the poisoning because my brain was being attacked, but I was also terrified because I felt like no one could help me (and oh how true this is in the big picture! :) ). Again, I don't think I was afraid of dying, but what ever the hell was happening was itself terrifying and I knew not the cause at first. I'm OK now, but I think I'm traumatized and I have all these little glitches. So this is where I had my biggest problems with practice. Clearly, I have much work to do. I'm not intending to diminish someone else's experience, and I know not other's pain, but I think if it was a lifelong chronic condition, I could have more time to adapt and merge practice with the pain.

But I have these sudden, severe cataclysms and everything is in a state of chaos then it suddenly disappears one day. These are not all my experiences like this I've explained here, but I expect them to happen again and maybe I'm dooming myself by thinking so. What I'm trying to point to is I can think that this will disappear, its all impermanent, it will pass, but none of that mattered when my body was shutting down. I think it is the extreme fear that is overwhelming all else, and I'm in a way collapsing onto the fear and it just spirals from there. Like I know that I'm not my body, but it still terrifies me when it basically starts attacking itself.... samsara, eh?

I'm a very happy person in general and usually peaceful except for times like these described. What happens when I do actually die? Seems to me that, leading up to that moment, I will just be lost in a sea of confusion if this pattern continues...
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby Roland » Sun Apr 06, 2014 4:59 am

ReasonAndRhyme wrote:I can't say anything about this from experience, but I think maybe you'll find Garchen Rinpoche's biography inspiring. He was imprisoned by the Chinese for 20 years - certainly a hell experience - and is one of the most inspiring teachers of our time. Christina Lundberg made a wonderful documentary about him:

For the Benefit of all Beings - The Extraordinary Life of Garchen Triptul Rinpoche


Rinpoche's story is so absolutely incredible. I went to one of his retreats and melted. When I watch that documentary, I melt. I think I will watch it again since you've mentioned it. Thank you.
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby bob » Sun Apr 06, 2014 5:42 am

Roland wrote:What happens when I do actually die? Seems to me that, leading up to that moment, I will just be lost in a sea of confusion if this pattern continues...



“I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens.”
― Woody Allen

:consoling:
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby Andrew108 » Sun Apr 06, 2014 6:12 am

Hi Roland, I guess the key question is how can practice be of use to you during the times when you are suffering so much? May be we should talk about that.
The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby JKhedrup » Sun Apr 06, 2014 6:19 am

When my teacher was bedridden with liver disease and unable to teach, he asked his best friend to read "the Life of Milarepa" to him. Everyday for two hours, he would listen to the story and focus his mind on its meaning, which took the focus off the pain.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby Andrew108 » Sun Apr 06, 2014 6:32 am

I guess you have read the following article: http://www.tricycle.com/onpractice/pain ... g?page=0,1

I like what Darlene Cohen has said:

"Just as a clay Buddha cannot go through water and a wood Buddha cannot go through fire, a goal-oriented healing practice cannot permeate deeply enough. We must penetrate our pain so thoroughly that illness and health lose their distinction, allowing us just to live our lives. Our relief from pain and our healing have to be given up again and again to set us free of the desire to be well. Otherwise, getting well is just another hindrance to us, like any other achievement. Fortunately for our ultimate freedom, recurring illness is like a villain stomping on our fingertips as we cling desperately to our healthy, functioning bodies. Healing ourselves is like living our lives. It is not a preparation for anything else, nor a journey to another situation called wellness. It is its own self; it has its own value. It is each thing as it is."

She has been through a lot of physical pain herself. So maybe there is some value in what she says. I have said many times in this forum that Buddhist practice is fundamentally an appreciation of non-fixation. This isn't about realizing a goal through applying non-fixation. More it is the idea that in life itself there are no preferred ways to be. It would be an acceptance of the principle that everything belongs.
The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby lobster » Sun Apr 06, 2014 11:45 am

I wasn't anxious, but the pain was so brutal that I would be crawling on my hands and knees, dizzy, blurred vision and it was the only time I've cried as an adult from physical pain.


Understood.

:consoling:

The only thing in the face of such extremity is to practice when such an overwhelming experience is not there and ask others to do puja for you. It sound like you could do nothing. :crying:
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby LastLegend » Sun Apr 06, 2014 6:37 pm

Just care not about it dude.

Learn more about American Macrobiotics: http://www.macroamerica.com/the-basic-m ... ategories/

And Kushi Institute: http://www.kushiinstitute.org
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby theanarchist » Sun Apr 06, 2014 6:54 pm

bob wrote:
You chose this life to have these experiences as a way to explore what you are made of, especially in the midst of extreme physical distress. By nature, we are curious and fearless spirit beings, and so we try to taste all sorts of possibilities of experience, both human and otherwise, pleasant and otherwise. Your practice is not "in spite of" the pain, but the pain and its attendant issues IS the practice.:




Sorry, but this is a buddhist forum. And in buddhism there is absolutely NO notion of a normal sentient being able to CHOSE any rebirth.

Chosing a specific rebirth is something that only bodhisattvas can do. So please, spare us this esoteric mumbo jumbo.


Because the cynical and appalling idea that nazi concentration camp victims CHOSE that "experience" lurks just around the corner with this ideology.


In such a state of mind I would get my favourite teachings of my favourite buddhist teachers on DC and listen to them, to distract myself from this desolalte state of mind. Mantra recitation might also help.
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby Luke » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:44 pm

Hi Roland,

I'm sorry to hear about your extreme pain. I once read a book of Guru Rinpoche's teachings in which his advice for sick meditators was for them to meditate many times in very short intervals (perhaps just 5 minutes). Maybe you can try this approach.

I suppose you could also try tonglen, which might be easy for you, since you are so aware of your own suffering.

Good luck with your practice. :namaste:
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby lobster » Mon Apr 07, 2014 12:25 pm

Luke wrote:Hi Roland,

I'm sorry to hear about your extreme pain. I once read a book of Guru Rinpoche's teachings in which his advice for sick meditators was for them to meditate many times in very short intervals (perhaps just 5 minutes). Maybe you can try this approach.

I suppose you could also try tonglen, which might be easy for you, since you are so aware of your own suffering.

Good luck with your practice. :namaste:


Useful possibilities. If Western medicine is not working for you then getting well with all the tools at your disposable would be recommended. Physical systems such as yoga and Qi ong, Buddhist practices such as Medicine Buddha. Dietary systems such as more fruit and vegetables and perhaps fasting. Terrible as illness is, you can use ailments as gates to increase your commitment to what will help you in physical and mental healing.

:smile:
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby Simon E. » Mon Apr 07, 2014 1:24 pm

theanarchist wrote:
bob wrote:
You chose this life to have these experiences as a way to explore what you are made of, especially in the midst of extreme physical distress. By nature, we are curious and fearless spirit beings, and so we try to taste all sorts of possibilities of experience, both human and otherwise, pleasant and otherwise. Your practice is not "in spite of" the pain, but the pain and its attendant issues IS the practice.:




Sorry, but this is a buddhist forum. And in buddhism there is absolutely NO notion of a normal sentient being able to CHOSE any rebirth.

Chosing a specific rebirth is something that only bodhisattvas can do. So please, spare us this esoteric mumbo jumbo.


Because the cynical and appalling idea that nazi concentration camp victims CHOSE that "experience" lurks just around the corner with this ideology.


In such a state of mind I would get my favourite teachings of my favourite buddhist teachers on DC and listen to them, to distract myself from this desolalte state of mind. Mantra recitation might also help.


:good: Well said.
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby Gwenn Dana » Mon Apr 07, 2014 2:00 pm

Roland wrote:I can expand awareness, spread out, continue practice, but when these health cataclysms occur, there is a collapsing down and I get a sort of tunnel vision where I am very worried, focusing too much on my health issue, which I think actually makes it worse and induces a sort of downward spiral. I am still able to keep up some kind of daily formal practice, but there is no connection with it. I'm just sitting there worried about my health instead of meditating.


When anxiety comes, tear it down with a thunderbolt of love. Mean it! It's illusion!

Best wishes
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby Matt J » Mon Apr 07, 2014 2:23 pm

If you are talking about physical pain, I know that Shinzen Young, a mindfulness teacher, has written a book on meditating with pain. Here is his synopsis:

http://www.shinzen.org/Articles/artPain.pdf

If you are talking about mental pain, that's the whole point of the path. For me, practice is practice for exactly those times of extreme stress. As a Zen student, when I experience stress, I don't try to escape it into a more blissful state. I have to meet it face to face, because it is as it is. When faced in this way, I have come to discover that the same fire that burns can also temper and make you stronger.
The Great Way is not difficult
If only there is no picking or choosing
--- Xin Xin Ming

http://nondualism.org/
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby Roland » Tue Apr 08, 2014 6:12 am

I appreciate all the relevant comments and I will consider and try to remember some of these tips the next time I am smashed with some sudden attack.

I know that ultimately, I will just need to figure out what works for me while I'm in the center of the chaos. I always get the strange, non-specific, multi-system, multi-symptom problems that most doctors can't diagnose. I am left to figure out what the hell is wrong with me on my own. I always learn a lot in many ways, so its perfect.

But I think things are made worse when I am directing the whole of my attention onto the health issue itself. See, I'm usually accepting of all things that arise within my experience. Something good happens, I know it will pass. Something negative happens, I know it will pass and I calmly do what needs to be done to correct the imbalance. So when I'm focusing completely on a health problem, I'm not rejecting it because I'm trying to figure out what is going on, but in the process of only focusing on the health problem, I'm in a way rejecting the entirety of the rest of what I experience. Does this make sense? In a twisted way, I'm actually rejecting all the other negative things, all the good things, all the neutral things, all that is going well in life, or "bliss" and only accepting the one negative thing. Sort of giving into the negativity bias of the mind. This is, in a way, more detrimental than trying to stay in a blissful state all day and blocking out all the rest of experience.

I am losing that continuity of mindfulness and awareness of everything else that is happening.

I'm fairly well convinced that this is my path at this series of moments in time. I'm usually not blocking out what I perceive as negative phenomena because it is the opportunity to practice. But there is a certain severity limit I hit when I get lost in the mess.
"Seek truth in meditation, not moldy books. Look in the sky to find the moon, not in the pond."
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Re: How do I keep the heart open in hell?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Apr 08, 2014 6:16 am

I think the depth of the difficulty will be incomprehensible for those of us who have never experienced this type of chronic pain.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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