Can there be a Practical Dharma?

It has been over a year since I posted here and there has been very little posted the past two years or more. It is amazing how quickly time goes by.  

My last post was about using mindful practices to deal with stress. In the past two years, I was working at the hospital as an administrator, working on starting an in-home behavior analysis practice, and maintaining a small ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) based private practice. Beginning 3/1/13, I stopped working at the hospital and I have given most of the in-home behavior analysis practice to a colleague (we are working to transition the last one to his company in April).  I will be focusing my attention on the small private practice. As part of that, I expect to have more time for this web site.  

Because of my experience in the past year (there were many challenging life events), I know there can be a practical dharma that brings peace of mind in the real world. Even through this past year, I was blessed to remain connected to the present moment most of the time. My meditation practice and mind training with slogans were pillars to that end. In addition, the practical dharma philosophy has been instrumental in maintaining equanimity even during the very trying past year, so I would like to begin sharing it again through this web site.

I made it through the past year with peace of mind, through the help of a practical dharma.


Using Mindfulness to Deal with Stress

In the past few months, I have been under more stress than usual.  (I have been attempting to start a psychological practice to provide Applied Behavior Analysis to individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, including Autism.)  It has been stressful for a number of reasons that are irrelevant;  we all feel stress at times. 

I display a symptom that is pretty common when I'm under stress; I typically wake up around 3:00AM with a sense of dread and all sorts of worries about the problems I am trying to solve.  It is highly unlikely there is anything I can actually do about these problems at 3:00, but the worry is often very persistent.  In fact, it is so persistent it frequently interferes with sleep, which is very maladaptive since I need to be well rested to effectively deal with the problems when I actually can do something about them. 

I lost sight of another great use for the practice of Mindfulness.  Since I remembered I could use Mindfulness when I'm under acute stress, I have been able to solve the problem of worries that occur in the middle of the night.  I simply lay still in the present moment with an empty mind, while I just wait for whatever comes next (usually natural sleep).  How did I forget about this? 

I often forget the most important things when I'm all stressed out.


Lojong 20 Practice even when distracted.

5. Yardsticks (16 - 20)

(Become aware when I am distracted).

This saying is near and dear to me since like so many others, I struggle with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  I find it amusing that so many people who are critical of those who struggle with this, are merely unaware of their own issues in this area. 

I admit that when I was a child and adolescent my difficulties may have been worse.  I was a terrible student until I got to college.  Parents of children with this problem take heart, I now have a PhD, a post professional masters in healthcare administration, and a number of high level Certifications.  In college, I began my meditation practice and my beginning work in self-discovery by majoring in psychology. 

In practice, the method underlying this saying is the same as that for developing mindfulness.  When I become aware that I am distracted, I simply return to the present moment, task at hand, person I am with, or whatever is appropriate (in that moment).  As I develop more skill at becoming aware of those moments when my distraction (lack of mindfulness) begins, these become much easier to deal with.

The position of the Practical Dharma is that we are all only human and live in a real world.  Based on this, the goal of the Practical Dharma is not to transend to perfect enlightenment, but merely to be in this moment more often.  There are many sayings that address this issue, like Lojong 26 Give up hoping for results.  (Especially, hoping that all of this effort will result in perfect enlightenment.) 

In this real world, the "best" I can hope for is to beecome aware when I am distracted.



Lojong 13) Be grateful to everyone

3. Using Adversity (11 – 15)

Obstacles presented by others are some of the very best opportunities to develop.

    You may begin using this saying with the most obvious opportunities.  This occurs when we encounter the irritating and sadly unenlightened people we meet each day.  These are people like the rude ones who honk at us from their cars, or break in line, or are incompetent at their jobs.  I recently had a "customer service" experience with my cellular telephone carrier that was a huge opportunity for me to learn from adversity.  (Why yes, it was AT&T, how did you know?)  I will not burden you with all of the details.  The point is that while I may have compassion for the ignorance and suffering the "service representatives" cause for themselves and others, I still have to take care of business.  I attempted to do this without becoming so perturbed that it interfered with my peace of mind, while at the same time holding on to the energy needed to do what it took to resolve the issue.  (Such as send a registered letter to the company president, contact my state attorney general, etc.)  I was just trying to be funny when I called my issue with AT&T, "the mother of all Jihads".)  My issue was resolved after a few weeks.

     I felt anger and compassion for the ignorance of the "service representatives".  Anger for the obvious reason, and compassion because they were obviously stuck in an employment situation in which they were instructed by someone to say, "we don't have to refund all the money; do you want the $150.00 or not".  (I was able to obtain the entire $1200 that AT&T owed me.)

     However, I contend this sort of situation is relatively easy to use as an opportunity because there is a clear discrimination, from my expectation of what will happen to that which actually occurred.  The same is true of the honked horn.  It may actually jar me into awareness of the opportunity it presents to examine my own issues; and it abruptly challenges my ability to have compassion in action.  These abrupt and clearly external situations are easier than situations in relationships with others that are maintained on a daily or even intimate basis.

     In these intimate relationships, the emotions, issues, and problems are more complicated.  How do I know when my own behavior has set the occasion for the behavior in the other person?  It is so much easier when the opportunity for enlightenment hits us out of the blue.  When it creeps up on us day by day, it is much harder to be fully aware.

     My suggestion for using this Lojong is simply start with the opportunities that are easily discriminated, then gradually work your way up to analyzing how your intimate relationships provide opportunities to develop.



Enjoying the ride to the cemetery

Meeting Buddha on the Road

I posted on this topic once before ( in January, 2006.  "It" happened to me again the other day.  There is an employee of the hospital that everyone knows because he delivers the sheets and blankets to all of the units.  He is a bit of a character.  He wears a uniform that looks a little bit like a police uniform with motorcycle boots (although it is in compliance with the uniform standard for his department.)  He rolls the sleeves of his (always) short sleeve shirt up, and sometimes I think I can see what looks like a pack of cigarettes in that James Dean style.  (This would be purely for affect because smoking is not allowed anywhere on hospital grounds.)  He wears his hair in a sorta Mohawk, although the sides are not overly short.  I have seen him ride up to work on his motorcycle.

I was taking a shortcut through the hospital basement when I ran into him.  He said he could hardly wait for Friday, even though this was Tuesday afternoon.  I casually mentioned that I had a good weekend, but that I don't like to "wish my life away by living for the future".  He picked up right away, saying, "Yes, you can't enjoy the moment you are in if you do that."  Then he said, "... like, you can't even enjoy a nice ride to the cemetery...."  He seemed embarrassed that he had said that and added some short explanation, "... like if you were going there for a family member ...."  But I was enthusiastic in my agreement with him.  I thought he said the most profound thing I have heard from the mouth of another in years!

I hope I can live in the moment to enjoy this ride to the cemetery.