2021-05-16-The Long Game-Conditioning and Skills
8:45PM May 16, 2021
So one of the things well known about mindfulness practice, Buddhist practice meditation practice in general is that it's very much based on being present in the present moment. It's a practice that aims to bring us into the present moment, more fully. And then to, but not just to be present for its own sake, which sometimes is quite lovely and profound. But to begin utilizing or engaging some of the potential that comes when we can be present for our experience. And some of the potential of mindfulness practice, that can be actualized, when we're present, when they're when when when we're in the now is really something that is, belongs to the world of time that the benefits come in the future. That the benefits we're putting in place, we're doing activities, we're doing the meditation practice in such a way that benefits will come sometimes, you know, well into the future. And so, what are those benefits? What does what is it? What's the what's what's part of the long game of meditation that, that we're engaged in here now. So I'll start with analogy of raising children. And so I had the experience I think probably plenty of parents have, have, when the kids are quite young, two, three, sometimes even four, five, maybe even older, sometimes that we might do a lot of efforts to do something wonderful with the children, and take them to some wonderful place, do some kind of wonderful activity at home, spend a lot of time to really do something quite marvelous. And as the kids grow older, they don't remember. There's so many of the things in what parents gonna remember were special moments, the kids weren't particularly special for the kids, they don't remember. And, and, but what so the event, the activity, that the experience, the conscious experience of something doesn't remain for the children. And the way sometimes for parents they do. But what remains is the is a few things. One is early childhood things that the kids don't remember is that they're receiving the conditions. They're being conditioned, they're being influenced or nourish, supported, impacted by the environment that they're in. So if the parents are, or the family or the environment is creating an environment where the kids feel safe, nurtured and loved cared for, that creates a very different conditioning for the child, than if a child grows up with violence and anger and being ignored and being dismissed and all kinds of things and very different conditioning. If they feel safe and cared for something, kids can relax, and they feel at home in the world, they feel comfortable. But if there's war and violence and anger and and drunkenness and you know, chaos, and dismissing and ignoring, then they don't feel like they belong, they feel like something's wrong. They feel they have to protect themselves, they feel tense, they feel afraid. And that each of those two scenarios creates a very different conditioning. And that conditioning can last well into a person's whole life. They don't remember all the details. But the conditioning has remained. And some people feel like even before kids learn language and have the words to remember what happened.
They're already being conditioned by the invite. dharmette not first year of their life in a very deep way. So one of the ways that meditation or Buddhist practice works of history, a very important part of it is that we are putting in place conditions that that conditioned us in a good way. And that influenced us on this, maybe even this subliminal, or a deeper kind of physical, heartfelt emotional level that, that words and understanding don't do. And so we are beginning to understand what are the conditions that are supportive. Now being. So that's one thing, this can be conditioning. The second thing I want to talk about metal bring these two together, is that you also see in young children, that a lot of what childhood is about is learning new skills, that they don't know how to crawl, and then they develop the skills for crawling, they don't know how to walk, then they develop the skills for walking, maybe with a lot of falling as part of it. They don't know how the skills of eating, and then they develop the skills for how they eat. And those skills sometimes develop, you know, greater, greater detail as they get older. And people who grew up when with spoons, eventually get forks eventually gets forks and knives, maybe even they're introduced to chopsticks. And they develop all these physical dexterity of how they eat. And it's a skill that gets developed. And anytime we're an adult, we're not thinking about that as a skill, I just kind of an obvious thing that we'd know how to do. But you watch little kids. And you see, they're learning how to do this. We learn language, we learn to ride a bicycle, we learn, all learn to put on our clothes for ourselves, and we learned all these different things. We're learning these skills, and these and these skills that we learn, we continue right up until we die, we're still learning skills and how to be and in this world, that's a very ordinary human thing to through repetition, through engagement that we learn mental skills, physical skills, maybe emotional skills of how to do things. And so part of Buddhist meditation practice, that has to do with time is that we are developing skills. And we get developing the skills of concentration, skills of mindfulness, developing a whole whole bunch of skills about knowing what to bring mindfulness to and what to include. We learn after a while that we should be mindful of the fact that we're drifting off in thought a lot, or we need to be mindful of our attitude as we meditate. I know that people can meditate without realizing that there is a anger, or a inverse part of their mindfulness, they're upset with something, or there's a a expectation that, you know, some wonderful things going to happen or there's some subtle thought that you know, this, I can't really do this, this is too difficult. Or there's greed or desire that's pushing, wanting some wonderful experience. So all these attitudes there until learning the skill of recognizing this subtle attitudes, that are somehow sometimes even tripping us up as we meditate or which are having an undue influence on how we meditate. And, and part of this skill is then to learn but conditions to learn that we we it's our job to put in place, the proper conditions that nourish us, that support us that allow for the growth and well being of who we are. Meditation is one of those. If you spend your time just watching movies on netflix or something or and if you only spend your time chasing after making lots of money or only spend time chasing after anything at all, you name it and you're preoccupied busy involved, then that's a conditioning factor. But if you spend time having a Sabbath, having time just to be quiet and still and, and content with your life as it is, creates a very different conditioning.
If you feel like you always want more than your conditioning, you're influencing the predisposing yourself, that you're always not enough for this all always more to be had. And no matter than what you get, there's always more. If you're conditioning yourself to be content, then you're more likely to be content, you know, or recognize that things are content, you don't need more and more and more. And this conditioning is not brainwashing, it's just taking the good qualities that we have and, and developing this skill to connect with them more often and remind ourselves more often and, and to cultivate the things that bring those about and bring them for it. Because we have, we have the potential of feeding ourselves good influences. So classically, the Buddha said, it's useful to spend time with good spiritual friends, spend time with people that represent values represents qualities of being that you want to be influenced by that you want to, you want those to be conditioning factors for yourself. If you spend time only with angry people, only with hostile people, then maybe that's what gets kind of encouraged, and returned back. So, so to take care of what comes in, influences us. And the more we're in the present moment, the more we can be the custodian, the caretaker of that. And we can make the choices, both choices about you know, to do something, as simple as you know, there's two freeways here, on the peninsula, there's one on one, and there's 280. And sometimes it's been more or less the same, which one I take maybe a little bit longer than 280. And I see that driving down to 80, which goes through to some nice, beautiful hillsides. And sometimes a year these, you know, forests and the mountains on the side and one on one goes throughout down through the airport and city urban areas in a way that's not so inspiring parts of it. And so just to go down to 80, I just feel better. I just feel more refreshed and relaxed at the end. But even if I go down one to one where it's maybe a lot of more traffic, and buisiness, and Smaug and, and stuff, then what conditions do I want to support to develop inside of me, it isn't just a moral obligation to be patient or be a driver that's generous to other drivers. But what I want to develop in myself, maybe I want to develop, I don't want to develop, being in a hurry. And being impatient is zigzagging out of the traffic to get someplace where do they go as quickly as I can maybe want to develop is driving in a way where I'm driving safe and content, as if I have lots of time. And this idea that giving ourselves time and driving and a content way rather than a discontented way or the pressure in the long game of life, those who begin to creating conditions that allow something deeper to unfold and develop within us. So these two things are a very important part of Buddhist practice in general, that Buddhist practice has a lot to do with putting conditions in place. And there's a lot to do developing the skills to do so. Could the some of these these skills, some of these conditioning factors are things like kindness. So we develop we develop the skill of being kind. Some of it has to do with letting go we develop the skill of letting go. Some of it has to do with you know, being generous and so we cultivate the capacity for generous become skillful at learning the art of generosity and how to give wisely there's all these this variety of different things we're kind of developing
this skill at being ethical conduct this skill of why speech, speech, which we feel nourished by it, when we finish speaking it, we feel like we've benefited from it rather than later we feel I'm so sorry, I spoke that way I was. So just mostly complaining the whole time we were together and I feel a bit drained and I maybe you do too. And so these are all called skills that we develop, we develop beneficial skills. So it's not only a matter of showing up and being mindful in the present moment, and developing present moment awareness and then trusting that all the goodness we have will come and take care of things. It's a little bit Magical Thinking We develop mindfulness of the present moment. And then we see more choice we speak with live a more considered life, we're more WISE WISE about things. Some people put a tremendous emphasis on religious experiences, they're looking to have a great aha moment, they've heard in Buddhism, there's enlightenment, and I want to get that experience of enlightenment and, and then everything will be okay forever after. Or, you know, I want to have this wonderful religious experience, that then I can go around and tell my friends, you know, the HA, you know, it's so great, what happened to me and when I was in retreat, and this great experience of happen, and it was so profound and so glad I had that profound experience. It's wonderful experiences that can have and can can arise in practice. And I don't want to diminish their importance. But to over emphasize them at the expense of the ordinary, day to day, cultivating skills, cultivating the right conditions, the long game, and some of this conditioning, bears fruit in far into the future. It's possible that as we develop generosity, or contentment, or capacity to be a quantumness, a capacity to be with pain and not to be reactive and afraid, or, or hostile or contracted. That's a skill. When was the skillfulness, of being with pain, it's one of the things I started learning in my early years of Buddhist practice, when I was living at Zen center, and a variety of different ways. I got the message and you know, Gil, be good if I understood how to be present for pain without the self pity, the reactivity, reactivity, the anger, and I would look for situations where I was feeling a lot of pain, but it was safe to do so. And then I would explore it and be with it and develop and develop this skill of being present in an economists way, open way, without being troubled by the pain. But being wise by it. I mean, it was simple things like sometimes we were carrying really heavy objects, I was working on the xencenter farm and we had to carry pharma limits. And so, you know, allowed myself to feel feel the pain in doing the work without up to a limit, hopefully, the healthy limit, but working with that edge learning about myself developing that skill. And then later in life, I had accidents or had things happen to me, where I was in a lot of pain, not because I wanted to be because there was an accident. And then I had the skill of knowing how to practice with pain. And that was really useful to learn how to let go. And not because letting go is you know, his you know, his moral obligation. It just you can live a much better, happier life when you let go, that becomes obvious as people get older. I have now come seems like I've come into that stage of age, the maybe old age maybe were with my friends sometimes. Oh, we, we go through we have a litany and I think of a litany is, you know, kind of a sacred repetition of a chant or something or piece of of something anyway, the litany of different different physical ailments that our bodies are changing and shifting as we get older. And and until learn how to let go of all the physical changes that you know, let go of how things were in an embrace what's happening now.
And finding some joy in it, okay, well, that goes now to this that this to this to that's a skill we develop. If you've never never let go of anything your whole life. And then something happens in old age where you no longer have an ability you can get bitter at the absence of that ability. But if you learn to let go and learn that only letting go but letting go into something great. You develop developed can you've conditioned yourself you've cultivated and developed a sense of peace and tranquility. love and goodness hear that letting go is not just letting go into absence or deprived state. But letting go is letting go the into this goodness that's been developed this goodness that's been allowed to grow and, and, and know that. So then, so we the skill of letting go comes together with how we've been conditioned how we've allowed ourselves to be conditioning and, and grow is, is, you know, part of part of the long game of meditation practice. So the long game, and so conditioning, what are the conditions you want to have in place? One of the interesting things about Buddhist practice and the teachings of the Buddha, he didn't put a lot of emphasis on causality, like we are, we are responsible to cause things cause our meditation practice to develop a certain way. But rather, we're responsible, putting the conditions in, that allows these for growth. So there's kind of both a removal of responsibility. And in addition of responsibility, we're not responsible for what actually happens. But we are responsible for putting the conditions the best conditions in place, so that something good can happen. So there's a kind of releasing of obligation or releasing of certain kind of self centered effort to make something happen. It's more like grace, it's more like, we receive all this goodness, we make room for it, and allow it to grow and happen. And, and that's one part of the conditions we offer is getting out of the way. And allow the goodness to evolve and develop. But we put in the conditions that allow the best conditions for that, to, to, so that the best can grow out of us. And so what are those conditions? So part of Buddhist spiritual life is reflecting and thinking about what conditions can you put realistically put into place that supports that law game that supports that influence you want to have the conditioning you want to develop? And what skills do you want to develop? meditation is a skill. And it's done by repetition over and over and over again. You know, when I when a first grader who taught her recently taught, recently listened to her recently, when she was Abbess of the San Francisco Zen center, she sometimes would watch new students come in to meditate to be new students there, and how awkward they were in their physical body sitting in meditation posture, and how they had to move and fidget throughout the meditation session. And then she'd watch slowly over the weeks and the months, their bodies would adjust, then they would find a way to sit and, and eventually they would sit in a very good, balanced, settled Zen posture. They develop a skill slowly over time to cultivate that, you know, settled place. So there's so many ways, some of the skills we develop are done by repetition over and over and over again. So I'll give you an analogy I've done before, I love it has to do with the old fashion, people don't have them anymore. I think telephone books that work, some of them are really fat, and they have very, very thin paper.
And you take a bunch of them and stacked them up on the floor. And then if you use them as a prop for a yoga, posture, yoga Asana, and, and one was that the triangle post, and if you give you a triangle pose in one arm is supposed to reach all the way down to the floor, but I can't get there. You have your heart, your arm, reach down to the top of the telephone, books. And then every day you tear off one page of the book of the books. So each day, it's almost inconsequential the difference, but slowly, in a way, it's imperceptible to you. Slowly, slowly, you're able to bring your hand closer and closer close to the floor until finally you can do the triangle pose touching the floor. So so the gradual growth, the patient growth, the patient developing of skills, that Craig patient, development of these inner qualities and that support us and influence us that are mutually supportive for us and the world around us. Kindness, love, generosity, truthfulness, wise speech, equanimity, compassion, letting go, relinquishment. seeing clearly Stopping and looking mindfulness itself. So So all this can get lend itself to the idea, you have to be busy, there's a lot of doing. But the idea of being busy, and a lot of doing doing doing, that is not really a good condition to have. That's not a really good influence in this process. And it's not necessarily one of the better skills, we want to develop skills of being busy. So there's a set as we pay attention to all this, there's a self correcting movement, we return to recognizing, what is it? How do we do things? How do we engage in Buddhist practice and all the elements of it, so that it has a good influence on us, so that we're developing good skills in the process. And so this is where we come closer and closer to the present moment. Also, rather than thinking of the long game, that we want to discover the goodness of what we do, in the moment that we do it as well, there has to be a good feeling that oh, this is this is nourishing, this is supportive, this is not stressful. And so being really busy doing too much, if you really feel in our present for that experience, you can feel it, this doesn't work. So, so developing skills, and putting together conditions, and to doing those things skillfully. And in a way that provides conditions of ease and relaxation, and enjoyment of this life, that way we are this precious life that we have. And appreciating this, this through your our role in putting the conditions in place and developing skills can give a life a tremendous sense of purpose, and value. And, and, and then it's not such a mystery how spiritual change happens. In fact, one of the signs of maturity in Buddhist practice is, is a real understanding of how to work with the world of conditioning in the world of skill building, and to have engaged in that for, you know, for a long time. And slowly, slowly, something develops and evolves over time. So the benefits that are immediate and the benefits that come through time. And I encourage you time to time to really consider the long game. And if you do so, then you'll be ready for old age, sickness or death. And these won't be so frightening or difficult, because you've put the conditions in place and you develop the skills that will support you even through sickness, old age, and death itself. So thank you.
And so one announcement, or so I'm starting a retreat this afternoon, a two week retreat. So the next two Sundays, I won't be here. But I've invited two wonderful teachers to come teach. And these are both teachers who have just got graduated from their teacher training. So they're relatively new teachers, though they've got a fair amount of experience already teaching and they're quite marvelous. I just delight in both of them. And and so next week, it's Devin Berry. And the week after that is Tara Mulay, who's been here for us teaching before. And so I think you'll enjoy them quite a bit, then hearing a different voice and different little slightly different the mindfulness teaching will be I think it'll be you know, you'll appreciate it a lot. And then I'll be back in a few weeks and oh, and we're, I'll see some of you in a weekday morning meditations. We do. Thank you.