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My phone as my Ajahn

July 18, 2012

For some time now I’ve used my iPhone as a mental trainer. Because I am unable to practice in a monastery, I use simple tech available on any smart phone.

Mental training

One of the great aspects of monastic life is the ability to constantly train the mind to be compassionate, and still. I’ve talked much about the part of keeping it still, mindful meditation in the morning and evening. I’ve talked much less about training the mind to be more compassionate.

Like a muscle, causing your brain to feel empathy ‘flexes’ the neural connections for the emotion of compassion. The more you feel empathy, the more compassionate you become. I unfortunately do not have the links handy, but brain scans confirm the changes in both short term practitioners and the long trained monks.

My phone is set for the following mental reminders. Each time one pops-up I take a brief walk, or find a quiet place (lucky for me my work actually has meditation rooms) to exercise my brain.

8:00 AM – A positive fact IS a positive experience, savor it, and let it sink in.

We have a tendency to focus on the negative. If someone frowns at us, or does not say hello, we may let this bother us for a long time. We wonder why they would have done that, what we may have done to cause such a response.

But we do not focus on the positive experiences. If that same person smiles at us, and says hello, the good feeling that comes with it, if it comes at all since it seems to be expected, lasts briefly. We don’t recall it later that day and wonder what great thing we did to deserve it.

This reminder helps me to keep positive and negative experiences in balance. If someone opens the door for me, I let that feeling of their consideration seep in. If a coworker asks how may day went, or if most anyone is pleasant around me for any reason, I take as much pleasure from that as possible. These simple positive experiences, that are normally lost, need to be felt. This causes me to have a much more positive outlook on how my day is going.

12:00 PM – Recall Love – Recall Compassion for someone else – Extend that compassion to self – Feel that I am receiving compassion

This is a multistep practice that needs a little bit of time.

Step 1. Recall a time that you felt loving kindness. Try to recreate that warm feeling.
Step 2. Recall a time that you felt strong compassion and empathy for another being. This will reduce criticism of others.
Step 3. Extend that feeling of loving kindness to yourself. Remember that you must love and have empathy for yourself for no other particular reason. This will reduce self criticism.
Step 4. Pretend that you are receiving compassion from someone else. This helps reduce the amount of suspicion you have in the motives of others, as well as builds up you sense of self worth.

3:30 What lion are you feeding?

This is a reminder to feed that part of me that is loving kindness, empathetic, social, and compassionate. In each of lies two Lions, the aforementioned, as well as the self based, protective, instinctual side.

My thoughts, emotions and actions feed these lions and make them stronger. I want the Lion of compassion to be healthy and strong, well feed. I want the Lion of self centered instinct to be on a chain, kept in check, and not fed very well.

7:00 PM Beware the second date and the three poisons – greed, hatred, and ignorance

This is less a mental break and more of a quick reminder than the others. To explain:

When you are hurt physically or psychologically, there are always two darts of pain. The first is the actual pain you feel. I yell out in shock and recoil from the bee sting. Or perhaps I feel hurt of being disrespected by someone I care about. This is a normal and appropriate reaction.

The second dart are the echos of that pain, intentional or not. I could go throughout the day recalling the bee sting, remembering how bad it felt, making myself relive that pain. Or worse yet, I grow angry with that bee, or the person who disrespected me. I relive the event over and over again, growing angry each time and feeling that pain over and over. This is the second dart that we have control over. It is also natural, but only as an instinctual teaching aid to help the animalistic side of us remember to not step on those hot rocks, or mess with that porcupine, or challenge the powerful tribe leader too often.

Unfortunately, when that process gets into psychological warfare of ‘how dare he/she do this to me!’ then we obsess, make things worse, make ourselves miserable, as well as those around us since we are in a miserable mood.

As for the three poisons. I’ve heard it said that “Anger is a misunderstanding of human nature.” Misunderstanding is a form of ignorance. Which when combined with greed and hatred give us the three poisons.

Ignorance, Greed, Hatred. All negative karma stems from these three poisons. If I can be aware of, and eliminate these I’ll be in good shape.

Positive Review – Refuge

This is a great way to wrap up my day. I’ve usually mediated by now, and feeling good about myself. While laying in bed I’ll consider all of the positive experiences I had in the day. This reinforces the first mental training of “Positive fact is a positive experience”. This review nearly always reveals to me that there were far more positive facts that I should feel good about, than negative ones that my ‘other lion’ would like to be fed a second helping of.

We have to notice and remember these positive events as our brain is strongly biased towards avoiding negative things.

Taking refuge. This is the step of remembering where my heart and thoughts are safe. In Buddhism this is your buddhist community, the monks and nuns, and the Buddha’s teachings. For Christians,Muslims, or even atheists there are parallels.

There is a comfort in knowing that you belong to a community that believes and acts like you do.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 19, 2012 11:18 am

    Excellent Post, never thought about things in this manner.

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