What’s Affliction & How Do I Deal With It?

The mind is like an inn with one door.

When the mind’s functioning properly, guests check in, stay for a night, and then check out without fucking up the place. When the mind’s malfunctioning, that’s like locking the door. New guests can’t enter, and old guests can’t leave. Then they start trashing the place.

Thoughts, feelings, and impulses are our guests. When we let things be as they are, then the mind functions as it is. Mental forms come and go freely without leaving traces.

When we close our minds, that’s like locking the door. Then everything in us starts to spin in circles, becoming more and more extreme versions of themselves. Sadness becomes sorrow, frustration becomes anger, restlessness turns to fear, longing to loneliness and so on until there’s nothing but darkness and chaos in all directions.

Then, finally, we open the door for a moment to get it all out, but we do it by turning the darkness into harmful words and actions, putting it back out into the world-at-large (which is where it came from to begin with). The problem with that is that when we give darkness to the world, there’s more darkness for us to get back from the world.

Our words and actions set off an unfathomably long chain of cause and effect that affects an incalculable amount of living beings who then keep passing it on. That’s just the way things are, it’s not good or bad. That’s emptiness or dependent arising.

Practice means keeping that door open so that everything flows freely, and if we do lock the door, the practice involves working with the bullshit in-house, not vomiting it out via harmful speech and behaviors.

So if you find yourself afflicted—experiencing sorrow, jealousy, hatred, etc.—then it’s helpful to 1) neutralize it, 2) set it free, and then 3) let everything continue to be free.

“If sorrow is really compounded sadness, then is joy compounded happiness? If we keep that door open, don’t we close ourselves off from intense positive experiences like joy and love?”

Not at all. Sorrow is caused by shutting that door. It’s counter-intuitive since we usually equate positivity with light, but really joy and true love are the absence of sorrow and hatred, just like how a starry night is the absence of daylight. Joy, love, peace—these aren’t really guests at the inn, they’re what the inn feels like when the innkeeper is doing their job.

Tired and weary guests check in, rested and recharged guests check out. If your guests are even more tired and weary when they leave your inn, then that means you’re being a shitty innkeeper,

The way to be a decent innkeeper is to leave that door unlocked by being open to whatever arises, aware that everything’s dynamic, charged, and altogether.

If you find yourself burdened by affliction, that means you’ve locked the door by getting fixated on one of the stories you’re telling yourself. Instead of passing through you, it circles and rots in your mind. When that happens, we usually have to take proactive measures.

For me, that involves using three different meditation methods:

The Healing Breath

First thing’s first, I head somewhere quiet and sit down. Then I employ the Healing Breath by breathing in to the count of five, hold it for five, and then breathe out for five. I do that about five times or so, or until my muscles and posture feel relaxed.

Momentary Awareness

What we call the body and mind are really the moment to moment interactions of the sense organs with the environment. These interactions are so complete that there’s really no separation between us and everything around us. One nifty way to become aware of this is by concentrating on whatever our minds land on.

Start by not paying attention to anything in particular. Let the mind do whatever it does, including mind wandering. Then, after five seconds or so of that, randomly focus on something, it doesn’t matter what it is.

If attention moves to something you see, think “seeing” and concentrate on seeing for a few moments. Then let it go and do nothing again for a few more seconds. Then randomly concentrate on something else, maybe it’s something your hear this time. If so, think “hearing” and hold it in your mind for a few moments. Rinse and repeat.

We’re working with seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling, both inside and outside. External seeing is like looking at a tree, internal seeing involves our inner images. Outward hearing picks up sounds, inward hearing picks up thoughts. Outside feeling is touch, inside feeling is our emotions and impulses. So whether attention lands on something internal or external, label it seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, or feeling. Then hold it for a few moments before letting it go.

You’ll get into a rhythm after awhile, and then everything will seem to flow without solid boundaries.

Buddha Awareness

Buddha awareness is nianfo practice. I just slowly drone, “Namo Amitfuofo” aloud, focusing on the sound. The louder the better, but if you can’t chant it loudly, feel free to murmur it, whisper it, or think it. If you’re chanting it silently, then focus on the sound in your mind. Feel free to go back to present moment awareness during breaks in chant.

As you practice, the stagnant negativity you felt will slowly ease and transform into the channas: joy, well-being, tranquility, and equanimity. When you see your feelings or thoughts transform, then you can end the session and go about your day, always mindful of cause and effect and the bright open space that everything passes through.

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