On July 25, 2009 Professor Pei Yang (楊蓓教授) spoke of the stories and perspectives behind the writing of her recent book "Courage and Freedom" (勇氣與自由). Combining her unique background as sociologist, psychiatrist, professor, philosopher, mother, author and dedicated disciple at Dharma Drum Mountain (Taipei) she shined light on some simple tools for relaxing and regaining freedom of the mind.
"There's never any physical freedom - only mind freedom" - Professor Yang
Writing the book wasn't easy, it took Prof. Yang nearly three years to complete the task because "my mind wasn't transparent enough" she concedes. Courage and freedom are two very appropriate words to describe this inherent task at hand and topic of today's discussion. In essence, how to thine own self be true"?
The difficulty most people face is that our mind is generally stuck: trapped by frustrations and "filled with thoughts that follow us like mosquitos" incants Prof. Yang.
Take a single action for example - a single choice about doing something you want - notice the internal dialogue uncontrollably erupting forth. Even when people sleep their thoughts still haven't stopped.
How much can we truly say "我就是我自己” （“I'm am myself!")?
Social values affect us. We use our subjective perspectives to understand a thought and often use a different perspective for our thoughts about others. Prof. Yang continues in rumination with the group: "Our mind is a very sticky thing, it always gets stuck on whatever is attractive." When attracted to anything we become vulnerable to the mental trap of attaching our attention so tightly that we can't see clearly anymore. As soon as your mind becomes fixated to something - that something has now usurped the role of master. The attraction controls you more than you can control yourself.
Tangentially, we easily allow our sense of "self" to be influenced by external influencers. A social value for example, may judge a phenomena as "good" or "bad". By attaching to that external valuation we become susceptible to seeing ourself and others in a negative light.
If we don't like the feeling of "self" we tend to run away to avoid looking at ourselves. This is where Courage is a useful tool: Courage to look at your own ugliness, your unfairness, your anger, and so on. We must have courage to look squarely at our own hurt and sadness. Look at every layer of your ugliness to see its truth. Recognizing that these layers could be endless until the day you reach enlightenment. This search through our many layers of self is what makes life so very interesting - and courage is a critical element in this process.
Courage is again called upon when you take responsibility for doing what you know you ought to. In fact, much of the frustration and suffering we experience is because we resist taking responsibility. For Buddhist practitioners, "做我自己” （“be myself") pertains foremost to the mind. When freedom of the mind is achieved, the of taking responsibility and seeing oneself and others clearly becomes effortless.
Following this brief introduction of Courage and Freedom, Professor Yang opened the space for Questions & Answer. Participants immediately launched into asking "How?" How do we begin to gain control of our mind? How do manage the obscurations of emotions? How do we generate the courage that will help of gain freedom of mind? Amongst the "How's"..... came a voice asking "Prof. Yang, would you please show us how to meditate?"
The first step in meditation is being able to relax ourselves, so let's start there. Prof. Yang turned on beautiful Tibetan flute music and step-by-step talked us through the process of sitting properly: straight back, closing our eyes and mentally focusing on the relaxation of each part of our body.
We're reminded not to think much at all, don't pursue "防空“ (Emptiness) as that objective becomes a pressure and a thought as well. "放鬆” (Releasing) means letting your thoughts come and go without following them. Continuously let things move on.
With that peaceful closing of the session the audience left the afternoon talk with a smile and a little more lightness of being.
Here's to your relaxation, your courage and your freedom!