Mara : Feeding your demon

Illustrations by Carole Hénaff.

I’ve began to take more walks without my phone these days, just me and my thoughts, no distraction. And I thought alot about my struggles with my inner Mara on my morning walk this morning.

What is Mara?

Mara is the demon that tempted Prince Siddhartha (Gautama Buddha) by trying to seduce him with the vision of beautiful women who, in various legends, are often said to be Mara’s daughters. In Buddhist cosmology, Mara is associated with death, rebirth and desire. Nyanaponika Thera has described Mara as “the personification of the forces antagonistic to enlightenment.” 

“the personification of the forces antagonistic to enlightenment.” 

We all have them, Mara, morph into different forms, trying to distract us from what we want to accomplish. I have been working on fighting one particular Mara that is draining my mental energy, my efforts seem futile, there are times I thought I’ve made good progress, then I relapsed, then I feel so guilty and bad about myself. The more frequent my determination is threatened by the Mara, the weaker I become to resist the temptation.

I feel sick.

Then I came across this article, and I thought, perhaps I’ve got it all wrong.

Feeding our demons rather than fighting them contradicts the conventional approach of fighting against whatever assails us. But it turns out to be a remarkably effective path to inner integration.

Demons (maras in Sanskrit) are not bloodthirsty ghouls waiting for us in dark corners. Demons are within us. They are energies we experience every day, such as fear, illness, depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship difficulties, and addiction.

Anything that drains our energy and blocks us from being completely awake is a demon. The approach of giving form to these inner forces and feeding them, rather than struggling against them, was originally articulated by an eleventh-century female Tibetan Buddhist teacher named Machig Labdrön (1055–1145). The spiritual practice she developed was called Chöd, and it generated such amazing results that it became very popular, spreading widely throughout Tibet and beyond.

The article entails methods to use meditation to “feed our demons” instead of fighting them. Which I found highly enlightening. Since I practice meditation every morning, I will give this a go and see how it goes.

Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. Bruce Lee

Meditation : Day 3, 30 mins a day

Some observations regarding my meditation practice.

Everybody practice meditation for different reasons, I have to quote Haemin Sunim again : I don’t have big ambition, I simply want to be able to enjoy my breaths.

Throughout this whole process of trying to better myself, it is very important for me to observe myself empathetically, free from any judgement.

It is no surprise that google is monitoring my every behavior, as this video of Nathaniel Drew pops up on my youtube feed, and it got me thinking, maybe I should set aside a time for my practice. Prior to this, I already meditate 10-15 mins daily, I do this rather aimlessly, I’d look at my clock before I start, and again after I finished. While setting a time goal may seem rigid to most, I think it will help me cement the habit. 30 minutes seem reasonable, so on Monday, I began.

5.30am, turned on the timer on my phone. 30 minutes countdown, and I began.

Instead of the seiza posture Olivier has taught me previously, I sat instead. I supinated my palms and layer them on my crotch. I have no idea what I was doing, I was simply trying to find a comfortable position.

Again, drifting, drifting,drifting, from thought to thought. Alot of re-routing my attention to my breaths. I’d drift then I’d tell myself to focus on my breath. Inhaled and exhaled slowly. Soon, agitation begin to set in, my legs are feeling numb, I felt like I was slouching (It would be fun to do a timelapse video sometimes, I am sure I wasn’t really sitting quietly) It is at this point that I began to tell myself, “Maybe I didn’t set the timer, this felt like forever ! I am sure I’ve passed the 30 minutes mark.” I tried to persevere, “Just hang on a little longer, I am sure you are getting very very close now.” And in the end I opened my eyes before the timer went off, and I always do so as if I have just emerged from the water.

Kinda funny if you think about it, this defeats the purpose of meditating, it was supposed to help me feel calm but towards the end I lost it. It was like Game of Thrones in my mind (I’ve never watched the series LOL)

Subjectively speaking, I did rather well

Monday : 2 minutes short of 30 minutes

Tuesday : 5 minutes short of 30 minutes

Wednesday : 3 minutes short of 30 minutes

My legs were so numb that each time I come out of it, I’d lay on the floor and close my eyes, and continue to focus on my breathing until I feel “recovered” from it.

Side note : I’ve just listened to this podcast by Sigma Nutrition, and Nick Gant, (he’s the director of the Exercise Neurometabolism Laboratory at the University of Auckland)

When asked what is his one advice to improve our cognitive function, he answered :”Just do one hard thing everyday.” And he briefly mentioned how meditating can be that hard thing that challenges our cognitive function. It really resonates with me. Sure, it gets easier with time but it simply isn’t human nature to sit and think about “nothing”. But I think, it is one thing that men perform exceedingly well, this explains why most monks who meditates are men. I am certain if my husband meditates, he will definitely do better than me.

 

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Haemin Sunim : Author of The Things you can see only when you slow down. Image credit to Penguin Books

 

Head under water

I put my head underwater,
I held my breath until it passed
Crossed my fingers and concentrated
I closed my eyes and I was free at last – Jenny Lewis 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a fear of being under water. I had a near drown experience in my life, and after that, I never had the courage to learn how to swim : not anymore.

They say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This is exactly what happened to me. The public pool is just minutes away from my house, and I bumped into a gym friend during one of my daily early morning walks. Casually, I told her I don’t know how to swim because of my fear of water. Long story short, she introduced me to a swim coach who works at the pool.

Years of irrational fear of water, dissipated after my first lesson with Connie, my swim coach. She was urging me on :”Come on, Simmy, you can do it, you can.” There was hesitation, I couldn’t do it in the beginning. I would breath, and exhaled, breathed, and exhaled, repetitively. Untill finally, I dived in.

As soon as I put my head under water, I knew the hardest part is over, I thought to myself instantly, “You got this in a bag.” I’ve crossed the biggest hurdle, the rest will be a piece of cake.

I was elated. Beyond elated. Like a baby first learnt how to crawl.

I can’t believe I am deprived of this for years : The experience of being under water. Everything feels so calming and serene under water, even in a dirty kids pool, possibly filled with urines and snorts. Nothing matters as soon as I get under water. I love everything about swimming, I love how you can’t float if you’re not relax, I love how so much concentration is needed, to the point that I cannot be distracted by other things anymore.

It is meditative.

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Meditation

Meditation

The goal is not to become this person who meditates everyday, but just someone who can sit and enjoy their breaths, even as little as few minutes a day – (Credit to Haemin Sunim)

Every morning I lay these towel on the floor, and I usually meditate with the morning muslim prayer echoing in the background. My house is literally minutes away from a mosque and each morning, the prayer goes off at 5am sharp. I’ve no idea what the prayer is about, but it gives me a very zen like feeling.

I drift alot when I meditate, some days I do better than the other, but I drift. Haemin Sunim insists we are all born with an awareness, and it should come effortlessly : it’s actually harder to not be aware of ourselves.

So I often use his technique in my practice, whenever I find myself drifting, I’d say to myself in my head, with his voice : “Ah…Simmy, why would you have that thought? Now, go back to your breathing, and enjoy your breaths.” I would do it repetitively, for I would drift constantly. I became aware of my “drifting”, and I have to re-route myself back to the state I was trying to achieve : the state of absolute peace and mental clarity. To be honest, I’m not even close.

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