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Unmoved by Mara

Monday, January 26, 2009 by Marianne Elliott

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Peppers and Eggplant
Shiny, happy vegetables at Queen Victoria Markets, Melbourne, December 2008

It might seem like a bit of a stretch to segue from tales of Gaza to fresh vegetables, but here I go trying anyway.

When I came home from Afghanistan I came with a few goals:

  • be around for times of celebration in the lives of my family and friends;
  • be around when the people I loved needed me;
  • heal my body, feeding it good foods and giving it plenty of exercise and sleep;
  • heal my spirit with some proper post-trauma counseling, lots of yoga and meditation, good friends and long walks;
  • keep learning how to practice my own personal peace in these times of war;
  • write a book about my experiences;
  • study psychology;  
  • become a qualified yoga teacher;
  • make space in my life for a loving relationship; and
  • to find ways to support other people to take positive actions to change our world for the better.

During 2008 I found ways to make most of those goals part of my day to day life, and it was a wonderful year. I studied psychology, I went for long walks, I hopped on a train with bags full of groceries and was there to cook Mexican food for my nephew's 4th birthday, I was there when a friend with a new born baby needed a hand to get the washing done and get dinner cooked, I completed the first module of my yoga teacher training, I discovered a great love and have been enjoying him every day ever since, and I've carved out a life that allows me to have two days a week at home to write.

A little over a week ago I decided that given all the wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables available to me here in Paekakariki, not to mention those growing in our own garden, it was time I fulfilled another long held aspiration and I bought a juicer. To kick things off on the right foot I planned to coincide my first week of owning a juicer with a little New Years detox. Mostly it was a breeze, I could eat as many raw, juiced or steamed vegetables as I liked as well as a vast array of nuts and seeds and several kinds of whole grains and pulses. But some days (especially day four, as it turns out) I found myself craving a cup of coffee and a sweet treat badly.

I held off and the next morning when I opened my special Dhammapada (which I know like to think of as a direct line from me to my friend's Grandmother) I found that she had this to say to me:

"As a stormy wind can uproot a frail tree
so one who holds heedlessly to pleasure
who indulges in food and is indolent
can be uprooted by Mara

As a stormy wind
cannot move a mountain of rock
so one who contemplates
the reality of the body,
who develops faith and energy,
in unmoved by Mara"

Wikipedia (I know, hardly the best source of information on Buddhism, but the best hit I got on Mara this morning) says this about Mara:

"In Buddhist cosmology,
Mara personifies unskillfulness, the "death" of the spiritual life. He
is a tempter, distracting humans from practicing the spiritual life by
making the mundane alluring or the negative seem positive."

I like to think, in my case, of Mara as those unskillful emotions that sometimes seem to be able to pull me so easily into their vortex: anger, envy, resentment, guilt, frustration… you get the picture. But Mara can also be very mundane, the seemingly harmless distractions that keep you from the work you have set for the day, the meaningless entertainment that distracts you from the task of facing your true feelings and questions.

A big part of chosing the path of practising peace is skillfulness. Practising personal peace requires the skill to resist the allure of Mara, to recognise those unskillful emotions and distractions and to let them pass without succumbing to their pull. One of the tools to develop that skill is seated meditation. But here in the wisdom of my special Dhammapada (is it magic? or just my willingness to find a message that speaks to me in whichever contemplation I turn to each day?) I found a reminder of another tool – and one that resonates strongly with the niyama's of yoga as well. To eat wisely and choose not to constantly indulge the pleasures of the flesh is another practice which can strengthen our resistance to the temptations of Mara.

So, I was encouraged and kept up my regime until the end of the week. Now that I've finished the cleanse I find myself much more sensitive to the effects on my body and my mind of those treats I love so much. One glass of wine last night and I was positively tipsy, a few squares of dark chocolate and I felt it all the way to my finger tips. Unbelievably, I'm now half way through my first full day after the cleanse and I'm yet to have my first coffee. I'm a bit nervous, to be honest about the effect it might have on me! Maybe a cup of coffee will be just what I need to give the courage to take my new surfboard out for a try?

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4 Responses to "Unmoved by Mara"

  1. amy says:

    some days you come across the words that you needed to read. thank you!

  2. Swirly says:

    Too much to write! Will email you…in the meantime, here’s a hug!! (((((((HUG)))))))

  3. susanna says:

    What a terrific post! You always get me thinking beyond my own little world. I hadn’t heard of Mara before. For me, I think Mara would include being distracted by the little mundane chores instead of doing what I really want to achieve in my day, in my life. I can see how it can eventually lead to a spiritual death, if not simply wasting opportunity and time. Food for thought. Thank you.
    And good for you for completing your cleanse. You must feel amazing!

  4. a says:

    Strange how the world works. I’ve just STARTED a cleanse. Me and my mom…it’s arduous! 🙁
    Mara..never heard of that before. So useful, I love learning such “laws of the universe”.. 🙂 Lovely post

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