General Discussions > Buddhism

Practicing Mindfulness while Crossdressing

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Sandra M. Lopes:
 Disclaimer: different Buddhist traditions offer different methods and techniques, according to the abilities and the understanding of the students. A good teacher will know what is more appropriate for their students to learn in order to achieve some progress. What I'm disclosing is appropriate for my own tradition, drawing from the teachings of the Tibetan Nyingma and Kagyü traditions. Other traditions might find this kind of training a bit strange!

In my Buddhist tradition, the separation of 'meditating' and 'non-meditating' periods of time is artificial and conceptual. It is only appropriate for absolute beginners: it is far easier to learn meditation when you're in a calm and secluded place, on your own, sitting down comfortably, and having nothing else to do but to look at your mind.

However, in real life, we can only enjoy such moments very occasionally — say, once per day, for half an hour or so. Most of the time is spent in our mundane activities, with which we earn money to eat, clothe ourselves, and get a roof over our heads. Such has been the case since immemorial days, and most certainly it was the same in the past.

My tradition tells the story of how a king received the Buddha and his retinue and explained to him that he could not follow his teachings, since he couldn't become a monk. Even long retreats would be out of the question: after all, he was a benevolent and fair king, and his subjects counted on him being always present to deal justly with every issue. It is told that the Buddha sent his retinue away and asked the king to do the same, to the big surprise of everybody. And then he told the king that there was a different set of techniques, which would allow him to practice mindfulness without the need of seclusion, long retreats, or becoming a monk — but of course the Buddha didn't want the other monks to hear that!

Tradition tells that these were the highest Vajrayana teachings, and that the king became so proficient in his training, that soon all his subjects, led by the king's example, became practitioners. Of course this is very likely just a legend, a nice story to tell students, and has little to do with real history. However, it nevertheless establishes a few important points, which are still true today:

* The Buddha teaches different methods to different people, according to their abilities. Sometimes those teachings are not appropriate to be heard outside of context (that's why in the story the Buddha asked the monks to leave).
* Not all methods imply seclusion and becoming a monk. There is no real difference in terms of results. However, some people do really prefer to become monks because it's far easier to practice that way. Others prefer the seclusion and isolation of a hermit, and that's how they become proficient. A few, however, cannot follow such methods, and need something else.
* The methods and techniques that do not rely on solitude, silence, seclusion, etc. are far harder to accomplish and therefore they can lead to frustration and giving up too early to see any results (that's why the Buddha taught the king, but not his retinue; he knew the king would not give up easily).
Story or not, we still have those teachings today. Yes, for a few centuries they were some sort of 'secret' that wouldn't be easily spread everywhere. However, by the mid-19th century at the latest (probably earlier), some prominent Tibetan teachers thought it was nonsense to keep them from the general public. I'll skip the historical bits, but just remember that Tibet was not a 'paradise on Earth' like so many people like to think today. They were a fierce people, fighting wars with their neighbours, and had constant internal struggles for power (yes, political power, not spiritual power). They had a very harsh society with little justice for peasants, who were little more than slaves to the all-powerful monks and lamas (teachers). Teaching the Buddhadharma to common peasants was definitely something frowned upon, or even forbidden. Fortunately for us, some teachers cared little about the social and political struggles in Tibet and defied all rules, because it was far more important for them to get people practicing the Buddhadharma than to please the 'powers that be'.

Ok! Enough talking! So what is the essence of the teachings allegedly given by the Buddha to this king?

Very shortly, as I said earlier: to understand that there is no difference between 'meditation' and 'non-meditation'. Essentially, a Vajrayana practitioner is supposed to be always in meditation — even when they sleep!

You might ask how this is possible! After all, with our daily life, nobody really has the time to spend sitting down in a corner, 24h/day, meditating in silence! Obviously, we need to understand a little bit more what this 'meditation' means, or else this doesn't make sense whatsoever.

In Tibetan, the word for 'meditation' is gom, which literally means: 'to become familiar with'. And what do we get familiar with? Our mind. That's what we do: through a series of methods and techniques, we observe our mind, and figure out what it is and how it works.

Some people like to call Buddhism 'a science of the mind' because it has such precise methods to figure out what is going on in our minds. Again, just the intellectual knowledge of how the mind works is not enough. A Buddhist practitioner wants to be able to do much more. But the first stage — and one that is relatively easily to achieve — is to keep our emotions from interfering with our relationship with others.

Often we see monks depicted in Hollywood movies as perfect saints, sitting quietly for hours and hours, chanting 'Om!' and showing an aura of perfect bliss. We might actually love those images of Buddhist monks, and think how nice it would be to be able to be like that, but, on the other hand, we also look at our daily lives and say: we cannot be those monks. After all, even monks have to eat, to have some clothes, and a roof over their heads. Someone has to provide for that all. We need a working society to produce all those things. And if we're part of that society, we cannot be peaceful monks chanting 'Om!' and doing pretty much nothing else the whole day. Right?

Well, no. Wrong.

Consider the following scenario: monks don't get easily angered. Why? Because they can watch their minds closely and carefully, and notice the precise moment when anger and hate seize their thoughts. They watch it emerge and become very strong — you clench your fists, you start sweating, blood rushes to your face. A non-practitioner gets angry and says, 'I cannot do anything about it, when I'm angry I lose my mind and become furious with other people, perhaps insulting them, or worse, hitting them.' A monk, however, feels the exact emotion with the same intensity, but, because he can watch very carefully how that emotion arises, and how it starts triggering a compulsive behaviour (verbal and physical abuse, for instance), they are free to choose what action is best, at that moment, and prevent the compulsive behaviour. So they are angry, yes, but they don't act as if they're angry: they're free to act however is best. Sometimes they just remain silent — even if their faces go red and they clench their fists and gnash their teeth.

It's not easy to explain how this happens, so let's give you another example. How often have you been angry at someone, have insulted them furiously, being sure that you were right to do so, and then, after a night's sleep, in the morning, you remember the conversation that made you so angry, and think: 'Oh, I was so stupid! There was really no reason to be that angry. I wish I could take back those words'.

So when we're calm, relaxed, and most importantly, detached from the emotion that triggered the compulsive behaviour, we are reasonable people, we recognize the futility of having been that angry, and we even know how to act best under the circumstances. Unfortunately, it's now too late: we took several hours to become calm and detached, and think about things carefully and reasonably.

What Buddhist practice does is to compress those 'several hours' into a single instant.

So, instead of being able to look back to what you did in the past, when you were subject to strong emotions that conditioned your automatic responses, what happens with some practice is that you can recognize this strong emotion 'building up' inside of you, and, before it has a chance to trigger an automatic response, you have the opportunity to think it over and choose the best way to react to the emotion.

This might sound weird because it happens so fast — literally, from one moment to the other. But it's certainly possible. If you're skeptical, so was I — very skeptical, to be honest. But once you see it happening to you, you'll see how well this actually works. Once is enough to be absolutely sure that the methods and techniques do get you some results! And then you can easily say, 'ok, I can sometimes notice some of my emotions rising, and, in a single moment, prevent an automatic response from happening. What I need it to do that all the time'.

This is not easy, and that's why Vajrayana practitioners, these days, also start first with silent meditation, like all other Buddhist traditions. It's far easier to watch what your mind is doing if you have few distractions. So you start sitting down comfortably and just take notice of your breath, which serves as a meditation support: notice, when you inhale through your nose, how the tiny flow of air passes through your nostrils; and then, when you exhale, you notice the sensation of the air through the nostrils as well. Soon you'll be even able to notice how the exhaled air is slightly warmer than the inhaled air.

While using breathing as support, all sorts of thoughts will appear in your mind. Some might be silly and stupid, like 'what am I doing this for?', others might be related to what you've been doing or what you're planning to do after a meditation session. In my tradition, we just take notice of when thoughts emerge, while they remain, and when they fade away. We don't change anything, just watch what happens. The point is not 'forcing' any 'good' thoughts to appear or 'discarding' 'bad' thoughts. There are no good nor bad thoughts, that's just our mind constantly labeling things. We just pay attention to when thoughts appear, remain, and finally disappear, without labeling them. Buddhist meditation is not some kind of self-help, New Age thing where you 'force' yourself to have so-called 'pure thoughts' over and over again, while discarding negative thoughts. In Buddhist meditation, all thoughts are the same, neither good not bad: just objects to pay attention to, nothing more.

Having many thoughts or few thoughts is also not important. Some beginners believe that they should 'empty their minds' and worry if they have too many thoughts. That's actually silly: the brain evolved to think, so having thoughts is the most natural thing for the brain to do. Having many thoughts just gives us plenty of opportunity to practice! In our normal, regular day, we always have lots of thoughts, but pay little attention to them; while meditating, we have the opportunity to pay close attention to them all, and that's why they seem to be so many!

It's also not a good idea to worry about missing some thoughts, or trying to recall them from memory — 'oh, I just missed a thought, let me think, what was it again?' That's really not needed. Just pay attention to as many thoughts as you can, don't worry about the ones you didn't catch, and don't 'force' yourself to recall them from memory, either. Just watch the ones you can and don't worry about the others. You'll get better with training! At some point, the thoughts will seem to be much less and it will become quite easy to catch them all. In practice, however, it's more likely that you've just become much better at watching them — and, as a result, your confidence in the technique has grown, your mind has become calmer, and this also means that the number of thoughts will decrease — only the important ones will still remain around.

For Buddhists, the word 'thought' actually includes a lot more: feelings, sensations, emotions, everything that your body or your mind does, is a 'thought'. The actual name for 'thought' is better translated as 'movements of the mind'. In certain Thai traditions, it's customary to pay attention to all the feelings — positive and negative, like pain or itches — of the body, starting to pay attention from the top of the head to the bottom of your body, and then back again. This is a good practice! My wife tells me that once she was even able to hear the blood rushing through the main arteries. I'm by far not that good! I just pay attention to when my back or my legs start to hurt. Then I watch the pain: like all thoughts, it appears, remains for a while, and then fades again. This can go on for a long time, of course; and sometimes, when paying attention to the pain in the legs, it goes away; other times, it seems to increase while I'm paying close attention to it! But this is not supposed to be some form of torture: if your legs are hurting way too much, just change their position, stretch them a bit, and get back to your meditation. But the important thing is to do that slowly and paying attention to what happens: notice how your arms move to grab the legs, the touch of the hand on the leg, the way you move your leg to a new position, how the pain subsides, how the leg, in its new position, now touches the ground again and gets new sensations. If you do that all the time, very slowly — slower is always easier to watch everything carefully — then you have never stopped 'meditating', because meditation is really just paying attention to what your mind is doing. All those feelings, sensations, pain coming and going, etc. are happening in your mind, and you're just paying attention to that.

And with that you might get a glimpse of what comes next. If paying attention to sensations and feelings is also meditating, then you are not limited to sitting down while doing formal meditation. Instead, you can meditate while walking. This time, just pay attention to all body sensations: how your feet touch the ground, how the wind blows in your face, how your hair is thrown around. With time, you'll go even further, and even notice how the leg joints move and send very subtle sensations; or how your feet touch the ground differently, when it's stone instead of earth and grass; or even how your jeans or pants subtly change position, touching your legs here and there, as you move around. This is walking meditation, and you can do it any time you need to walk from one spot to another. Now you know that Tibetan monks, when they end a session of formal meditation while sitting down, and rise to have their meals, never actually stopped meditating — they just do walking meditation instead.

I mentioned meals? Yes, of course there is also 'eating meditation'! Start with a small mouthful and just let your attention rest upon what you're eating. Chew slowly, let your taste buds savour the food, but don't label is as 'good' or 'bad' either, just take good notice of what you're eating, and how your tongue swivels the food around the mouth. Pay attention to how you chew, the tiny motions made by your teeth when cutting or grinding the food, and then swallow — and notice how the food goes down your esophagus until it enters the stomach (you might not be able to go that far!). At least one formal Vajrayana practice, in a different context, also includes walking/moving meditation (through dancing!) and eating meditation as part of the overall practice (which also includes chanting and silent meditation as well). It's very complete, and, for the eating meditation, to force practitioners to get rid of their idea of 'good'/'bad' food, or 'right' and 'wrong' food, everything is eaten together — meat with chocolate biscuits, wine with orange juice, slices of something very sweet with something very salty, and so forth. The whole point is to understand how each thing tastes differently but it's our mind that puts all those labels — 'you can't eat roasted beef with chocolate, it's so wrong!'. We have to go beyond those labels and just pay attention to our raw feelings and sensations without any labeling.

So, if you're able to meditate not only when sitting down in a relaxed spot in absolute silence, but also while walking around and even when taking your meals, this means you can now meditate for much longer during your daily routine! If you need to walk half an hour every day for work — that's suddenly half an hour of meditation, every day. Half an hour for eating each meal, that is perhaps another hour and a half. If you do half an hour of silent meditation on top of that, congratulations — you're now doing 2-3 hours per day of meditation, even if doesn't feel like that, and that's pretty awesome!

But you can even do much more and pretty much turn everything into meditation. Doing house chores, for instance, is an excellent time to practice, especially if you're alone and nobody else is bothering you. You can pay attention to what you're doing, while sweeping the dust, using the vacuum cleaner, and so forth. There are a lot of feelings and sensations — the noise of the vacuum cleaner, the dust raised up which falls again, a bit of table that becomes clean, etc. — and this becomes your support for also watching what you're thinking while doing house chores. As thoughts appear and disappear while you're cleaning, you simply watch them, while still paying attention to what you're doing. Yes, it's a bit harder than sitting down quietly. But with a little practice it doesn't become so hard.

I'm a heavy smoker, and although smoking is not politically correct these days, things were different in the 1970s, when smoking didn't have the bad stigma it has today. Some Tibetan masters even developed a 'smoking meditation' — paying attention to the noises the lighter makes, the sudden spark, how it ignites the tobacco, how drawing in the smoke creates a lot of sensations inside the mouth, how the taste lingers for a while and then fades, and when exhaling, how the air blown through the mouth or the nostrils slightly tickles, and so forth. So you can even turn a 'bad' activity (in this case, one that is harmful for your health) into a focus for meditation! In my case, to cut down on costs, I roll my own cigarettes (using a tube-filling machine), and that means every day I can do some quick meditation of 15-20 minutes while I'm filling cigarette tubes. Why not? I'm usually not being bothered while doing that, it's a very mechanical and repetitive activity, and, instead of letting the mind wander (or reading a book, which is what my wife does when she's rolling tubes), I pay attention to my thoughts and feelings.

I can even pay attention to what happens when I'm furiously typing on the keyboard! Every keypress is slightly different, and I notice how the fingers impact the keys, their slightly soft touch (at least it feels soft to me), the clicking noise, how the wrists get tired, how I have to shift position while typing, and so forth... so, yes, you can meditate while typing. And that doesn't affect the attention you're paying to your actual work! You're just being more mindful about what you're doing: instead of 'letting your mind go on automatic' while typing and doing your work, you're closely paying attention to everything.

So now we finally come to my last point, and which is the one that inspired me to write all this! I crossdressed way before I had any Buddhist teachings, but one thing I always noticed that I was much more self-conscious about myself. All those sensations of wearing women's clothing were so new, so refreshing, and I naturally paid attention to them! But since I always wear a corset and padding, that also means a lot of new places where I got new sensations — corsets rib against your skin, the padding needs to be snugly fit, and so forth — and these were very exciting and thrilling to feel! My male self never had long hair, so the sensation of wearing a good wig and feeling the long hair brush your bare skin would utterly thrill me, because it was so exciting, so new!

What I felt was that I seemed to have been swamped by new sensations and feelings, and I loved them all!

Of course, as time passed, and I dressed more and more, I might have lost that novelty effect, which wore off for a bit. I still loved a lot of things, obviously! But then I started doing Buddhist meditation, and after I was taught the walking and eating meditation, I thought, why shouldn't I do the same while crossdressing?

Crossdressing certainly has lots of opportunities to meditate! Obviously, walking around in high heels, and hearing the click-clack of those heels hitting the floor is always incredibly exciting. So I would focus on that, and see what my mind was thinking: where did all that excitement come from, how long did it last, when did it fade? But I could also focus on the body sensations: the leg is positioned differently, the feet might start to hurt from walking on heels for so long, but all these sensations were good to watch and observe. In fact, I tend to be able to walk on heels for much longer now that I simply observe the sensations much more carefully. Even when it's painful, I don't label it as 'negative' or 'positive', but just as another sensation, which, like all others, will come and fade away (even if only when taking off my heels!).

But all the body moves swiftly different. Of course, at the beginning, I would obviously continue to 'label' things all the time — how my body moves while dressed as a woman compared to how it moves while dressed as a male. I consider that to be a first stage: being able to observe carefully what the differences are. As mentioned, I use a lot of padding and shapewear — my figure is nowhere near 'female' unless I do so — and this also gives rise to new sensations, but also the strange feeling that there are now new things I have to worry about: walking sideways when having D cups means that sometimes I will not be able to squeeze through without bumping into things, and the same applies to my (artificial) hips as well.

I remember surprising my wife once. I was working on my cleavage, and wearing a relatively modest outfit which nevertheless had a sufficiently deep V cut to show off a bit of the cleavage. Although my wife is not that keen with my crossdressing, she tolerates it reasonably well (even more so recently, when she finally allowed me to go out with my friends), and sometimes, when she is in a good mood, teases me a bit about it. On that day, she joked about my cleavage, and, while doing so, she pinched one of my silicone breastforms. I went 'ouchie!' to which she laughed and said, 'you surely cannot feel anything there!'

Well, of course she was right — I could not 'feel' anything. However, at that moment, I was really paying attention to everything about my female shape: all the sensations, the different movements, how my body reacted, how my mind was excited with everything, and, because of that, I was really engaged in observing what it means to 'feel female' (in my own mind, of course). When she pinched my breastforms, I was obviously observing everything — and I noticed that I got an automatic reaction triggered, which would be appropriate for a real female with real breasts. However, I didn't catch it quickly enough — I'm not that a good meditator, not yet at least! — and it came out spontaneously. Afterwards, of course I laughed with my at how silly I was. Obviously I didn't physically feel anything, but my mindset was in 'female mode', and I was reacting as if those breastforms were real breasts.

This, of course, made me wish to practice mindfulness while crossdressing much more, and much more often. What triggers those feelings, those sensations? What is this 'female mindset'? Where does it come from? Is it just because I'm dressing as a woman, or is it something else? Why do I feel so excited, full with adrenaline, while I'm spending two or three hours getting ready to finish my makeup and go out with some friends — and when exactly does the adrenaline rush stop and I just behave 'normally' as if I was a woman? There is surely a moment in time when I'm excited and think, 'I'm a guy, but I'm thrilled to be dressing up as a woman', but that moment fades, and is replaced by 'I'm presenting myself as a woman and act and behave accordingly, and everything feels so much more natural to me this way'. Catching all those moments, observing all my thoughts during a crossdressing session, all this is part of meditation.

Remember when I said before that it's fine to have so many thoughts during a session of silent meditation, because you have much more opportunities to practice? Well, for me, crossdressing is a way to give me tons of opportunities. Not only there is a whole range of new physical sensations — from how the female clothes touch my bare skin, to how the corset and the shapewear pulls things into shape, to how the long hair brushes so many new places — but also emotional ones as well. When interacting with others, I also pay attention to how I feel while interacting. Interestingly enough, this completely dispels my anxiety and nervousness when I'm in public; even when I was stopped by the police in a routine operation to check for alcohol abuse. I was absolutely calm and relaxed; while still constantly observing my thoughts and emotions. In a sense, you could say, I was a bit like all those monks we see on the movies: happy, calm, relaxed, easy-going — not because they have been subject to some 'happy drug' :) but because, in spite of whatever feelings they have, they simply observe them, and act naturally in the most functional way.

That's precisely what happens to me as well. Of course I was really anxious when I was stopped by the police! What would they say? Would they force me to remove the hair and makeup in public, to be able to check my ID, and thus humiliating me? It's natural to be anxious about those things, so I most certainly had all those thoughts and feelings. But, ultimately, I was just noticing how my anxiety rise and think: is panicking the best, most functional choice? I'm not doing anything wrong. Isn't it better to act peacefully and naturally, like any woman would act, knowing fully well that I haven't broken any law? So, even though I might have observed all those anxious thoughts, at the end of the day, I was simply acting normally, in a relaxed and peaceful way. And, of course, nothing happened (our police is being trained to be able to deal with <transgender> people with utter politeness and courtesy), and I drove home without any worries.

So am I the perfect 'crossdressing meditator'? :-) Of course not! If I were, for instance, I would not get so excited when actually dressing up; I would just watch the adrenaline rush taking hold of me, see how it triggers all the excitement, but just watch it and observe it to fade. I'm by far not at that level yet. But I train every day, and what is best about this kind of practice is that it makes crossdressing so much more enjoyable — because I'm taking notice of so much more than before.

Mindfulness is one step towards higher awareness: that means being much more aware of what goes on, around you but also inside you, and it makes you live a much fuller time while you engage in this technique, because every moment is worth paying attention to — every moment is special. So even a small crossdressing session becomes much more enjoyable, just because you're paying so much more attention to every tiny detail that is going on.

And if you're like me, and love to be dressed for, say a whole day... that means a whole day of opportunities to meditate! Even if that's 'only' 12 hours, that's much more than what many monks do every day. So, as you can see, the wise Buddha knew what he was doing, when he taught so many different techniques, according to the skills and abilities of every different human being, and I'm personally very thankful to him and to my teachers who taught me so many different techniques. Because so many methods exist, we crossdressers can even enjoy meditation while crossdressing, use that opportunity to practice our mindfulness, raise our awareness, and therefore become better and more functional human beings.

Which is, after all, the whole point of Buddhist meditation: to make us better, more functional human beings.

Enjoy :)

Jacqueline S:
Hi Sandra,

Thanks for this interesting post. Being a Soto Zen practitioner, it's funny that I never would have thought of this before. But, mindfulness can always extend into every aspect of our lives, even the fun parts!  Anyway, cool post and I'll keep an eye out for future posts from you.

Jacqueline

Nari:

--- Quote from: Jacqueline S on December 31, 2015, 03:09:17 pm ---Hi Sandra,

Thanks for this interesting post. Being a Soto Zen practitioner, it's funny that I never would have thought of this before. But, mindfulness can always extend into every aspect of our lives, even the fun parts!  Anyway, cool post and I'll keep an eye out for future posts from you.

Jacqueline

--- End quote ---

You're Soto? :)        What lineage?  O.o

Wendyway2:
Hello,
I liked your post. As Buddhism teaches the practice of non-self when I am cross dressing, and practicing meditation in my temple, I know that self is all I have. Meditation teaches me how to respond and react, and it teaches me it is fine to respond and react. You mentioned your marriage. In a zen vedic sense my wife was extremely instrumental in my transitioning. She had written books on transgender theory long before I started taking estrogen. My buddhist practice helps me to reduce my fears to the feeling that I am loved as  a woman by another woman, and that all of the social conflict of seeming unusual or extraordinary resolves by itself, and completely on its own accord. That as I practice my dressing becomes an inner sanctuary, and my responding to her and she pronouns becomes the dichotomy of self and non-self that transgender woman reinforces to save all sentient beings.

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