Friday, December 31, 2004

New Year's Eve Friday Cat Blogging!

Whoops! I almost forgot it's Friday. So we HAVE to have cats!

Simon Burgess, of course

And Leroy Finlay

I'll try to get the cats posted earlier in the day next Friday!

Email Activism

I got an email today from my dear friend Lance Moody who has joined with other spouses of bishops in a letter writing campaign to protest the amount of money being spent on the inauguration. The protest action is to write to President Bush suggesting that there be a simple, private inauguration like that of FDR during war time and that the $40 million saved be donated to tsunami relief efforts. Of course it will never happen but the campaign could have quite an impact and make an important statement if enough people would do it. I have already emailed the president to that effect and I urge everyone reading this to do so as well. Here is his email address:

I also want to urge everyone to remember the Tonglen practice of extending compassion to all beings. First, as always, give yourself compassion. Then do Tonglen for the victims of the tsunami and for the relief workers as well. And when you email the President, do Tonglen for him. It will keep your heart open and will purify any judgment in your consciousness. Then be sure to do the practice for others who are like you and who feel the way you do. Do Tonglen whenever any disturbing news comes to your attention. It will help you experience solidarity with others and it will enable you to remain truly in the moment no matter what information comes into your awareness.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

More tsunami relief avenues

These agencies are also very reputable and experienced with relief efforts. I can recommend them with confidence.


AFSC (Americans Friends Service Committee) (Quakers)


Avoiding glib explanations

To my mind one of the best newspapers in the world is the Guardian in the UK. ( I log on every morning to get my news and to read commentaries that I can count on to be well written and stimulating. Of course, sometimes I come across an article whose point of view I find troubling and that was the case on Tuesday. Martin Kettle wrote an article entitled, "How can religious people explain something like this?" He was referring, needless to say, to the recent tsunami disaster. The great religious traditions, however, have never offered explanations for such events. That such things happen is assumed rather than justified. And so the response of faith is not to ask, "Why did this happen?" but rather "How can I help?". I was pleased, therefore, to see a letter to the editor the next day that spoke to the authentic response of faith. I commend it to you:

God preserve us from religious people who attempt to "explain" the tsunami disaster (How can religious people explain something like this?, December 28). Explanations are based on theories, and to theorise about suffering is to degrade those who suffer. Belief in God enables us to respond to disasters such as this, but not to trump scientific explanations with moral ones. However, people of faith look to a horizon beyond the limitations of scientific enquiry and secular morality. It is a horizon at the limits of time and space beyond which eternity provides a perspective which might yet make sense of what science can only explain.
John Lincoln
Bishop of Lincoln

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tsunami Relief

I am, quite frankly, appalled at the shamefully small amount our government has pledged to help the victims of the recent devastating tsunami. You realize how small $15 million really is when it is compared to the more than $40 million pricetag of the upcoming inauguration. (And that figure does not include the security costs.) Whole villages were wiped out; people's livlihoods were utterly destroyed. They not only need immediate help just to survive and prevent disease, they need assistance to rebuild their lives. The United Nations has said this is going to be the greatest relief effort the world has ever seen.

While I certainly don't discourage donating to organizations that are on the scene right away, what is really needed for the long haul is help in rebuilding. Did you know that it only costs $1,600 to build a house in Sri Lanka? Habitat for Humanity is involved in that long term effort. Donating to any relief service is compassion in action.

Here's how to help Habitat and two other worthwhile relief agencies:

Doctors Without Borders Teams from the organization are on the ground in the affected areas to assess medical needs.
Donate online

Episcopal Relief & Development Providing food, water, temporary shelter, and medicine to affected dioceses in South India, Sri Lanka, and other areas in Southeast Asia.
Donate online

Habitat for Humanity Staff in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh will help Habitat families in the affected areas and help rebuild houses.
Donate online

It's not about being a doormat.

One of my favorite theologians writing today is Walter Wink. He visited South Africa during apartheid, observed conditions there, talked to reform leaders and ended up writing a wonderful pamphlet entitled, "The Third Way". Well, just today I found an article by him summarizing what he meant by that title. Please check it out right here:

The Church has really done us a grave disservice over the the centuries by spreading the erroneous idea that Jesus intended us to become doormats when we are being oppressed. "Turn the other cheek" does not mean "lie down and let yourself be kicked." Read Wink's article for a radically different interpretation of that injunction along with other sayings that, on the surface, seem to be telling us to acquiesce to mistreatment. Authentic spiritual practice, no matter what the tradition, is never about becoming a masochist.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

New Foundations Class

This is just to remind you that the next "Foundations in Meditative Practice" class begins January 6th. This is a Thursday evening series and is suitable for both beginning and experienced meditators. The classes are from 6:00 - 7:15 p.m. and last for 6 weeks. Please call the Center at 663-4747 if you wish to register.

morning meditation class

after class converstion

Is your cup overfull?

One of the great Zen stories:

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup."

You might like to go to for more examples!

Sunday, December 26, 2004

A great Martin Luther King quote

Happy Boxing Day everybody! I'm spending a lazy day just checking in with the various internet sites I typically visit and came across this amazing statement by Dr. King. How true. Let us all dedicate ourselves to the activism to which we each feel personally called. And let us all be diligent in our meditative practice - a practice which leads to greater and greater compassion.

Here's the statement that so moved me:

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarisms ... We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the world. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -- but beautiful -- struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons and daughters of God." - Martin Luther King

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas greeting

May you don the breastplate of Wisdom:
protection of evergreens guard your heart,
brightness of pine,
sharpness of holly,
protection of juniper,
courage of laurel,
nobility of cypress,
endurance of yew,
health of eucalyptus,
splendor of cedar,
beauty of arbutus.
Nine evergreens to guard your breast,
this Yuletide day
this Yuletide night.
- Caitlin Matthews (adapted)

Friday, December 24, 2004

Friday Cat Blogging!!

Well, it's Christmas Eve and it's also Friday so we HAVE to have cats! Today I want to introduce you to Simon Burgess - Cynthia's wonderful kitty-boy. I first met Simon when his name was Lucky and he was up for adoption at Woodland Animal Hospital. I told Cynthia about him and she went to meet him and the rest is history. (His original name was very auspicious wasn't it? He's a lucky, lucky cat to have found the Burgess home.) One of Cynthia's screen savers has a picture of Simon with the caption, "Kitty from Heaven". He is quite wonderful and very photogenic. Here's a sample. You can count on seeing more of him on Fridays in the future.

May you all have a GREAT holiday and may kitties everywhere dream of catnip sugarplums dancing in their wee little heads!

Simon looking quite stunning

Simon in his precious little bed

Simon on the stairs at Cynthia's house

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Happy Solstice!

A blessed Winter Solstice to you all! Here's a little information from the "Relgious Tolerance" folks. Enjoy!

Origins of solstice celebration

The seasons of the year are caused by the 23.5ยบ tilt of the earth's axis. Because the earth is rotating like a top or gyroscope, it points in a fixed direction continuously -- towards a point in space near the North Star. But the earth is also revolving around the sun. During half of the year, the southern hemisphere is more exposed to the sun than is the northern hemisphere. During the rest of the year, the reverse is true. At noontime in the Northern Hemisphere the sun appears high in the sky during summertime and low in the sky during winter. The time of the year when the sun reaches its maximum elevation occurs on the day with the greatest number of daylight hours. This is called the summer solstice, and is typically on JUN-21 -- the first day of summer. "Solstice" is derived from two Latin words: "sol" meaning sun, and "sistere," to cause to stand still. The lowest elevation occurs about DEC-21 and is the winter solstice -- the first day of winter, when the night time hours are maximum.

In pre-historic times, winter was a very difficult time for Aboriginal people in the northern latitudes. The growing season had ended and the tribe had to live off of stored food and whatever animals they could catch. The people would be troubled as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky each noon. They feared that it would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. After the winter solstice, they would have reason to celebrate as they saw the sun rising and strengthening once more. Although many months of cold weather remained before spring, they took heart that the return of the warm season was inevitable. The concept of birth and or death/rebirth became associated with the winter solstice. The Aboriginal people had no elaborate instruments to detect the solstice. But they were able to notice a slight elevation of the sun's path within a few days after the solstice -- perhaps by Dec.25. Celebrations were often timed for about the 25th.

December celebrations in many faiths and locations - ancient and modern

ANCIENT EGYPT: The god-man/savior Osiris died and was entombed on DEC-21. "At midnight, the priests emerged from an inner shrine crying 'The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing" and showing the image of a baby to the worshipers."

ANCIENT GREECE: The winter solstice ritual was called Lenaea, the Festival of the Wild Women. In very ancient times, a man representing the harvest god Dionysos was torn to pieces and eaten by a gang of women on this day. Later in the ritual, Dionysos would be reborn as a baby. By classical times, the human sacrifice had been replaced by the killing of a goat. The women's role had changed to that of funeral mourners and observers of the birth.

ANCIENT ROME: Saturnalia began as a feast day for Saturn on DEC-17 and of Ops (DEC-19). About 50 BCE, both were later converted into two day celebrations. During the Empire, the festivals were combined to cover a full week: DEC-17 to 23. By the third century CE, there were many religions and spiritual mysteries being followed within the Roman Empire. Many, if not most, celebrated the birth of their god-man near the time of the solstice. Emperor Aurelian (270 to 275 CE) blended a number of Pagan solstice celebrations of the nativity of such god-men/saviors as Appolo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, and Theseus into a single festival called the "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun" on DEC-25. At the time, Mithraism and Christianity were fierce competitors. Aurelian had even declared Mithraism the official religion of the Roman Empire in 274 CE. Christianity won out by becoming the new official religion in the 4th century CE.

ATHEISTS: There has been a recent increase in solstice observances by Atheists in the U.S. For example, The American Atheists and local Atheist groups have organized celebrations for 2000-DEC, including the Great North Texas Infidel Bash in Weatherford TX; Winter Solstice bash in Roselle NJ; Winter Solstice Parties in York PA, Boise ID, North Bethesda MD, and Des Moines IA; Winter Solstice Gatherings in Phoenix AZ and Denver CO: a Year End Awards and Review Dinner (YEAR) in San Francisco, CA.

BUDDHISM: On DEC-8, or on the Sunday immediately preceding, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day (a.k.a. Rohatsu). It recalls the day in 596 BCE, when the Buddha achieved enlightenment. He had left his family and possessions behind at the age of 29, and sought the meaning of life -- particularly the reasons for its hardships. He studied under many spiritual teachers without success. Finally, he sat under a pipal tree and vowed that he would stay there until he found what he was seeking. On the morning of the eighth day, he realized that everyone suffers due to ignorance. But ignorance can be overcome through the Eightfold Path that he advocated. This day is generally regarded as the birth day of Buddhism. Being an Eastern tradition, Bodhi Day has none of the associations with the solstice and seasonal changes found in other religious observances at this time of year. However, it does signify the point in time when the Buddha achieved enlightenment and escaped the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth through reincarnation -- themes that are observed in other religions in December.

CHRISTIANITY: Any record of the date of birth of Yeshua Ben Nazareth (later known as Jesus Christ) has been lost. There is sufficient evidence in the Gospels to indicate that Yeshua was born in the fall, but this seems to have been unknown to early Christians. By the beginning of the 4th century CE, there was intense interest in choosing a day to celebrate Yeshua's birthday. The western church leaders selected DEC-25 because this was already the date recognized throughout the Roman Empire as the birthday of various Pagan gods. Since there was no central Christian authority at the time, it took centuries before the tradition was universally accepted:

Eastern churches began to celebrate Christmas after 375 CE.
The church in Jerusalem started in the 7th century.
Ireland started in the 5th century
Austria, England and Switzerland in the 8th
Slavic lands in the 9th and 10th centuries.

Many symbols and practices associated with Christmas are of Pagan origin: holly, ivy, mistletoe, yule log, the giving of gifts, decorated evergreen tree, magical reindeer, etc. Polydor Virgil, an early British Christian, said "Dancing, masques, mummeries, stageplays, and other such Christmas disorders now in use with Christians, were derived from these Roman Saturnalian and Bacchanalian festivals; which should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them." In Massachusetts, Puritans unsuccessfully tried to ban Christmas entirely during the 17th century, because of its heathenism. The English Parliament abolished Christmas in 1647. Some contemporary Christian faith groups do not celebrate Christmas. Included among these was the Worldwide Church of God (before its recent conversion to Evangelical Christianity) and the Jehovah's Witnesses.

DRUIDISM: Druids and Druidesses formed the professional class in ancient Celtic society. They performed the functions of modern day priests, teachers, ambassadors, astronomers, genealogists, philosophers, musicians, theologians, scientists, poets and judges. Druids led all public rituals, which were normally held within fenced groves of sacred trees. The solstice is the time of the death of the old sun and the birth of the dark-half of the year. It was called "Alban Arthuan by the ancient Druids. It is the end of month of the Elder Tree and the start of the month of the Birch. The three days before Yule is a magical time. This is the time of the Serpent Days or transformation...The Elder and Birch stand at the entrance to Annwn or Celtic underworld where all life was formed. Like several other myths they guard the entrance to the underworld. This is the time the Sun God journey's thru the underworld to learn the secrets of death and life. And bring out those souls to be reincarnated." A modern-day Druid, Amergin Aryson, has composed a Druidic ritual for the Winter Solstice.

INCA RELIGION: The ancient Incas celebrated a festival if Inti Raymi at the time of the Winter Solstice. It celebrates "the Festival of the Sun where the god of the Sun, Wiracocha, is honored." Ceremonies were banned by the Roman Catholic conquistadores in the 16th century as part of their forced conversions of the Inca people to Christianity. A local group of Quecia Indians in Cusco, Peru revived the festival about 1950. It is now a major festival which begins in Cusco and proceeds to an ancient amphitheater a few miles away.

IRAN: Shabe-Yalda (a.k.a. Shab-e Yaldaa) is celebrated in Iran by followers of many religions. It originated in Zoroastrianism, the state religion which preceded Islam. The name refers to the birthday or rebirth of the sun. People gather at home around a korsee -- a low square table -- all night. They tell stories and read poetry. They eat watermelons, pomegranates and a special dried fruit/nut mix. Bonfires are lit outside.

ISLAM: During the period 1997 to 1999, the first day of the Islamic lunar month of Ramadan occurred in December. The nominal dates were 1997-DEC-31, 1998-DEC-20 and 1999-DEC-9. The actual date for the start of Ramadan depends upon the sighting of the crescent moon, and thus can be delayed by a few days from the nominal date. This is the holiest period in the Islamic year. It honors the lunar month in which the Qura'n was revealed by God to humanity. "It is during this month that Muslims observe the Fast of Ramadan. Lasting for the entire month, Muslims fast during the daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and family. It is a time of worship and contemplation. A time to strengthen family and community ties."

Because Ramadan is part of a lunar-based calendar, it starts about 11 days earlier each year. In the year 2000, the nominal date will be NOV-27. Ramadan is thus not associated with the winter solstice as are other religious celebrations. It is just by coincidence that it has occurred during December in recent years.

JUDAISM: Jews celebrate an 8 day festival of Hanukkah, (a.k.a. Feast of Lights, Festival of lights, Feast of Dedication, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanukah). It recalls the war fought by the Maccabees in the cause of religious freedom. Antiochus, the king of Syria, conquered Judea in the 2nd century BCE. He terminated worship in the Temple and stole the sacred lamp, the menorah, from before the altar. At the time of the solstice, they rededicated the Temple to a Pagan deity. Judah the Maccabee lead a band of rebels, and succeeding in retaking Jerusalem. They restored the temple and lit the menorah. It was exactly three years after the flame had been extinguished -- at the time of the Pagan rite. Although they had found only sufficient consecrated oil to last for 24 hours, the flames burned steadily for eight days. "Today's menorahs have nine branches; the ninth branch is for the shamash, or servant light, which is used to light the other eight candles. People eat potato latkes, exchange gifts, and play dreidel games. And as they gaze at the light of the menorah, they give thanks for the miracle in the Temple long ago." Modern-day Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting one candle for each of the eight days of the festival. Once a minor festival, it has been growing in importance in recent years, perhaps because of the pressure of Christmas.

The Pueblo tribe observe both the summer and winter solstices. Although the specific details of the rituals differ from pueblo to pueblo, "the rites are built around the sun, the coming new year and the rebirth of vegetation in the spring....Winter solstice rites include...prayerstick making, retreats, altars, emesis and prayers for increase."

The Hopi tribe "is dedicated to giving aid and direction to the sun which is ready to 'return' and give strength to budding life." Their ceremony is called "Soyal." It lasts for 20 days and includes "prayerstick making, purification, rituals and a concluding rabbit hunt, feast and blessing..." 6
There are countless stone structures created by Natives in the past to detect the solstices and equinoxes. One was called Calendar One by its modern-day finder. It is in a natural amphitheatre of about 20 acres in size in Vermont. From a stone enclosure in the center of the bowl, one can see a number of vertical rocks and natural features in the horizon which formed the edge of the bowl. At the solstices and equinoxes, the sun rises and sets at notches or peaks in the ridge which surrounded the calendar.

NEOPAGANISM: This is a group of religions which are attempted re-creations of ancient Pagan religions. Of these, Wicca is the most common; it is loosely based on ancient Celtic beliefs and practices. Wiccans recognize eight seasonal days of celebration. Four are minor sabbats and occur at the two solstices and the two equinoxes. The other are major sabbats which happen approximately halfway between an equinox and solstice. The winter solstice sabbat is often called Yule. It is a time for introspection, and planning for the future. Wiccans may celebrate the Sabbat on the evening before the time of the actual solstice, at sunrise on the morning of the solstice, or at the exact time of the astronomical event.Monotheistic religions, like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, tend to view time as linear. It started with creation; the world as we know it will end at some time in the future. Aboriginal and Neopagan religions see time as circular and repetitive, with lunar (monthly) and solar (yearly) cycles. Their "...rituals guarantee the continuity of nature's cycles, which traditional human societies depend on for their sustenance."

Prehistoric Europe: Many remains of ancient stone structures can be found in Europe. Some date back many millennia BCE. Some appear to have religious/astronomical purposes; others are burial tombs. These structures were built before writing was developed. One can only speculate on the significance of the winter solstice to the builders. Two examples are:
In Maeshowe, (Orkneys, Scotland) there is a chambered cairn built on a leveled area with a surrounding bank and ditch. It has been carbon dated at 2750 BCE. Inside the cairn is a stone structure with a long entry tunnel. The structure is aligned so that sunlight can shine along the entry passage into the interior of the megalith, and illuminate the back of the structure. This happens at sunrise at the winter solstice. Starting in the late 1990's, live video and still images have been broadcast to the world via the Internet.

One of the most impressive prehistoric monuments in Europe is at Newgrange, in Brugh-na-Boyne, County Meath, in eastern Ireland. It covers an area of one acre, and has an entrance passage that is almost 60 feet (18 m) long. Above the entrance way is a stone box that allows the light from the sun to penetrate to the back of the cairn at sunrise on the winter solstice. Live video and stills from this site are also available on the Internet. It has been dated at about 3,300 BCE; it is one of the oldest structures in the world.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Review of the Day

I found this exercise on "Meditation Station". This form of meditation makes a lot of sense. It is similar to Rob Nairn's instruction on "backtracking" that he talks about in Diamond Mind. Let's all give this a try and see if it doesn't help us cultivate more ordinary mindfulness throughout our day!

Every night, before falling asleep, review the events of the day. Start with the first thing you remember and then continue as if you were watching a movie starring you. Try to remember everything. For instance, you may remember the alarm going off and you turning it off, pulling down the blanket and swinging your legs over the side of the bed to get out of bed. You may have then walked into the bathroom and washed up prior to getting dressed. Try to remember every detail as precisely as possible. Don't simply rehash how you usually go through your life's routine but rather note each nuance. An example would be if you dropped the bar of soap when you were washing up or heard alarming news over the radio while brushing your teeth. Try to recall how you reacted physically, mentally, and emotionally to every event of the day.

When you first try this technique, you may be amazed at how little you can recall. It may become obvious that you can easily recall highly emotional times like when you had an argument with a co-worker but you may not be able to remember anything about how you got to work. Similarly, if you had an accident in your car on the way to work, the events of that incident may be all you can remember. Anything that happened at work would be a blur.

The more you do this "review of the day", the more you will start paying attention to your life as it takes place and the more you will be able to remember about the events that transpired. We all have a tendency to not pay anything but the most minimal attention to the here and now and instead spend our time rehashing the past and fantasizing about the future. This meditation technique can return our awareness of the present, which is the only time reality takes place, as well as bring an excitement and enthusiasm to our life. Think about a baby who is so amazed and fascinated with the newness of everything that occurs in every moment. We should be experiencing at least that exquisite a response to our moment-to-moment existence because each moment is absolutely unique and intriguing and since we are adults, we can ponder the remarkable way we are reacting to each event we experience physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

When we can pay attention to our life with a baby's intensity, we will also find that when we do our daily life review, our mind will replay it in a minute detail and completeness as if we had put our inner VCR on fast forward. In just a few minutes, we will be able to see every event that took place in the previous sixteen hours. This will occur because at this stage of our consciousness's evolution, our mind will be a tool we can use as reliably and more easily than any computer.

Review your day and start to live your life, happily ever after.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Tom's Blog

Not to be outdone, our own Tom Vinson has started his own blog at . Tom is commenting right now on the "Seven Points of Mindtraining", the 12th Century Tibetan text we are now discussing during the ongoing classes at the Center. Check it out! (And you can always start your own blog, if you like. The more, the merrier.....)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Cat Blogging!

Those of you familiar with the blog culture are no doubt aware of the Friday custom known as "cat blogging". I'm not sure how it got started but it is a tradition now for bloggers to post cat pictures every Friday. Of course some people got tired of cats and choose other life forms. One blogger posts ferret pictures instead of cats. Still another posts pictures of orchids! But I like the original commitment to cats. (Surprise, surprise!)

So, here we go:

Here's Leroy looking very serene.

(Photo by Ellie)

And here's Rob Nairn with Henry. (Rob loves cats!) Rob, as most of you know, is the author of Tranquil Mind, Diamond Mind, and Living, Dreaming, Dying. He was my primary meditation teacher in Cape Town and he has a special interest in the Center. Rob has been to Oklahoma five times in recent years to teach and give public talks and we hope to welcome him back again soon.

(Photo by Cynthia)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Bazaar

Well, we had a really nice little bazaar and took in about $1,000. Now that we've done it once we know a little bit more about what to do and what not to do so we expect next year's to be even more successful. The best part was the camaraderie that was present. The whole enterprise was truly community building.

Here's bazaar chairperson Lydie Meunier at one of the tables.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Dalai Lama on Neuroscience

I become increasingly alarmed at the anti-intellectualism that is rampant in our society and is sadly growing. And so it was refreshing when Tom Vinson brought in an article from Nature magazine about Buddhism and the brain. At one point the Dalai Lama was asked "What if neuroscience comes up with information that directly contradicts Buddhist philosphy?" His reply was simple and direct: "Then we would have to change the philosophy to match the science." How wonderful not to be afraid of new discoveries, not to be afraid of truth.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Wednesday morning ongoing class

Pictures by Cynthia Burgess

Freedom from Fear

I found the following on this web site:
This is exactly why we practice accepting thoughts without judgment. I think this little paragraph is beautifully put.

Becoming more accepting of things not being the way you want affects so many different aspects of your life. You become more accepting of things not going the way you want in life and people not acting how they’re "supposed to" act. These are the main causes of anger in life so you become less angry in circumstances that tend to make you angry and less angry in general. As you become more accepting of things not going how you want, you start to feel more like, "Whatever happens, happens. I’ll deal with it." This helps get rid of the natural fear of the unknown which tends to keep people from having a full life because they’re afraid of the negative possibility of new experiences. In the same way, it helps get rid of people’s fear of change. As you become less fearful of the unknown, you become less fearful of the future being different from how you want. And when you aren’t afraid of the future, you can enjoy the present more fully.

Hope everyone's weekend is good.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Meditation Produces Lasting Changes in the Brain

I got an email from Cathey Edwards today who sends along the following article. Enjoy!

Meditation May Bolster Brain ActivityBuddhist Meditation May Produce Lasting Changes in the Brain
Jennifer Warner Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 WebMD Medical News

Nov. 10, 2004 -- Meditation may not only produce a calming effect, but new research suggests that the practice of Buddhist meditation may produce lasting changes in the brain. Researchers found that monks who spent many years in Buddhist meditation training show significantly greater brain activity in areas associated with learning and happiness than those who have never practiced meditation. The results suggest that long-term mental training, such as Buddhist meditation, may prompt both short and long-term changes in brain activity and function.

Buddhist Meditation May Change the Brain

In the study, which appears in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers compared the brain activity of eight long-time Buddhist monks and 10 healthy students.

The average age of the monks was 49, and each had undergone mental training in meditation for 10,000 to 50,000 hours over the course of 15 to 40 years. The students' average age was 21. They had no prior experience in meditation and received one week of meditative training before the start of the study. Both groups were asked to practice compassionate meditation, which does not require concentration on specific things. Instead, the participants are instructed to generate a feeling of love and compassion without drawing attention to a particular object.

Researchers measured brain activity before, during, and after meditation using electroencephalograms. They found striking differences between the two groups in a type of brain activity called gamma wave activity, which is involved in mental processes including attention, working memory, learning, and conscious perception. The Buddhist monks had a higher level of this sort of gamma wave activity before they began meditation, and this difference increased dramatically during meditation. In fact, researchers say the extremely high levels of gamma wave activity are the highest ever reported. The monks also had more activity in areas associated with positive emotions, such as happiness. Researchers say the fact that the monks had higher levels of this type of brain activity before meditation began suggests that long-term practice of Buddhist or other forms of meditation may alter the brain.

Although age differences may also account for some of the differences found by this study, researchers say that the hours of meditation practice, rather than age, significantly predicted gamma wave activity. Researchers say more studies are needed to look at whether differences in brain activity are caused by long-term meditation training itself or by individual differences before training.

SOURCE: Lutz, A. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, online early edition, Nov. 8, 2004.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Problem with Envy

Just for fun this morning I typed the word "meditation" into my search engine. Choosing at random, really, I clicked on this address: While I wouldn't use some of the terminology found on this website, some of the articles are quite wonderful. And I recommend that you click on the link (at the bottom of each page) "108 Meditation Techniques". Sometimes just having a new way to go about it can bring motivation to a sluggish meditative practice. For now I offer you this article which was found under "Meditation Concepts". The "Witness" referred to in the last paragraph is what you've heard me refer to as "observer consciousness." I like the point that the more we "witness" the less we are disturbed by mind chatter. Enjoy!
With blessings,

The Bible tells us that each man thinks his burden is the heaviest. For instance, the poor man looks at the rich man and envies him thinking his load in life is lighter. But, you'll recall that the fabled millionaire Scrooge spent virtually all of his time worried about people cheating him out of his fortune and was miserable. So, we see that self-pity weighs down virtually everyone. Similarly, we see that one of the most popular themes on the afternoon talk shows is "When we were in school, you made fun of me, but look at me now." And out comes either a gorgeous woman with a silicon enhanced body, and a surgically altered, cosmetic covered and hair dyed head, or a handsome, tanned, greased, and steroid enhanced muscular man. Usually the same story is told. They were so abused by the school bully that they spent thousands of dollars and years of bodywork just to prove them wrong and get them to regret their actions. The host then brings out the villain who says that they don't even remember the person, and even though they acknowledge that the person now is not someone they would make fun of, they no longer are the type of person who would do that kind of immature hazing anyway. How anticlimactic for the person who sought to get back at the long ago bully. So, it is reasonable for us to conclude that the person seeking revenge, or whatever you want to label it, wasted their time by carrying the hurt and suffering and would have been better off if they had just gone on their merry way. Our own perceptions of our burdens are just as unreal as Scrooge's or the guests on the TV shows, and there is certainly no need for us to keep carrying our feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and so on. Now, what can we do to cease our needless load lugging?

Our inner Chatterer is constantly labeling things and then judging them to be good or bad. We hold on to the pain and frustration of some of the things that we judge to be bad for years, and a few for the rest of our lives. This masochistic behavior is virtually always on a subconscious level. Fortunately, there is an experiential meditative concept that is a remedy for this sad paralyzing dysfunction. And that is to cease carrying negativity around and just be present, in the moment, and experience your life consciously as it takes place.

There are two ancient teaching tales that help us understand the need to quit holding onto that which we should let go of and begin the process of paying attention to what is appropriate, healthy, and happy. The first deals with the ancient story of the two monks who had taken vows of celibacy as well as their other holy obligations. As they were walking they encountered a woman crying by the side of a creek. As they approached, with tears streaming down her cheeks, she told them she feared drowning and begged them to help her get to the other side of the river so she could go to her baby. With that, one of the monks picked her up on his shoulder and carried her across the stream. After getting down, she thanked him and left. The two monks went on their way. After a while, the monk who hadn't helped turned to the one who had helped the woman and said, "Why did you do that? We've taken vows of chastity and we're not even supposed to look at a woman, much less touch one!" He replied "When we got to the other side of the water, I put her down. Why are you still carrying her?" From this we learn that once life's events have taken place, they should not be taken with us. Our hands, heart, and mind should be open and available for the next experience that we are presented with.

The next story helps us by teaching us where to look for direction and how. Look at your life as taking a boat ride from one shore to another. Right now, we're in the boat in the middle of the lake of life. As we've traveled, the boat has left a wake. The wake is analogous to our past, and like the wake a boat leaves behind, our past does not help propel us. If we spend our time looking back at our wake, we will be unaware of and unable to do anything about any hazards we are approaching. A wise ship's captain looks ahead to the other shore, aware of the present moment, and having equipped themselves with excellent navigational skills, through a lifetime of trial, error, and learning, is confident in their competence to steer the appropriate course.

The lessons we learn from these stories are to let go and pay attention. Our inner Chatterer makes us repetitiously keep suffering from our past "bad". There is a Witness within that is ever present. It is the awareness that can, and does silently witness your mind's mentations, your emotional fluctuations, and your sense receptions. At every moment of your life, even in this very second as you read these words, by being at one with it, you have the opportunity to witness your life as it takes place. The more you Witness, the less you Chatter. Recognize the load you are carrying, put it down and let go of all the negativity it brings. You will then fill with the ever-present "good". For each of us there is a meditative path, be it mantra, breathing techniques, asking "Who am I", or whatever, that will lead us to being aware, and be more and more at one with our inner Witness. By grace this will become our eternal divine reality. Meditate. Persevere through trial, error, and learning, and inevitably you will live happily ever after.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Is change difficult or easy?

Students of meditation often ask why it is that they are able to change attitudes and outlooks only to have the old way of seeing and experiencing the mind return. Habitual tendency is, of course, behind this occurrence. Well, do we just get discouraged and give up or simply justify our habitual patterns? I like the observation as expressed by the quote below.

It is important to realize that the mind is not only capable of change, but that it easily changes. To begin with, you must free yourself from the detrimental belief that the mind cannot be changed and that these conflicting emotions are irreparable, permanent defects. You have been developing these habitual patterns over a long, long period of time, and of course they are going to be difficult to change... In meditation, you practice a pattern of basic mental sanity again and again, with diligence. This works to counter the habitual patterns you have built up through constant repetition. While these patterns are not inherent or permanent, they are certainly not easy to do away with. Therefore, consistent meditation is essential.

- Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Time Magazine recommends meditation.

Last night I got an email from Marilyn Bedford calling my attention to the cover story on high blood pressure of the current issue of Time Magazine. Yes, meditation is recommended - not, of course, as a substitute for medical care but rather as one component of a comprehensive program designed to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. I recommend the article and offer the pertinent passage to you here:

Unwind Your Mind

The more stressed you are, the higher your pressure can go. Meditation, yoga and similar techniques may help you - and your vessels - relax, in part by fighting the release of stress chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline.

So here we have one more motivation for meditation. Of late we have discovered that reducing stress really does slow the aging process on a cellular level, that thoughts leave "footprints" in the brain, that meditation is helpful in reducing blood pressure. Of course my main reason for meditation is something I call "psychic hygiene". I remember a sign posted in a rehearsal hall back when I was still working as a musician. The sign said, "Practice so you can stand yourself". Yup, that's it. I meditate so I can stand myself! :-)

Remember the bazaar! It's tomorrow and Saturday. Scroll down for exact times. Hope to see everybody there.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Scientists Track Footprints of Thoughts

Quite a few years ago I got into a fascinating conversation after class with a psychiatrist who was taking the Foundations Course. Part of the class had included speculation regarding the number of thoughts a person has in one minute. The doctor and I had fun imagining a way to design a study such that thoughts could be counted. Well somebody seems to have done it - or at least to have pinpointed the effects of a single thought on the brain. I reprint the article for you here. Enjoy!

Scientists Track Footprints Of Thoughts ABC News Online - Australia 11-30-4

Australian scientists have discovered a way to track the electronic footpath of a single thought travelling through the human brain.

The discovery has implications for everything from education to planning the safest way to undertake brain surgery.

The latest developments in scanning techniques allow brain experts to track responses in the brain from particular movements and thoughts, in real time.

"If we ask them to read a sentence we can actually look at them processing a single sentence. In other words we can look at the footprint of a single thought," Professor Keith Thulborn, from Chicago's Centre for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, said.

The technique can be used to monitor how stroke patients are responding to rehabiltation and how well children are learning new concepts.

"This gives you great control over how to plan the intervention and how you can make it most advantageous to the subject to acheive their full potential as quickly as possible."

With this technology doctors can tell precisely what is happening during epileptic seizures.

"It can lead to ideas for new treatments and even the possibility of a surgical cure," Professor Graeme Jackson, from Melbourne's Brain Research Institite, said.

Researchers say the technique can be used to help surgeons map out which parts of the brain to avoid during operations.

"With functional MRI, we can see where their language is and we can see where their motor function is and if we are doing surgery, we can keep well away from that," Professor Jackson said.

So far the new scanning technique is only available in Victoria, but doctors believe it will be widely available within five years.

© 2004 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

About posting comments

I just discovered that until now this blog was set to accept comments only from registered participants. I have now changed the settings so that anyone can comment. Unfortunately, I can't change the settings for the posts below. You can comment on them if you wish but you will have to register to do so. You will not have to register to comment to this post or any in the future. Sorry for any inconvenience. I'm still getting used to the Blogger program! :-)

Stress linked to premature aging: US Scientists

Today as I was driving back to the Center from lunch I heard an NPR program about stress and aging. It's now been demonstrated that this happens actually on the cellular level. If you have no other motivation to get serious about your meditative practice, let this be the deciding factor: meditation makes you look and feel younger - in fact your cells themselves age more slowly if you reduce perceived stress in your life. Tomorrow I'll post the link for the NPR program when they post it on their website. For now, here's an article I found from a different source.

Washington, Nov 30 - A recent study have identified the first direct link between stress and aging, a finding that could explain why intense, long-term emotional strain can make people get sick and grow old before their time.

Chronic stress appears to hasten the shrivelling of the tips of the bundles of genes inside cells, which shortens their lifespan and speeds the body's deterioration, according to a small but first-of-its-kind study involving mothers caring for chronically ill children.
If the findings are confirmed, they could provide the first explanation on a cellular level for the well-documented association between psychological stress and increased risk of physical disease, as well as the common perception that unrelenting emotional pressure accelerates the aging process.

"There is this deeply-held belief that stress leads to premature aging. But there is no hard evidence for how this might happen," said Elissa Epel, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), who helped conduct the research. "This is the first time that psychological stress has been linked to a cellular indicator of aging in healthy people."

The findings could lead to new ways to detect the early physical effects of stress and monitor whether attempts to alleviate its effects are working, she said. While cautioning that the findings needed to be confirmed by additional research, other scientists said the results represent an unprecedented step in deciphering the intricacies of the mind-body connection.

Monday, November 29, 2004


St. John's Center Arts & Crafts Bazaar

Event Details:
A market of fine arts, decorative arts and more to benefit St. John's Center for Spiritual Formation.

Event Date & Location:
Dec. 3 Friday 1:00--5:00 p.m.
Dec. 4 Saturday 10:00 a.m.--3:00 p.m.

5840 S. Memorial Dr.
Shadow Mountain Office Center Bldg.
Third Floor Conference Room
Tulsa, OK 74145
(northeast corner of bldg, third floor)

Contact Info:
St. John's Center for Spiritual Formation 918-663-4747

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Time for Connections

Dear friends of St. John's Center,

As you no doubt have noticed, it's taking a bit more time than we expected to get our web site up and running. And so, in the meantime, I've decided to start a blog. I'll be able to post schedule changes, reminders and make other announcements here so do plan to check in regularly. The nice thing about the blog program is that each one of you can post comments of your own very easily. Perhaps using this blog as a place to connect will help us all to strengthen our sense of community.

For now, I leave you with these thoughts:

What we need to experience, and what we can experience, is a saner and gentler state of mind. This experience is not found in something outside of us... We must work with our own minds, with our own abilities, in order to have peaceful, rich minds.

- Khenp Karthar Rinpoche

True quiet means keeping still when the time has come to keep still, and going forward when the time has come to go forward. In this way rest and movement are in agreement with the demands of the moment, and thus there is light in life.

- The I Ching

Blessings to all,

P.S. If you wish to contact me privately, my email address is: