Monday, February 28, 2005
Sunday, February 27, 2005
Mindfulness, then, does not just mean awareness. It is not just a matter of becoming scientifically objective. Mindfulness means to recollect our true purpose and deeply and fully live all that entails. Remembering that there is a higher, nobler life available than that of subjection to base desires and ego maintenance, frees us to be happy. We rise above the inevitable afflictions that flow into our lives. If we have something more important to base ourselves upon, then the hurts and assaults of circumstance do not have such effect. It is not so difficult to know what we should be doing and to do it. For a long time we have been seeking an impossible immunity to the ups and downs of life, and have found ourselves repeatedly capsized as a result. Our efforts have been misdirected. There is, however, another better way that does work.
Mindfulness, therefore, is to be happy... We have the option to be happy if we choose. The cost may be that we have to give up everything that we have used to defend ourselves with in the past, but this is a small price.
My own experience is that it is impossible to give up our habitual defenses without a meditative practice. Only through insight meditation will we see our unnecessary defenses for what they are and train ourselves to let them go. Never disparage meditation! It is the foundation for everything you want to do, for all the changes you want to make.
Saturday, February 26, 2005
Today I came across a little passage in Instant Calm by Paul Wilson about this very issue and it's entitled, "The Antidote to Boredom".
Boredom is one of life's most common stressors. When you are frustrated by the lack of anything satisfying to do, your tension levels escalate.
The antidote to this condition is exquisitely simple.
If you concentrate wholly on whatever you have to do - however mundane or meaningless it may appear - time flies and you derive satisfaction from your efforts.
If you immerse yourself totally in a task, so that you achieve the very best result you are capable of, you will find that task becomes almost like meditation in itself. (Indeed, this is the "Little Way" made famous by St. Therese of Lisieux.)
Not only is this the antidote to boredom, it is a sure way to become calm and relaxed.
St. Therese, who is also known as the "Little Flower", did indeed use focused, loving attention to mundane tasks as her spiritual practice. I often think of her in relation to walking meditation because when she was so ill with tuberculosis she would walk for the intention of the missions. I never really appreciated that until I had TB myself while I was in Africa. The disease renders one very nearly energy-less. The fatigue simply defies description. I remember it being almost more than I could bear just to lift my hand sometimes. So Therese's willingness to walk was, in reality, quite heroic. And she did it. And she paid attention to it. Lovingly.
Try walking meditation if you haven't for a while. Just walk and give relaxed attention to your walking. Try it from one side of the room to the next. And remember: we do walking meditation every day at the Center as part of our daily practice. We do 20 minutes of sitting, 5 minutes of walking, and then 20 minutes of sitting to give us a total of 45 minutes of meditation. Do come and join us soon. Again, those sessions are scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Monday - Friday, for 9:00 a.m. on Saturdays and for 5:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Friday, February 25, 2005
For 2,500 years Buddhists have employed...strict training techniques to guide their mental state away from destructive emotions and toward a more compassionate, happier frame of being. Spurred by the cascade of new evidence for the brain's plasticity, Western neuroscientists have taken a keen interest. Can meditation literally change the mind?
[Richard] Davidson [of the University of Wisconsin-Madison] recently tested the prefrontal activity in some volunteers from a high-tech company in Wisconsin. One group of volunteers then received eight weeks of training in meditation, while a control group did not. All the participants also received flu shots.
By the end of the study, those who had meditated showed a pronounced shift in brain activity toward the left, "happier," frontal cortex. The meditators also showed a healthier immune response to the flu shot, suggesting that the training affected the body's health as well as the mind's.
Look folks, this stuff really works. Let the research speak for itself. Make meditation a regular part of your life. And remember, we have opportunities for you to meditate at the Center 365 days a year. So in addition to coming to class regularly, why not pick one or two days a week to come to daily meditation? Those sittings are scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Monday - Friday, for 9:00 a.m. on Saturdays and for 5:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Thursday, February 24, 2005
What counts most in meditation is attitude.
If you have an attitude of wanting to achieve something, or change something within the mind, this will prevent meditation and result instead in mental conflict and tension. For example, many people think that the purpose of meditation is to make the mind go blank, or to stop thought, or in some way control or manipulate inner mental or emotional processes. They thus sit down expecting to be able to do this rather like King Canute sitting enthroned on the seashore ordering the tides back. The result is the same - instead of leading to inner peace, this attitude will cause a build-up of tension and suppressed emotional energy which will eventually burst upon consciousness and cause confusion.
An attitude of self-acceptance is essential to meditation. This begins with the mind; learning to accept everything that is happening within the mind - all the thoughts, all the feelings, whatever - and coming to terms with it. Any attitude of wanting to change or manipulate the mind, or enforce a different mind state constitutes non-acceptance and will lead to trouble....
Stated simply, when we talk of acceptance, we are talking of unconditional love - starting with ourselves...
*Copies of Tranquil Mind are available at the Center.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Zen Master Dogen...says that there are four wisdoms: generosity, loving words, goodwill and identifying ourselves with others.
"Generosity" means giving without expecting anything in return. The scale of the gift is not the point. What matters is the boundless mind of giving. All work is an act of generosity if done in this spirit.
"Loving words" means to speak tenderly, full of compassionate respect, regarding others as one would one's own children. To hear loving words spoken brightens the heart. An even greater effect results from discovering that good words have been said about you in your absence. Loving words have a revolutionary impact upon the minds of others.
"Goodwill" means to think of ways to benefit others. Nowadays it is common to scoff at the idea that pure altruism can exist. People say that nobody does anything that is not selfish in the last analysis. This is to misunderstand the situation. Since we are all part of one another, whatever we do for others will benefit us anyway. We do not need to calculate what our benefit will be. We can just act and forget.
"Identification", in the sense in which Dogen is speaking, means not to distinguish between self and others, but simply to be full of great compassion.
Monday, February 21, 2005
"Make time each day to clear your mind. A half-hour of quiet time can help relieve stress and give you a new perspective."
How true. And how very interesting to keep seeing the recommendation to meditate in the mainstream press.
Sunday, February 20, 2005
"Strength of heart comes from knowing that the pain that we each must bear is part of the greater pain shared by all that lives. It is not just 'our' pain but the pain, and realizing this awakens our universal compassion."
-- Jack Kornfield
Friday, February 18, 2005
Thursday, February 17, 2005
At times it may seem that taming the mind is unnecessary, that we are happy enough already, but such happiness easily can be lost; it is useless to pretend otherwise. Like the sand-castles that children build beside the sea, sooner or later the tide comes in and washes them away. Material pleasures and happiness are temporary at best, and often are of benefit only to oneself.
One the other hand, the happiness arising from deep inner development has stability, it increases all the time and is useful to others. It's like a magic fire that continues to burn brightly even when cold water is poured onto it. For example if someone is angry with us, normally we would react negatively. However, if we are able to be patient and appreciate the pain that the other person is feeling, then compassion follows naturally and we will increase our understanding. If there were no negative circumstances, how could we tame our minds and cultivate limitless compassion, limitless joy? So it can be seen that worldly happiness and the happiness of a patient and mature mind are really quite different.
I truly love the idea of "a patient and mature mind". And I know the way to have that manifest in my life - reliably so - is to be faithful to my meditative practice and to study the teachings of the meditative tradition.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Within us is the potential to be whatever we chose. If we wish for a peaceful, worthwhile existence, benefiting all others as well as ourselves, this is certainly within our capability. The first step towards achieving this aim is to simplify our lives so that everything we experience becomes an opportunity to practice mindfulness, rather than a source of confusion. Such basic activities as the way we sit, stand, walk and talk, as well as our attitude to cleanliness and tidiness, are easy to neglect, and yet so fundamental that they condition all other activities.
All the time, whether anyone is watching or not, we should be aware of what is going on inside us and guard against being careless or unmindful in our daily lives. That way we will not harm others. The aim is gradually to develop mindfulness and activate that compassion and loving-kindness which is within us already. This is something we are all capable of doing.
That is very reassuring, isn't it? All we need to do is give ourselves permission to be aware. Then the rest is just practice.
Monday, February 14, 2005
Sunday, February 13, 2005
Even if you don't have time for a block of meditation, you can squeeze mindfulness into your day on a regular basis. For one morning or afternoon, make a point to pause and really notice the world around you and inside you for one minute on the hour, every hour.And here's the other tip:
Looking for more ways to wake yourself up? Work your five senses in new ways. Eat something with a strong, sour, pungent, or spicy taste. Smell all the spices in your cupboard, one at a time. Visit a toy store and look through a kaleidoscope. Change your radio station to a new one and really listen to the next three songs. Touch the underside of every piece of furniture in your house.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
One begins to see now that meditation is a highly practical state. As one trains oneself in the art of letting go or releasing and combines it with the gentle attitude of allowing, a distinct change comes about in the mind. Through letting go, one systematically disengages from the habit of distraction - like curing oneself of an addiction. Gradually the mind begins to settle; it becomes calmer, more relaxed, open and joyous. As one proceeds, the tendency to become distracted subsides so that the number of thoughts and emotions streaming into the mind diminishes. At this stage one begins to experience real tranquility, clarity and the beginning of
Whatever happens in meditation, accept it without judgment! Just be willing to bring the mind gently back to the support (whether breath or sound or mantra or a visual support) over and over. Only if we are gentle will the mind settle. Working with the mind in a tense, harsh manner only keeps it agitated and rebellious.
* Copies of all Rob's books are available at St. John's Center.
Friday, February 11, 2005
* Meditation is a conscious process wherein the meditator makes an effort to be fully aware without attaching to thoughts and feelings. Eventually, mental clamor settles down and awareness becomes more acute ...
* Mindfulness is what we practice during mediation, but can also be practiced during daily activity. It is the process of being fully aware of our external and internal environments.
* Concentration is an effort to focus on one particular thing rather than on general awareness. It is often a technique for easing into meditation, and it trains the mind so that the more it is practiced, the better the mind becomes at focusing for longer periods of time.
* Relaxation is a physical and/or mental process of leaving effort behind - relaxing muscles or thoughts - without a specific focus on awakened awareness. Relaxation is great for stress reduction and helps to unclutter the mind, making mindfulness and concentration easier. One relaxation technique is visualization.
* Visualization is a technique wherein you imagine certain scenarios for relaxation (walking on a beach at sunset, sitting in a field of flowers, wading in a mountain stream) or for personal development (you succeeding in your job, in love, in school, and so on). It is more a tool for personal transformation than it is meditation, although some people like to use visualization for relaxation alone.
Actually, there are other forms of visualization in the mindtraining system in addition to the one mentioned above but these definitions are a good start for distinguishing the different techniques for working skillfully with the mind. Just yesterday, a friend of mine reported some health difficulties due to stress. I urged this person to learn to meditate and then to practice regularly. Each one of the methods listed above will help in stress reduction. We all need to be pro-active and not passive about dealing with the stress in our lives if we want to avoid really negative consequences.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
One of the most satisfying and useful ways of relieving your stress - especially in the long term - is to make a habit of helping others to relieve theirs.
When you immerse yourself in helping another individual, you overcome the self-centered nature of your own stresses and anxieties. Studies show that immediately after helping others most people experience a powerful sense of elation and accomplishment which, in turn, leads to better health and feelings of peace.
As well, charitable behavior tends to reduce the feeling of isolation which, even in people who would not classify themselves as lonely, usually accompanies feelings of stress. Direct contact with the recipient, however, is a necessary part of the process; a simple donation may not be sufficient.
For a long-term sense of calm and fulfillment, seek out opportunities to help others. Your efforts will be rewarded.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Stephanie is the young scholar from Harvard whom Fellowship and the Tulsa Islamic Society brought to Tulsa about six months ago. She also spoke at St. John's and Church of the Resurrection. Stephanie is now in Syria with a Fulbright--Russ
Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2005
Subject: Declaring a Ceasefire
My Dear Friends,
It has just come over the news that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have decided to declare a ceasefire after four years of violence. When I heard the news, it was my first instinct, after years in and out of the Middle East, to not get my hopes up. But as I was walking down the streets of Damascus, I decided that there was something that we can all do, that I am tired of being cynical. And so I ran to the nearest internet cafe with my idea.
I am proposing that today we all declare a ceasefire.
I have always believed that peace is not possible within the world without peace within ourselves. And I believe that a small act of true peace and love between individuals is the single greatest thing that we can do to create peace in the world. I believe that love among friends and family, in some mysterious way, helps to create peace in the Middle East. There is a beautiful line about this in the Quran, which says that if anyone kills a person, it is as though they have killed all of mankind, and if anyone saves a person, it will be as though they have saved all of mankind. (Sura Maida, 32)
So I was hoping that we could all declare a momentary ceasefire and try to heal the rifts that have come between us in these last years, and in doing so do our part in saving the world. That we can take a moment to tell each other that we love each other, and that, too often, we have forgotten to be kind. I know that I have. I know that I haven't told any of you often enough how much I care about you. But you are all miracles in my life. You are my greatest hope.
I know that it seems naive to say that by making an extra effort to be kind to one another and to ourselves over these next weeks that we can play a role in helping this emerging Middle East peace process. But I very much believe it to be true. It is a way that we can engage in the events of the world.
So I am asking you to please help me on this, and to ask the people you know to also participate in a ceasefire. If nothing else, we might at least stop some of our own wars.
I love you all.
The Tibetan New Year, Losar, is celebrated this year (2005) on Wednesday, February 9th, of the Western calendar. For the Tibetans it is the Wood Bird year, 2131. Losar is a major event in the Tibetan community both in terms of its spiritual relevance and its social meanings. It is a time for dealing with the past, whether through cleaning the house or performing rituals to atone for accumulated negative karma, and for preparing for a new year with family celebrations, and prayers to remove obstacles to good health and prosperity for oneself, one’s family and indeed all sentient beings. The spiritual cleansing ritual is done on the 29th day of the last Tibetan month of the year.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Monday, February 07, 2005
At the root of most emotional disorders or discomforts is one of two conditions: concerns about the past, or anxiety about the future.
Scary, isn't it, how so much pain can be produced by states that simply do not exist. Both past and future are abstract concepts yet, in Western countries, concerns for what's past and what's yet to happen cause more insecurity, anxiety, fear, frustration and tension than anything that ever really happens.
People who carry concerns about the past - such as guilt, regret or embarrassment - are concerned with something they have no hope of influencing. Similarly, people who have anxiety about the future - whether they'll ever be safe, happy, loved, or successful - are generally concerned with something they can have only minor influence over, at best.
The only state you can really influence is the present.
Will Rogers was once asked what he's do if he only had five days left to live. "Why," he answered matter-of-factly, "I'd live each day one at a time."
Basic but profound.
Sunday, February 06, 2005
So I want to share another passage with you today from Rob Nairn's Tranquil Mind. Here he talks about who and what we really are and what we can aspire to - freedom rather than taking ourselves hostage:
The premise we begin with is that every human being has great potential which can be realized. Each one of us is capable of experiencing a permanent state of total joy, love, clarity, openness; a state usually referred to as being beyond description because our ideas and concepts of human experience are inadequate to encompass it. This state is the experience of our true nature: of liberation; liberation from suffering in all its forms and manifestations. It is towards this end that for thousands of years people have been meditating.
When I read that I experience such a wonderful sense of relaxation, acceptance and delight. This aspiration will give us the motivation to meditate that will go the distance for us. And the vision of "total joy, love, clarity, openness" is a far, far better possibility than a mere self-improvement project. For those of you who observe Lent, I want to recommend making a commitment to get free rather than making yourself over. Yes, that does involve change but not the kind of change that is based on judging ourselves unworthy or inadequate to start with. Rather we see that our true nature is pure and luminous and all we really need to do is get out of our own way.
Try picking one day a week to come to daily meditation at the Center as your Lenten discipline. The Center is there for you - 365 days a year! Sometimes I want to call it "Liberation Center" because that is what we're really about.
Saturday, February 05, 2005
Perhaps it would do us all good to keep the luminous benefit of meditative practice ever before us. Why would we want to neglect so great a treasure?
Meditation is the process of learning to work skillfully with the mind in a way which will lead by successive stages to tranquility, insight, spontaneous purification and total liberation from all negative states. This final stage is accompanied by full and total realization of one's wholesome or "divine" potential. Along the way one sees through the egocentric trap and springs it. As the process of inner discovery progresses, so the state of one's inner life improves. Inner harmony, clarity and stability come about; the confused, scattered mind is left behind, and one's life becomes happier, more joyous, open, giving and loving. The culmination is enlightenment - a word a little like "infinity" or "eternity": we have a rough idea what is meant, but cannot actually grasp the full meaning. But it is certainly a state of joy which passes all understanding.
Friday, February 04, 2005
Thursday, February 03, 2005
If you want to be peaceful, if you want to relax, go searching for silence. Absorb it, immerse yourself in it, hang on to it as long as possible. Because in silence can you achieve real calm.Try giving yourself some silence as a gift. And remember, there's an opportunity for meditation practice right here at the Center every day of the week - 365 days a year. We practice supportive silence; it's not the silence that's a blank void, but rather the silence that emerges from the spiritual energy of people meditating together. The silence is rich and the solidarity is wonderfully supportive.
Go and take a pew in an empty church or temple one day. Sit there a few moments and meditate... Absorb the atmosphere of absolute peace and calm that permeates. Unless you have any strong anti-religious feelings, you will feel relaxed in a very short time. Is it some sort of spiritual energy that achieves this? Is it an air of otherworldliness that allows you to feel this way? For the most part, it will be the silence.
Silence - especially when used creatively - is one of the most powerful counterbalances to stress and anxiety.
Silence is at the root of most relaxation and meditation techniques. (Yes, I know many meditation techniques are based on sounds. But generally these are repeated sounds which, in effect, become hypnotic drones not far removed from silence. ) Silence is only a few short stops away from calm.
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Comfort in environment, in seating and in clothing is a fast and easy way to start feeling more relaxed. The ideals: a warm place, a straight-backed chair, loosened clothes and no shoes.
Fresh air tends to reduce much of the pressure when you're feeling stressed or anxious. A stroll in the park will bring more relief than standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a movie queue; a chair by the window will bring more relief than one crammed between others.
Lack of Stimuli
Lack of stimuli prevents the excitation of your nervous system. Stressful states of mind often lead you to believe certain stimulants are necessary to your relaxation - but who wants to trust stressful states of mind? Silence (or a sense of silence) is one of the most powerful counterbalances to stress and anxiety. Almost all relaxation and meditation techniques insist on it. Wherever possible, seek calm in silence.
Motivation is the most important element of all. As much as you would like external agents to do it all for you, the only way to find a real state of calm is to assume the responsibility and to go after it yourself.
I will probably share some of the Instant Calm techniques with you over the next few days. For now, see how you can avail yourself of the "conditions of calm" I've shared with you today.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
In the beginning, it is helpful to realize how we all share the awakened state of mind as potential. However, it has become obscured by ignorance and the accumulation of negativity. Misunderstanding and unskillful actions similarly prevent us from seeing and realizing that potential. Removing these obscurations and defilements, however, will enable us to go beyond the illusion of separate existence and realize the interdependence of all things. It will become evident that when we harm others we are harming ourselves; and when we take care of others, we are taking care of ourselves. When we are able to see the awakened state of mind as potential in friend and enemy alike, we will have equal compassion for everyone.
Essentially everyone wants happiness and the causes of happiness, just as we do. Even those who create suffering for themselves do so out of ignorance for no-one sincerely wants to be unhappy. They just do not realize that it is virtue that creates happiness and a happy state of mind which inspires us to practice virtue.