Thursday, March 31, 2005

The benefits of solitude

Solitude is such a potential thing. We hear voices in solitude we never hear in the hurry and turmoil of life. We receive counsels and comforts we get under no other circumstances.
-- Amelia Barr

One of the great benefits to me of maintaining this blog is that I discover books I had forgotten I had in the process of looking for passages on meditation topics to share with you. Today I'm at home and I discovered a book on my shelves called Precious Solitude: Finding peace and serenity in a hectic world by Ruth Fishel. I've given you the Amazon link to the book here because there are several reviews there that you might like to read.

Here is the passage I thought I'd offer today:

When you feel as if you are about to explode from stress of obsessive thinking, take some time for yourself! Meditate. Become aware of your breath as it goes in and comes out of your nose. Take one minute and see how many times you do breathe in and out in a minute. Practice some yoga exercises. Get in touch with your body as it pulls and stretches. Take a walk and feel the muscles in your legs and the swing of your arms. Lie down and feel your body pressing against the rug or the floor. Mentally scan over your body, bringing your attention to your entire body from the top of your head down to the bottom of your feet.

These are just a few ways we can take time to release stress and stop the endless chatter that goes on in our minds. Simply by bringing our attention to our bodies, we can achieve instant relief. The peace we experience will stay with us long after we have returned to our daily activities.

Body awareness truly does help with mindfulness. This is why, at the Center, we begin class with simple stretches. This is why it's good to perform the ritual prostrations before meditation. Both help us bring relaxed attention to our bodies and, as a result, remind us that we're in the present moment. And yes, the overall benefit regarding stress reduction is wonderfully valuable as well.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

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This is real

Love After Love

The Time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome
and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you.

All your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

by Derek Walcott,
Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature,
Sea Grapes

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Something to think about

Today I picked up a little book by George Fowler entitled, Learning to Dance Inside: Getting to the Heart of Meditation. And I found this lovely advice:

You may find it helpful during your meditation to remind yourself occasionally that there is only One Reality, One Being, One Life, and that that Reality, that Being, that Life is also yours. It's What's outpressing here as you.

Remember over and over. You don't have to acquire, only to realize. The sole point of meditation is to realize Who and What you already Are.

And consequently, that all is well.

Forever, already well.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Monday Meditative Picture Blogging

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"Lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what hold you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom."
--- The Buddha

Sunday, March 27, 2005

It's your life

Happy Easter everyone!

As you know, I've posted a number of excerpts from that wonderful little book Find a Quiet Corner by Nancy O'Hara. Today I'm offering a little passage she has entitled, "It's Your Life". It seems to address what I'm sure many of us are thinking about on this day of renewal and victory. I so love the emphasis on the present moment. No matter what is going on, no matter what we are concerned about or speculating about, a return to the present moment will bring stability and peace of mind.

Here's the passage:

Some people believe that if we make a mess of this life, we'll have another chance to get it right in the next one. Others believe that we have but one life and don't get another chance. Still others believe that we'll be rewarded or punished in the afterlife for our behavior in this one. Whatever you believe is true about your future, you would probably agree that all we can be completely sure of is the present moment. This is it!

Here you are, in this life, in your life, in this moment. Why not do the best you can with what you have now? Treating yourself well in the present rewards you and the people around you immediately. If the rewards extend beyond this moment, so much the better. A quiet corner will be the perfect nurturing ground for reaping the rewards of your life, now or later.

I really recommend that you get this little book and keep it where you meditate. You can open it at random (because it's organized in short passages) and read a little something to inspire or reassure or motivate you right before you do your sitting practice. I have benefited from it enormously.

May this day be a day of great joy for everyone.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The importance of reason

As an Episcopalian I have always appreciated hugely the fact that we have the three-fold authority of scripture, reason and tradition. Known as "the three-legged stool", this foundation for how we make decisions has kept the Anglican Communion from getting off balance and has helped us maintain unity with and in diversity. Sadly, today, the leg of "reason" is widely being ignored and even attacked.

And so I thought I'd offer you a quote of the Buddha on this same subject. I've always loved his affirmation of reason and I hope you find it strengthening and consoling:

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason, and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

I would also remind you of that great slogan from The Seven Points of Mind Training: "Liberate yourself by examining and investigating."

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday meditative picture

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How's your tact filter?

Learning not to take things personally is part of the meditative tradition because taking things personally represents a major attachment - the attachment to being treated a certain way. Someone sent me a brief article about the assumptions we tend to make regarding tact and bluntness that will help us sit loose to that attachment The article is so good that I'm reproducing it in its entirety (with permission):

Tact Filters

I came up with this idea several years ago in a conversation with a friend at MIT, who was regularly finding herself upset by other people who worked in in her lab. The analogy worked so well in helping her to understand her co-workers that I decided to write it up and put it on the web. I've gotten quite a few email messages since then from other people who have also found it helpful.

All people have a "tact filter", which applies tact in one direction to everything that passes through it. Most "normal people" have the tact filter positioned to apply tact in the outgoing direction. Thus whatever normal people say gets the appropriate amount of tact applied to it before they say it. This is because when they were growing up, their parents continually drilled into their heads statements like, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!"

"Nerds," on the other hand, have their tact filter positioned to apply tact in the incoming direction. Thus, whatever anyone says to them gets the appropriate amount of tact added when they hear it. This is because when nerds were growing up, they continually got picked on, and their parents continually drilled into their heads statements like, "They're just saying those mean things because they're jealous. They don't really mean it."

When normal people talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they say, and no one's feelings get hurt. When nerds talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they hear, and no one's feelings get hurt. However, when normal people talk to nerds, the nerds often get frustrated because the normal people seem to be dodging the real issues and not saying what they really mean. Worse yet, when nerds talk to normal people, the normal people's feelings often get hurt because the nerds don't apply tact, assuming the normal person will take their blunt statements and apply whatever tact is necessary.

So, nerds need to understand that normal people have to apply tact to everything they say; they become really uncomfortable if they can't do this. Normal people need to understand that despite the fact that nerds are usually tactless, things they say are almost never meant personally and shouldn't be taken that way. Both types of people need to be extra patient when dealing with someone whose tact filter is backwards relative to their own.

Copyright © 1996 by Jeff Bigler. Permission is granted to redistribute this text in its entirety for non-commercial purposes, provided that this copyright notice and either the URL for the page ( or a link to it is included. All other rights reserved.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The journey from head to heart

Many of us at St. John's Center have really benefited from the teachings of Ringu Tulku Rinpoche because he's been to Tulsa several times and offered public lectures. We've also used his books in Karma Kagyu class and in ongoing class. Today I picked up a book by Rinpoche that I've spent a lot of time with - Path to Buddhahood - and found this wonderful paragraph in the conclusion:

When we listen to teachings, we often think we've understood everything, but it's a completely different matter once we try to put them into practice at home. We discover that they're not an integral part of us, that we haven't completely absorbed them yet. The Tibetans say that the journey from the head to the heart is the longest, and I think that's true. The essence of a real practice is to bring our intellectual understanding to the level of our heart, so as to feel it, to live it. When we understand deeply, the right attitude, the right words, the right action come to us spontaneously, effortlessly. And when we're confident, we act with joy and enthusiasm.

It has been my experience that the only way to make the journey from head to heart is through regular, consistent practice. This is why it's so important to come to class regularly and to meditate daily or almost daily. I think it works by a kind of saturation effect. It's not merely the content of what we learn that's so important. Rather, it's crucial that we soak ourselves in the teachings and the practice of the meditative tradition so that the applications will, indeed, be spontaneous. This stuff really works! But not without practice. So come to class and meditate - if only 5 or 10 minutes - every day. You will truly see the difference in your life if you do.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

African Geese:
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A luminous reality

This week in ongoing class we looked at the illusion of believing that we are a solid unchanging "self" that moves through time and space intact. Now, sadly, sometimes people are frightened by that realization as if it means that they are annihilated. It does not mean that at all but rather that we are dynamic energy systems - changing all the time and therefore having the potential for becoming unstuck at any moment. Then we can have an awareness of who and what we really are. Here's what Rob Nairn says about our true nature in Tranquil Mind*:

In reality, each one of us exists, always has existed, and always will exist as an enlightened being. Enlightenment is a state beyond human understanding and words can give only a hint of what it means - it is the state free from negative or conflicting emotions, free from any sense of duality, free from any form of negativity or ignorance. In that state, every positive or perfect condition is fully and naturally present - perfect love, compassion , joy, happiness and equanimity. This is the true nature of all beings; this is "reality".

*Copies of Tranquil Mind are available at the Center.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them - never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
-- C.S. Lewis

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bare attention makes mindfulness possible.

Here's a passage from Rob Nairn's Tranquil Mind* on the value of bare attention:

After a while you discover that bare attention is simply attending to all that occurs in relation to the senses - seeing, hearing, thinking and so on, acknowledging and letting go. If you persist in this practice you will find that it checks the flow of uncontrolled thought without your having to make an effort to do so, and without suppression. Of course, this effect will not be evident immediately, because we all have deep-rooted habits of allowing the mind to be rather wild and undisciplined, so you have to persist for a while before the mind begins to settle. Bare attention makes mindfulness possible.

*Copies of Tranquil Mind are available at the Center.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Heaven and Hell

It's a classic story but one I haven't thought of for some time. I just came across it in my browsing today and wanted to share it with you right away:

In the strict class system of ancient Japan, any show of disrespect to a samurai was met, at the minimum, with a scolding, or at the worst, an immediate beheading. This particular samurai had been wandering through the village, growing increasingly irritated as he heard endless glowing acknowledgements of a revered monk named Takuan.

Finally, the jealous samurai shouted, "Where is the monk? We'll see what he has to teach me!" The villagers said that he lived in the forest high on a mountain above the village. The samurai proceeded to climb the mountain. When he reached the top, he searched the forest until he finally came upon a monk who was sitting quietly under a tree.

"So, you're the monk they talk about. Well, monk, tell me the difference between heaven and hell."

The little monk looked up at him and said with a smile, "Get out of here. You disgust me. You're despicable. You have no right to even call yourself a samurai."

Enraged at the monk's evident display of disrespect, the samurai drew his sword and was about to cut the monk's head off when the monk calmly raised his hand and said, "That is hell."

Now at this the samurai dropped his sword. In such awe that this little monk had the courage and the willingness to end his life in order to teach, he dropped to his knees.

As the samurai bowed in gratitude, the monk smiled once more, raised his hand, and said softly, "And that is heaven."

Reprinted from "Journey to Center" by Thomas Crum

The interior benefits of meditation

When one devotes oneself to meditation, mental burdens, unnecessary worries, and wandering thoughts drop off one by one; life seems to run smoothly and pleasantly. A student may now depend on intuition to make decisions. As one acts on intuition, second thought, with its dualism, doubt and hesitation, does not arise.
-- Nyogen Senzaki


All the masters tell us that the reality of life - which our noisy waking consciousness prevents us from hearing - speaks to us chiefly in silence.
-- Karlfried Graf Durckheim

Friday, March 18, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!!

Here's a repeat but I haven't published this for a long time. It's Leroy, of course, looking very sedate.
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More on the benefits of meditation

I got this off of Nancy O'Hara's web page: ]

Clinical, on-the-job studies show that meditation:

**Lessens job worry, tension and the desire to change jobs
**Increases efficiency, concentration, productivity, and job satisfaction
**Decreases absentee rates
**Improves interpersonal skills
**Lowers blood pressure and improves overall health
**Reduces anxiety, insomnia and fatigue

In the three years after Montgomery Chemical in Detroit instituted a meditation program, absenteeism fell by 85 percent, injuries declined 70 percent, sick days fell by 76 percent and profits soared 520 percent.

After employees at Tower Companies in Maryland began meditating, their hospital admissions and physician visits dropped so much that the firm's insurer reduced the company's premium by 5 percent and agreed to pay 80 percent of the meditation course costs.

An antidote to anxiety

Here's another excerpt from Find a Quiet Corner by Nancy O'Hara. In this passage the issue of resistance to meditation is addressed:

Chances are that once you contemplate the idea of spending time quietly alone, you will feel some anxiety. It's perfectly normal, if accustomed to a fast-paced and constantly moving world, to become disoriented when the movement stops. Even the thought of jumping off can raise some fears. Our mind can be our own worst enemy.

The antidote for this is slow, deep breathing. Conscious breathing is an instant, magical cure and instills in us the courage to move forward. Its power to transform us and lessen our fear should convince us to never take anything for granted.

When anxiety takes hold of you as you contemplate facing your quiet corner, simply resort to concentrated breathing and you will be able to take your next step. Breathe, breathe, and breathe some more.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Mary Swander event

I want to remind everyone to support the Center with your presence at the public lecture Friday night given by spiritual writer Mary Swander. This will be held at the Hardesty Regional Library at 8316 E. 93rd St. (one block east of Memorial) at 7:00 p.m.

The lecture is entitled, "Desert Pilgrim: En route to Mysticism and Miracles" and it is the story of Mary's own spiritual journey - truly a fascinating narrative. Mary is an award winning writer and a popular teacher and speaker. Please do come out for this Center event. We are using it to promote who and what we are so it really matters that we have a good turnout.

See you there!

Not two; not one

When you sit in the full lotus position, your left foot is on your right thigh and your right foot is on your left thigh. When we cross our legs like this, even though we have a right leg and a left leg, they have become one. The position expresses the oneness of duality: not two and not one. This is the most important teaching: not two, and not one. Our body and mind are not two and not one. If you think your body and mind are two, that is wrong; if you think that they are one, that is also wrong. Our body and mind are both two and one.
-- Shunryu Suzuki
All know that the drop merges into the ocean but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.
-- Kabir

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

This fine beast just might be meditating!
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The incomparable value of mindfulness

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that's precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I'm being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There's no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A way of life

This morning Carolyn Loomis sent me a beautiful document and wondered if I knew who wrote it. I don't, as it happens, but it sounds like something Thich Nhat Hanh would write. I'm copying it for you here. If anyone recognizes the list below, please let me know and I'll pass on the information to Carolyn. In the meantime, we can all benefit from pondering the values espoused in this set of life commitments:

Recognize the interdependence of all beings.

Meet suffering directly and with compassion.

Appreciate the importance of not clinging to views and outcomes.

Connect individual and social transformation.

Practice nonviolence.

Use participatory decision-making techniques.

Protect and extend human rights.

Support gender and racial equality, and challenge all forms of unjust discrimination.

Work for economic justice and the end of poverty.

Work for a sustainable environment.

Update: Well, Carolyn googled the document and it's from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship mission statement that appeared right here on this blog on January 1, 2005. Mystery solved!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Monday Meditative Picture Blogging

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It's been a while since I've shared with you a passage from Taming the Tiger by Akong Tulku Rinpoche. More and more, in the course of my work, I observe the very real unhappiness that results when people are unwilling to accept themselves as they are. This non-acceptance not only makes us unhappy, it makes us tense. Rinpoche addresses this in the excerpt I give you today:

There seem to be two main problems when people try to relax. Some people cannot relax because there is a feeling, "I have to be relaxed," and when the feeling of calmness does not come, then a feeling of panic arises. So when we try to do relaxation exercises, it is very important that we do not over-react - whatever happens. Even if we are unable to be calm, just simply accept whatever comes.

The other problem is that when a feeling of relaxation does arise one can get involved with it and consequently attached to it. Happiness and excitement can arise from this relaxation one day but when one comes to do the exercise the next day, one has expectations that a similar feeling should arise. If it does not, again there is a tendency to either panic or become very disappointed. You think - "good feelings arose yesterday, then why not today?" There is a kind of warfare going on with oneself. This is itself an obstacle to relaxation. So the important thing is to have no expectations and to simply accept whatever happens.

The way to relax is to learn how to accept yourself. Let go of any expectations about, "I'm doing this exercise - I should have this result or that result." Instead cultivate the ability to know yourself and be with whatever you are thinking or feeling. Making friends with yourself without fighting yourself - that is the way to find relaxation very easily. To someone whose mind is really mature, they can be very happy wherever they are, whatever happens because they have learned to accept themselves and whatever they experience.

It's so important to accept whatever we are thinking or feeling without judgment. I know that is radical advice. It is also what works if we want to cultivate a relaxed and liberated mind. Just begin. Whatever you are thinking and feeling right now, right this very minute, accept. Even if you don't like it, accept it. Even if you have already judged it, don't judge the judgment. Non-judgment can only happen in the moment and we can do that at any point. Once you have accepted yourself completely, if only for a nano-second, then you know how to do it. Then your aspiration is simply to increase your percentages! Every time you are aware of attachments or expectations, just accept yourself in the moment. I promise you that your peace of mind and happiness will only increase!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Relaxing into sound

I want to remind you today of using sound as a meditative support. Usually I teach this in Session 5 of the Foundations course but maybe some of you have forgotten it. I find it a skillful approach because it has a built in impermanence meditation and it also helps people to let go because the sound can't be controlled. Here's the way Rob Nairn describes the method in Tranquil Mind*:

Traditionally breath is used as the focus for meditation, but this is not the only way and many Westerners find other methods more beneficial.

If you live in a noisy place, or find that your mind is tense or tight or obsessive, or particularly if you find you are trying to control what is happening inwardly or are too concerned with "getting it right", you will discover that a subtle sense of struggle or striving will begin to dominate your meditation. This will cause the mind to become tense and rigid instead of pliable and open. The tense, rigid, striving mind is not meditating. It is the open, relaxed mind which experiences meditation.

If you are experiencing these difficulties, try using sound as the focus for your meditation.

Sit... but instead of focusing on the breath, allow your attention to "relax into" sound. This means permit yourself to hear whatever sounds are coming to you and allow your attention to remain with sound. You will soon discover the difference between hearing and listening. The latter is a tight, focused action which fixes on a chosen sound and attempts to remain with that to the exclusion of all others. This causes tension. Hearing is more panoramic and does not involve choice. Whatever sounds come to you are fine and are choicelessly accepted as the focus for your mindfulness at any moment. The mind which is hearing will become relaxed and open, because there is no choice, preference or struggle - just an easy "being present".

Every time your mind wanders into distraction, see that this has occurred and return in a relaxed way to awareness of sound.
I really recommend this method - the method of simple hearing and accepting of whatever sounds fall on the ear. This is my meditative support of choice when I have no other particular reason to use something else. It is very spacious, very freeing.

*Copies of Tranquil Mind are available at the Center.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Egoless awareness

Let me introduce you to a wonderful book by John Welwood entitled, Toward a Psychology of Awakening. There is a marvelous chapter called, "Ego Strength and Egolessness" that I want to quote today:

Understanding egolessness as the open hand out of which the clenched fist of ego forms helps us see that it poses no real threat to our existence or effective functioning in the world. A fist may be useful for some purposes, but in the long run we can do a lot more with an open hand. And in the end, it is only egoless awareness that allows us to face and accept death in all its forms. Recognizing ego death as an integral, recurring aspect of life makes it possible to overcome our fear of letting go. When we are not so driven to prove, justify, defend, or immortalize our bounded self, we can breathe more deeply, appreciate death as a renewing element within the larger circle of life, and embrace reality in all the forms in which it presents itself.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's Edgar in his little house!
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Finding the time, finding the energy

I suppose it's the most common complaint: "But I don't have time to meditate!" Do remember that everyone in the world has exactly the same amount of time as everyone else. This awareness will help us get perspective on the time issue. But I know it's easy to be seduced by the illusion that we don't have time. Or that we don't have the energy. Nancy O'Hara addresses these difficulties in Find a Quiet Corner:

Finding the time. Dealing with avoidance and fear. Pushing through the resistance. Learning to breathe again. You might be asking yourself, why bother? It all sounds like so much effort. Where will the energy come from, and is it worth it?

This is the Catch-22 of putting a quiet corner in your life. In order to get there you do have to expend some energy. You get more back than you spend, but then you have to spend it for your next quiet corner. And so on and so on.

But. As you continue the practice of your quiet corner, the quality of your energy will change and you will always have the energy you need. When you carry over your quiet corner practices - breathing, mindfulness and so forth - into other areas of your life, your energy will be constant and strong. You will rarely run out, and any loss of sleep you experience as a result of your quiet corner will more than be made up for in the energy gained. In order to get energy you must spend a little, and once a quiet corner practice becomes a cornerstone in you life you will not recall how you once struggled to find the energy to get there. In fact, you will someday get to the point where you will retreat to your quiet corner in order to replenish your energy reserves.

This is so true. My life would simply not work if I didn't meditate. Once again I want to encourage those of you who live in the Tulsa area to stop by the Center for our daily sitting. It is easier to find the time and the energy if we make it a discipline to come to the meditation hall. Once we're there, the energy of the group is wonderfully supporting. Even if you make daily sitting at the Center only a once a week practice, those sessions will add up and create a backlog of mindfulness that will help you stay centered in your daily life. If you can't come to the Center then I encourage to to take Nancy O'Hara's advice literally and create a physical space in your home that is supportive of meditative practice. That way you can just go there whenever you have a few minutes and refresh yourself. See it as resting the mind. See it as truly recharging your batteries. I promise you, you won't regret it!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A wonderful mantra

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

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The Present Moment

Here's a wonderful description of meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh as he presents it in Being Peace:

"Dwelling in the present moment." While I sit here, I don't think of somewhere else, of the future or the past. I sit here, and I know where I am. This is very important. We tend to be alive in the future, not now. We say, "Wait until I finish school and get my Ph.D. degree, and then I will be really alive." When we have it, and it's not easy to get, we say to ourselves, "I have to wait until I have a job in order to be really alive." And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don't know when. Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive at all in our entire life. Therefore, the technique, if we have to speak of a technique, is to be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, and the only moment to be alive is the present moment.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Our incredible power

Today I picked up a little book I've had for a long time. It is Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr. I have always loved the title. In fact, I've had a particular interest for many years in titles that so capture the author's meaning or main point that you almost don't have to read the book! This is one of them. Just contemplate that statement, "Everything belongs". Try using it as a mantra and see what happens. It's very powerful.

But I am going to offer you a passage here. It's from the chapter entitled, "Cleansing the Lens":

As we observe our mental and emotional flow over a period of disciplined time, we recognize that we largely create our own experiences. I know this is embarrassing and some of us deny it, but it's true. We have the power to decide what the moment means and how we will respond to it. We have power when we know we have the ability to respond freely. We can decide if we're going to respond to something hatefully or lovingly. We can decide to attack or ask for the gift of forgiveness, or at least the gift of understanding.

This free decision is a real source of power and self-esteem that nobody can take from us. It's not dependent on having a beautiful body and being young. In fact, our inner power increases as we get older. When we go down to that place of pure intentionality where we are still free, no jail can imprison us...

Monday, March 07, 2005

Monday Meditative Picture Blogging

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"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."

-- Frederick Buechner in Now and Then

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The power of icons

Yesterday, I conducted a Quiet Day at Grace Church in Muskogee. The day was intended to be an introduction to contemplation so we started off with some simple instructions in basic mindfulness meditation - learning to be aware of thoughts and to accept them without judgment. First we worked with using a visualized image as a meditation support and then I recommended the simple mantra, "Be still." The participants seemed to be enjoying themselves but most complained about distractions. Everyone had "monkey mind" and everyone identified with that expression right away!

I was amazed, then, with what happened when we used icons as a support for meditation. First we simply rested the mind on the icon without any attempt to analyze it or assign meaning to it. People seemed to like that but several still complained of wandering minds. Finally I instructed the group in memorizing the icon. That's when the breakthrough happened for those with the most agitated minds. I asked if anyone had problems - you know, in life. There was laughter about that! Then I asked, "Where were the problems while you were memorizing the icon?" Several people looked at me with amazement. "Gone," they said. The problems simply weren't there. Whatever each person typically obsessed about on a daily basis had vanished during the memorization exercise.

Now let me tell you what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that meditation is about tuning out our problems. I am saying that our minds have much more flexibility than we give them credit for. And I'm saying that we can get relief from our suffering by using our minds skillfully. One of the most effective skills we can cultivate is the discipline of memorizing a sacred image.

I want to recommend that you go on and make the effort to find an image that really appeals to you - of a saint, an archetype or just someone you truly admire. Then spend time lovingly memorizing the image. Analyze it to your heart's content. Study all the details. Draw it, if you like, or pretend to draw it in your mind. Let your consciousness be spaciously occupied with this task. Then notice how free you are - free from worry, anxiety, judgments, obsessions. Completing the memorization task may take a long time. Months even. That's all right. It's not supposed to happen all at once. But eventually you will have the image wonderfully imprinted on your memory to use as a meditative support whenever you have a few free minutes. And the process itself will have been powerfully beneficial to your mind.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

For its own sake

Here's a really wonderful passage from Find a Quiet Corner by Nancy O'Hara entitled "Who's Looking?"

Awards ceremonies, diplomas, honor rolls, first-place medals, promotions, pay raises, scholarships. These are just some of the ways that our society recognizes and rewards achievement. It is often what motivates us, the carrot at the end of the stick. When we search for a quiet corner, there is no tangible carrot awaiting us. And we're not being graded. No one is watching.

We enter the stream alone and report back only to ourselves. The rewards are quiet, subtle ones - no marching bands. When we keep at it, those we love will share in the benefits without perhaps even knowing how or why. And there's no need to share the specifics of your transformation with others. Let it be your secret. Let your quiet corner be a place where you commune with yourself and, if it works for you, with your higher power. No one is watching. But everyone gains.

Meditation is, indeed, a wonderful antidote to achievement addiction. Results do happen. But cultivating an attachment to results ends up sabotaging our efforts. So just meditate for its own sake. And then let the results unfold and emerge as they will without striving or strain. Not only will our meditation be more effective, we will enjoy it more. And if we enjoy it more, we will meditate more. And if we meditate more we will truly reap the benefits we long for.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

This is a cat that Cynthia rescued - a little stray that showed up at her house. I helped Cynthia get the cat into a carrier and we took her to Woodland Animal Hospital where they named her Persia and put her up for adoption. She's a pretty little thing, don't you think?

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Practice, Practice, Practice

Here's another passage from Find a Quiet Corner by Nancy O'Hara. She makes a critical point here that we would all do well to take on board:

Whatever gain you get from your quiet corner today may carry through to tomorrow, but it will begin to fade if you don't continue the practice of taking quiet corner time. And while the effects of this practice are cumulative, you must practice daily in order for this to be so. As with anything worthwhile, your quiet corner experience gets better with practice and time.

There will be many days when retreating to your quiet corner will seem to take more effort than you think it's worth. Go there anyway. There may be days when you feel stuck and your quiet corner seems more a burden than a luxury. Go there anyway. Even if you feel you can spare only ten minutes some days, that's enough. If you wait for the perfect time, the perfect motivation, and the perfect setting, you may never get there. Keep going there and practice your practice.

Remember the Nike slogan: Just do it!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Finding a quiet corner

This morning I came across a book I had forgotten I have. It's called Find a Quiet Corner: A Simple Guide to Self-Peace by Nancy O'Hara. It's a little book that's organized as a series of short readings so you can open it up at random and dip in at any place. Here's a passage I found that is in keeping with what I've been talking about the past few days:

The ultimate aim of quiet corner practice is to bring ourselves into the present moment, to make ourselves aware of what is happening now - not yesterday or tomorrow, but now. It is to bring us into this moment and keep us here. You may not yet be aware that you are not always living in the moment. But as you continue on the quiet corner path, your awareness will improve. You will notice more readily when you are regressing or projecting. When you do notice, try centering your attention on your breath. Your breath will always help you focus on the present. If you take three deep breaths at such times, you will notice where you are and how you're feeling. Take stock of yourself. Look around you and notice something about your surroundings. Place yourself firmly in the present by taking note of the shoes you're wearing. Take three more deep breaths and notice your posture. Are you holding on to some tension? Breathe into it and let it go. What activity are you engaged in? Bring all of your attention to it and breathe. Don't think about finishing it, just be in it.

I like the idea of noticing one's shoes. That has the effect of grounding us in time and place and giving us a sense of connectedness with the earth. Also, giving attention to one's posture is a powerful mindfulness technique. I also like the idea of carrying a "quiet corner" with us wherever we go. It is similar to the ancient mystical notion of the hermitage within. Try the advice given in this passage and let me know how it goes, okay? I hope everyone's day goes well and that each person truly accesses his or her own "quiet corner".

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

From the Mayo Clinic

Today after class, Myra Seymour handed me an article from the Mayo Clinic Health Letter on the benefits of meditation. I'm simply amazed - but not really surprised - at just how many articles of this nature have come to my attention. I know I've said it before but I'll say it once more: meditation really works. There is a measurable, well-documented benefit to having a regular meditative practice.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

Changes in actual brain wave activity during meditation can be shown using electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring. EEG measurements of brain wave activity reflect the various states of consciousness. When it comes to meditation, the deeper the meditative state, the lower the EEG frequency.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine - part of the National Institutes of Health - regular mediation can improve longevity and quality of life. It can also reduce:
* High blood pressure
* Anxiety
* Substance abuse
* a hormone (cortisol) in the blood that increases with stress
* Post-traumatic stress syndrome
* Visits to a health care provider
Some forms of meditation are easier to learn than others. Among the various forms, "mindfulness meditation" is growing in use in the health care field. Being mindful means you're able to pay attention to your experience from one moment to the next without being carried away by other thoughts or concerns.

Wednesday life form blogging

This is probably my favorite picture of Cynthia's:

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

About happiness

I often find myself reminding people of the universal motivation - the desire to be happy. People do what they do because of the belief that their actions will make them happy. Unfortunately, due to ignorance, many actions do not lead to happiness at all and are tragically unskillful. The core of inner work, then, is to identify exactly what ways of working with the mind and what outward behaviors actually support authentic happiness and true well-being. Paul Wilson speaks to this in a passage from Instant Calm:

Have you ever secretly envied those people whose lives seem to be an ongoing game or adventure, who are always striving to have a good time, who continually seem to live for the present? Have you ever worried that the conservative ideals of your upbringing - planning for the future, saving, working for retirement - severely limit your capacity to enjoy and get the most out of life?

Most happy, contented people recognize that the ideal is a midway course between the two extremes. Most worriers do not.

The people who are most calm and relaxed about their lives are not those who have unblemished or uncomplicated pasts, nor are they those who have sorted out everything to do with their futures. They are those who have learned to live in the present. (Note, "in" in the present, not "for" the present.)

All right. It's not going to surprise you for me to say that meditation is the way to learn this. Because it's true. In meditation we gently bring the mind back to the present moment whenever our mind wanders by returning to the object of our meditation - that is, the meditation support. This training allows the mind to settle and to rest. It also enables us to be truly in the moment because we are willing to give relaxed attention to the support instead of indulging the desire to get caught up and involved with distractions. This is not to say that we are never distracted. But we do not indulge the distractions. Training the mind in this way makes it possible to be truly in the present moment. And it is only in the present moment that we can be happy.