Monday, October 31, 2005

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Accept without judging

The phrase "accept without judging" is fundamental to the meditative process. But for many people it seems that judging is so automatic that they don't know how not to do it. I found some interesting instructions on that on a website called, Wildmind. Here's some of what it says:

An important aspect of mindfulness is acceptance, or of avoiding harsh judgments. Acceptance means being able to be aware of our experience without either clinging to it or pushing it away. Instead we accept our experience with equanimity.

All too often we find it difficult to accept what we're feeling. A common pattern is to experience some initial unpleasant experience, and then to feel bad because of feeling bad, and then to feel bad about feeling bad about feeling bad, and so on. It's a vicious cycle of feeling bad about feeling bad. The feelings are generated by thinking in unhelpful ways, so this means there are several approaches to breaking the vicious cycle.

Acceptance of what you're feeling is one tool, although it's not so much a tool as a way of being. Acceptance means acknowledging what you're feeling, and standing back from it so that although you experience the unpleasant emotion you don't entirely define yourself by it.
Then there's the whole area of the thoughts. When you feel bad, your mind generates thoughts that are conditioned by the unpleasant feeling. These thoughts ("Here we go again. I don't want to feel like this. I can't stand it. If I feel like this no one will like me. I don't think anyone likes me anyway") are what make us feel bad about feeling bad. We take a molehill (or at least a hill) and make it into a mountain.

It's very useful indeed to learn to stand back from our thoughts as well as our emotions. We can recognize that our thoughts are just thoughts, and not reality. When you notice thoughts arising, you can let go of the stream of thought. Thoughts only keep going as long as we put energy into this, so by letting go of the thought we're actually withdrawing energy from it and stopping it from being perpetuated.

Labeling thoughts as thoughts can be useful. When we notice ourselves thinking we can just say the word "thinking" quietly to ourselves. When we name our experience we again create a small gap that gives us a sense of freedom.

You can adopt a skeptical attitude about your thoughts. Our thoughts often lie to us, and we can feel empowered by choosing not to automatically believe them. Instead of believing thoughts like "No one will want to be with me if I feel as bad as this" we can simply be aware of this as a thought.

I love the bumper sticker on the bulletin board in Cynthia's office that says, "Don't believe everything you think." It's really worth it to put in the effort to learn to accept without judgment. Don't expect this acceptance to happen automatically. A deep willingness to let go of judgment is the first step. Then we practice - slowly, consistently. And be sure to affirm yourself everytime you do let go. That positive reinforcement will be supportive of subsequent attempts to accept without judgment.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Meditation for life

I just found a web page called Shambhala. Here's something the site says about the all encompassing nature of meditation:
When we begin to meditate, the first thing we realize is how wild things are-how wild our mind is, how wild our life is. But once we begin to have the quality of being tamed, when we can sit with ourselves, we realize there's a vast wealth of possibility that lies in front of us. Meditation is looking at our own backyard, you could say, looking at what we really have and discovering the richness that already exists. Discovering that richness is a moment-to-moment process, and as we continue to practice our awareness becomes sharper and sharper.

This mindfulness actually envelopes our whole life. It is the best way to appreciate our world, to appreciate the sacredness of everything. We add mindfulness and all of a sudden, the whole situation becomes alive. This practice soaks into everything that we do; there's nothing left out. Mindfulness pervades sound and space. It is a complete experience.

I love the observation that mindfulness teaches us to appreciate the sacredness of everything. When we do that it is impossible to be bored or resentful or to indulge in self-pity. Appreciating the sacredness of everything is a way of cultivating equanimity, peace of mind and simple delight. It is a wonderful way to live.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

A rare picture of Henry and Leroy together. Poor Henry has had surgery on his ear as you can see if you look closely.

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Letting go of striving

Here's a story told by Anthony de Mello in The Song of the Bird :

The Contented Fisherman

The rich industrialist from the north was horrified to find the Southern fisherman lying lazily beside his boat, smoking a pipe.

"Why aren't you out fishing?" said the industrialist.

"Because I have caught enough fish for the day, " said the fisherman.

"Why don't you catch some more?"

"What would I do with it?"

You could earn more money," was the reply. "With that you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough to buy nylon nets. These would bring you more fish and more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats... maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a rich man like me."

"What would I do then?"

"Then you could really enjoy life."

"What do you think I am doing right now?"

I've always loved this story. Why go around the world to get next door?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Meditation and relationships

Here's an interesting observation by Jack Kornfield in A Path With Heart:
In both child rearing and love relationships, we will inevitably encounter the same hindrances as we do sitting in meditation. We will desire to be somewhere else or with someone else. We will feel aversion, judgment, and fear. We will have periods of laziness and dullness. We will get restless with one another, and we will have doubts. We can name these familiar demons and meet them in the spirit of practice. We can acknowledge the body of fear that underlies them and, together with our partner, speak of these very difficulties as a way to deepen our love.

If we're used to dealing with distressing feelings during our meditation, they will not tend to overwhelm us in our dealings with other people.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

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Rebirth of the new

We will be prepared for the big death when we accept the little deaths that come to us each day - the natural endings that are part of every life. Jack Kornfield speaks to this in A Path With Heart:
When your vision clears and your heart opens, you will discover that you are living in a constant process of beginnings and endings. Your children leave home; your marriages may begin and end; your home is sold; a new career begins; your work ends in retirement. Every new year, every day, every moment is a letting go of the old and a rebirth of the new. Spiritual practice brings you into the most intimate contact with this mystery. Sitting still, you encounter the unstoppable arising and passing of your breath, your feelings, thoughts and mental images. More deeply still, you discover that your consciousness itself can change, giving rise to a thousand different views and perspectives. Finally, all that you take yourself to be - your separate body, mind, and individuality - can unravel before you until you discover that your limited identity is not your true nature.

And what a wonderful discovery that is. When we realize that our true nature is not our personality, our ego, then endings - even death - hold no terrors for us.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Time to stop running

Here's a wonderful poem I found in Jack Kornfield's A Path With Heart. It is by May Sarton:

Now I Become Myself

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places,
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before - "
(What: Before you reach the morning?
or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!...
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the Sun!

Kornfield then remarks: "It may take years of deep work to stop running, to reclaim our unspoken voice, the truth within us. Yet this is necessary to come to wholeness and true self."

It may take years. Of course, it may! It is entirely appropriate for it to take years. And it's worth it!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Monday Meditative Picture Blogging

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Self-improvement or letting go?

Perfectionism is epidemic in American culture. Many of us have been infected by the pervasive message that we're never good enough and that our life must be characterized by self-improvement projects. Jack Kornfield explores the difference between authentic spiritual aspiration and the self-improvement attachment in his book, A Path With Heart:

Repeated cultivation is a basic principle of most spiritual and meditative paths... In repeated meditations we can learn how to skillfully let go of fearful or contracted identities, how to calm our hearts, how to listen instead of react. We can systematically direct our attention to reflect on compassion, to purify our motivations with each act, and gradually we will change... [W]e can choose to strengthen our courage, loving kindness, and compassion, evoking them in ourselves through reflection, meditation, attention, and repeated training. We can also choose to abandon pride, resentment, fear, and contraction when they arise, leaving flexibility and openness as the ground for healthy development.

As our development of self grows and our heart becomes less entangled, we begin to discover a deeper truth about the self: We do not have to improve ourselves; we just have to let go of what blocks our heart. When our heart is free from the contractions of fear, anger, grasping and confusion, the spiritual qualities we have tried to cultivate manifest in us naturally. They are our true nature, and they spontaneously shine in our consciousness whenever we let go of the rigid structures of our identity.

The journey of self-improvement and the journey of letting go are TWO DIFFERENT JOURNEYS. I cannot emphasize that enough. You will not be liberated by grasping for improvements. On the contrary: That enterprise is a way we take ourselves hostage and put ourselves in prison. Let go. Just let go. Let it be okay that you're not perfect - that you are a person on a journey into wholeness and liberation that is a process of relinquishment, not acquisition.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The complete person

Here's a wonderful observation I just found. It come's from a book by Rumer Godden called A House with Four Rooms:
There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.

Meditation nutures all four aspects of the person. We tend the physical by sitting in an erect, relaxed position, we rest the mind, we accept and observe the emotional and we cultivate spiritual aspiration. The decision to meditate is a profound decision for self care.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

An ocean of patience!

Meditation is not about making the mind stay put. It is about returning the mind to the meditative support as many times as necessary. Jack Kornfield speaks to this in his wonderful book, A Path With Heart:

Whether a practice calls for visualization, question, prayer, sacred words, or simple meditation on feelings or breath, it always involves the steadying and conscious return, again and again, to some focus. As we learn to do this with a deeper and fuller attention, it is like learning to steady a canoe in waters that have waves. Repeating our meditation, we relax and sink into the moment, deeply connecting with what is present. We let ourselves settle into a spiritual ground; we train ourselves to come back to this moment. This is a patient process. St. Francis de Sales said, "What we need is a cup of understanding, a barrel of love, and an ocean of patience."

For some, this task of coming back a thousand or ten thousand times in meditation may seem boring or even of questionable importance. But how many times have we gone away from the reality of our life? - perhaps a million or ten million times! If we wish to awaken, we have to find our way back here with our full being, our full attention.

St. Francis de Sales continued by saying:

"Bring yourself back to the point quite gently. And even if you do nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back a thousand times, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed."

It is so very important to have compassion on ourselves. And being patient with our meditative process is one of the best ways to do that. I agree with St. Francis: we need an ocean of patience!

Saturday dog blogging!

This is Izzy. She's an old lady with her gray muzzle. But she acts like a puppy! (Truly young at heart.)

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's Leroy on the futon.

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Repair your karma

I came across something today that I just love. It's from the book, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster by Richard Brautigan. Here it is:

Karma Repair Kit: Items 1-4

1. Get enought food to eat, and eat it.
2. Find a place to sleep where it is quiet, and sleep there.
3. Reduce intellectual and emotional noise until you arrive at the silence of yourself, and listen to it.

No, the number 4 with the blank space after it is not a typo. Think about it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Letting go of superiority

It is common for the ego to delight in other people's mistakes or other groups' inadequacies so that the ego is pumped up. This need to feel superior is addressed by Scott Morrison in his book, There Is Only Now:
It's time we stop pretending, subtly or overtly, that our particular group is superior in some way. That's a hidden way of saying, "I'm superior," (and therefore not inferior). Let's bring our woundedness, our childhood fears and hurts of inferiority, covered over by the pretense of individual or collective superiority to a total and absolute halt. Completely. Now. If there are tears to be shed, then let's shed them together, and for each other. And let those tears of shame be tears of relief, tears of joy, in finally putting down this burden of trying to defend and justify what we have imagined ourselves to be. What doesn't exist doesn't need to be defended. It never did.

The idealized self doesn't exit. The shame-covered inadequate self also doesn't exit. We have made them up - both of them. Let's all let go. Let's not wait! Let's do it today.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

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The value of solitude

Bill Miller sent me the following poem which I think is quite wonderful:

White Towels

I have been studying the difference
between solitude and loneliness,
telling the story of my life
to the clean white towels taken warm from the dryer.
I carry them through the house
as though they were my children
asleep in my arms.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What, then, is love?

Years ago, someone gave me a little book called There Is Only Now by Scott Morrison who, at that time, was living and teaching in Tulsa. Sadly, I never met him for I later learned that he had died.

Today, I came across the book and want to share a passage that I particularly like:
Then what, exactly, is love? Like awareness, it is impossible to put into words exactly what love is. Love is a lot bigger than words or concepts or the mind process that creates and reinforces them. However, most people recognize love when it is present, and a good rule of thumb is that true love always tastes like, always feels like, freedom.

Love is, in fact, what you discover you are, when you cease to be preoccupied with yourself as a separate entity with its endless ambitions, problems and worries. When you discover that your True Nature is love, and you give yourself to That, you will realize complete freedom and happiness, and your struggles with the world will come to an end, if that is what you truly want.

Remember that love feels like freedom. If an emotional attachment causes you to feel imprisoned in some way, it probably isn't really love but is rather an infatuation or an obsession of some kind. Let go and let yourself be free. If love is real, you will not lose it but, rather, will experience it even more deeply.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Monday Meditative Picture Blogging

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Valuing emptiness

If we're too full of ourselves we are unable to be receptive to anything; we are especially unreceptive to that which give us freedom. Matthew Fox looks at the importance of emptiness in his book Creation Spirituality:
Healthy mysticism praises acts of letting go, of being emptied, of getting in touch with the space inside and expanding this until it merges with the space outside. Space meeting space; empty pouring into empty. Births happen from that encounter with emptiness, nothingness... Let us not fight emptiness and nothingness, but allow it to penetrate us even as we penetrate it.
There is a wonderful story about a professor who visits a Zen master for instruction. The master offers him tea and, while pouring his cup, keeps on pouring till the cup overflows. "Stop!" cries the professor. "It is overful."

"Just like your mind with all its ideas and concepts. First empty your cup and then I can teach you."

Let's all be willing to empty our cup today and be receptive to what reality has to teach us.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Don't let the world define you

Here is an excellent description of what life is like when we lose our equanimity and mindfulness. This is by Henri J.M. Nouwen from his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son:
A little criticism makes me angry, and a little rejection makes me depressed. A little praise raises my spirits and a little success excites me. It takes very little to raise me up or thrust me down. Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves. All the time and energy I spend in keeping some kind of balance and preventing myself from being tipped over and drowning shows my life is mostly a struggle for survival: not a holy struggle, but an anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me.
Let's not be like that small boat on the ocean - at the mercy of attitudes and behaviors of others. Rather let's apply the meditative principles to every aspect of our lives, practicing deep acceptance and letting go of attachments. The attachment to praise and affirmation is especially pernicious. Having that attachment is profoundly disempowering for we assign the role of producing a sense of well being in ourselves over to other people. Nobody is obligated to like us or to praise us or to be thinking about us at all. Equanimity in this regard comes from having an internal sense of self-esteem that is not dependent on what other people think or say or do. It comes from accepting what is - no matter what that may be.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The spiritual life

Here's another passage from Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das:

The spiritual life has always been a reach for meaning and a search for answers to the two existential questions:"Who am I ?" and "Why am I?" A search for truth , personal authenticity and reality, a search for "what is ", a search for purpose; these are the foundations of the spiritual way. Men and women who are ready to deepen or formally embark on a spiritual journey are typically standing at some kind of emotional crossroad. Often the are grieving over some loss or disappointment - separation from or death of a loved one , a personal crisis, health problems, or an overriding sense that something is wrong or missing. Sometimes they are simply looking for a way to better love the world.
We can choose, you know, to be at a crossroad if we wish. We can simply decide that we will embark upon the authentic spiritual life. We can ask ourselves, "If not now, when?"

Happiness is an inside job

Realize that true happiness lies within you. Waste no time and effort searching for peace and contentment and joy in the world outside. Remember that there is no happiness in having or in getting, but only in giving. Reach out. Share. Smile. Hug. Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.

-- Og Mandino

Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

Cynthia took this picture while on vacation.

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"Most people are searching for happines. They're looking for it. They're trying to find it in someone or something outside of themselves.That's a fundemental mistake. Happiness is something that you are, and it comes from the way you think."

-- Wayne W(alter) Dyer (b. 1940), American writer, author

Thursday, October 13, 2005

More on equanimity

Here's another passage from Vipassana Meditation by William Hart. This addresses the question about whether letting go of judgment will make us uncaring or passive:

No matter what arises, whether within the microcosm of one's own mind and body or in the world outside, one is able to face it - not with tension, with barely suppressed craving and aversion - but with complete ease, with a smile that comes from the depths of the mind. In every situation, pleasant or unpleasant, wanted or unwanted, one has no anxiety, one feels totally secure, secure in the understanding of impermanence. This is the greatest blessing.
The absence of craving or aversion does not imply an attitude of callous indifference, in which one enjoys one's own liberation but gives no thought to the suffering of others. On the contrary, real equanimity is properly called "holy indifference." It is a dynamic quality, an expression of purity of mind. When freed of the habit of blind reaction, the mind for the first time can take positive action which is creative, productive, and beneficial for oneself and for all others. Along with equanimity will arise the other qualities of a pure mind: good will, love that seeks the benefit of others without expecting anything in return; compassion for others in their failings and sufferings; sympathetic joy in their success and good fortune. These four qualities are the inevitable outcome of the practice of [insight meditation].

"Holy indifference" is the attitude St. Ignatius teaches, by the way, in the Spiritual Exercises - that great foundational practice of the Jesuits. It is that grace-filled ability to accept whatever happens with equanimity and a focus on one's deep and abiding values.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

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The remedy for reactivity

What can we do about the habitual tendency to react? This subject is addressed in another passage by William Hart in Vipassana Meditation:

A sensation appears, and liking or disliking begins. This fleeting moment, if we are unaware of it, is repeated and intensified into craving and aversion, becoming a strong emotion that eventually overpowers the conscious mind. We become caught up in the emotion, and all our better judgment is swept aside. The result is that we find ourselves engaged in unwholesome speech and action, harming ourselves and others. We create misery for ourselves, suffering now and in the future, because of one moment of blind reaction.

But if we are aware at the point where the process of reaction begins - that is, if we are aware of the sensation - we can choose not to allow any reaction to occur or to intensify. We observe the sensation without reacting, neither liking nor disliking it. It has no chance to develop into craving or aversion, into powerful emotion that can overwhelm us; it simply arises and passes away. The mind remains balanced, peaceful. We are happy now, and we can anticipate happiness in the future, because we have not reacted.

This ability not to react is very valuable. When we are aware of the sensations within the body, and at the same time maintain equanimity, in those moments the mind is free. Perhaps at first these may be only a few moments in a meditation period, and the rest of the time the mind remains submerged in the old habit of reaction to sensations, the old round of craving, aversion, and misery. But with repeated practice those few brief moments will become seconds, will become minutes, until finally the old habit of reaction is broken, and the mind remains continuously at peace. This is how suffering can be stopped. This is how we can cease producing misery for ourselves.

Wow! Wouldn't it be wonderful for the mind to be "continuously at peace"? This is possible. It all comes from the mindfulness of noticing that first sensation or thought and then letting go right away. Let us be optimistic about this. We can all "cease producing misery for ourselves" if we just practice the meditative process.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Working skillfully with pain

Pain is a part of life. Physical pain and emotional pain, too. If we accept the pain we do not create additional suffering. That is the point made by William Hart in his book, Vipassana Meditation. ("Vipassana" simply means "insight"):

Then how is one not to make oneself unhappy? How is one to live without suffering? By simply observing without reacting: Instead of trying to keep one experience and to avoid another, to pull this close, to push that away, one simply examines every phenomenon objectively, with equanimity, with a balanced mind.

This sounds simple enough, but what are we to do when we sit to mediate for an hour, and after ten minutes feel a pain in the knee? At once we start hating the pain, wanting the pain to go away. But it does not go away; instead, the more we hate it, the stronger it becomes. The physical pain becomes a mental pain, causing great anguish.

If we can learn for one moment just to observe the physical pain; if even temporarily we can emerge from the illusion that it is our pain, that we feel pain; if we can examine the sensation objectively like a doctor examining someone else's pain, then we see that the pain itself is changing. It does not remain forever; every moment it changes, passes away, starts again, changes again.

When we understand this by personal experience, we find that the pain can no longer overwhelm and control us. Perhaps it goes away quickly, perhaps not, but it does not matter. We do not suffer from the pain any more because we can observe it with detachment.

One of the easiest ways to apply this is with an itching head. Almost everyone experiences this during meditation and the impulse is just to give in and scratch it. I recommend that you not do this. Be faithful to the principle of still meditation and just let the itch be what it is. Usually it will fade in a few minutes. But we will never experience this if we are determined to have instant gratification no matter what.

After we've practiced observing physical pain in this way, we can then apply the practice to emotional pain. That's a bit harder because we tend to let emotional pain interfere with our observer consciousness. But with practice, you can do it. When we accept any kind of pain without judgment, we alleviate our suffering and experience true equanimity.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Monday Meditative Picture Blogging

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More on kindness

Yesterday I shared with you some remarks by Sharon Salzberg that she gave during an interview. Today I want to offer an excerpt from her book, The Force of Kindness:

A friend of mine, at the end of a retreat, offered a provocative reflection that intrigued and inspired me. After looking intensively at her inner experience for nine days of meditation and seeing many of her life choices in a brand new light, she commented, "If you really want to be a rebel, practice kindness."

There could be many wonderful extrapolations: "If you really want to be outrageous, be ethical." "If you want to go against the grain, be kindhearted." "If you want to live on your own terms, breaking out from expectation and external demands, practice love." "To be free, to be different, to be bold, be compassionate."

My friend is an independent thinker, a person who likes to make her own decisions and set her own goals. She likes to know what options she has before her, and to be able to choose the one that is individual, distinctive, noncomformist. When she can really be herself, and not assume a facade in order to please people or fit in or meet their expectations, she is happy. I think she was absolutely right about kindness and rebellion.

The world may tell us to grab as much as we want, and we might think that the audacity of rebelliousness is to grab even more with impunity, but how about being really radical and questioning how much we need? Conventional wisdom may be that retribution displays strength and can summarily bring an end to conflicts, but how about taking a leap and challenging ourselves to a whole new meaning of resolution based on mutuality and caring? The easy way may be to turn away and distract ourselves form the distress and suffering of others, but how about being daring enough to pay attention? Our conditioning may tell us we don't need anybody, but how about taking a real look at life and noticing that we are all entwined in a fabric of interdependence, then being willing to risk acting accordingly?

I have never thought of kindness before as an act of rebellion. But it certainly is a rebellion against the incredible selfishness that is fundamental to the political climate in our country today. And please don't forget to be kind to yourself. We can do this in meditation by paying attention to the "tone of voice" we use with ourselves when we notice distractions. Never scold yourself for "doing it wrong". Just gently bring the mind back to the meditative support with unconditional acceptance of yourself. This will contribute to your basic sense of well being more than I can possibly describe!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The practice of kindness

Doug Freebern sent me the link to an article entitled, "Is It Uncool to Be Kind?" It's an interview of Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher whom I admire very much. Here are a couple of excerpts:

In what way can kindness be a spiritual practice?

It's both an internal spiritual practice and it's an external practice. I think one doesn't have to have a kind of classically spiritual word for it, to define it or access it, but it's like a commitment. It's remembering what we care about.

Mostly, I think it has to do with attention. You're rushing down the street and somebody asks you for directions, and the first thing you feel is annoyance. Like, I'm in a hurry, can't you see? But then you stop and you look at them and they look a little forlorn maybe, certainly a little bit lost and uneasy. And you think, they trusted me, that's why they asked me. They have that kind of inclination and you stop and you talk to them and there's just that little moment of connection. If we pay attention to what's around us then I think that leads us - or that's a form itself, a form of kindness.
Having a commitment to being straightforward and being clear and being honest and caring about others allows us not to live in fear all the time. It's also considered a gift of fearlessness to others because it's almost like that's what we are radiating is this assurance that I'm not going to hurt you, I'm not going to try and take advantage of you or manipulate you or deceive you. People feel that, they definitely respond to that.
I like the observation that kindness is "remembering what we care about". It's easy to forget, isn't it, when we lack mindfulness. So once again, the meditative process is the key. "Knowing what's happening, while it's happening, no matter what it is" will help us remember what we care about in all circumstances.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Maintaining the view

When meditation teachers talk about "maintaining the view" what they mean is seeing things as they truly are - and that includes seeing ourselves as fundamentally enlightened beings even though we are not fully awake to that reality. Lama Surya Das talks about maintaining the view during difficult times in his book, Awakening the Buddha Within. Here's part of what he says:
For all of us, there are times when it becomes particularly difficult to maintain the view. We can get caught up in our own patterns and lose sight of reality. Sometimes life is hard. We have financial problems, family problems, personal problems... Maintaining one's perspective, one's overarching view of reality, under difficult conditions can be a challenge even for meditation masters.
The more we can train ourselves and learn how to maintain mindfulness and "hang in there" even for the briefest of moments, the more we mature and grow in breadth and depth. We don't need to hang out in ghostly cemeteries at night to find things that frighten us. We face such situations every day. Sometimes it is a particularly disturbing person whom we are afraid to touch or reach out to. Sometimes it's something as simple as not wanting to make an unpleasant phone call because we fear what we will hear. At other times it's facing the challenge of a genuine life-and-death problem

We train in maintaining the view in times of crisis so we learn not to shut our eyes and avoid reality or responsibility. It's too easy to rely on fears, denial and other defense mechanisms to shield us from life's painful moments. Maintaining the view helps us open our constricted minds and tender hearts, allowing the world in rather than walling it out.
Facing our fears and anxieties is a way of using painful emotions to work any and all situations. In this meditation training, we use passions, illness, crisis, and conflict to cultivate wisdom, compassion, understanding, and fearless courage. In this way we can actually purify our habitual, unsatisfying cravings and aversions (I like, I don't like; I want, I don't want). Thus we loosen the grip of our negative patterns... opening the way for a more open, accepting, and joyful love of life.

I think the point about not avoiding reality or responsibility is so important. Seeing how we have contributed to our own negative patterns and then deciding to make different choices is one way of both cultivating wisdom and taking responsibility. Of course, difficult situations often involve circumstances that are quite out of our control. But our response to such situations tend to follow conditioned patterns that are often negative or unskillful. These we can, indeed, change through a combination of aspiration and diligence.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's Leroy, stretched out on the futon.

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More on calm

Here are three other offerings from The Little Book of Calm by Paul Wilson:

Make Your Work Important

The difference between abject drudgery and noble, uplifting work is often no more than perspective.

Treat your work as important, and the satisfaction that flows will work towards helping you unwind.

Love the Moment

When you concentrate your attention on absorbing every detail of every moment - savoring every taste, hearing every sound, noting every color - you will be calm before you know it.

Hold the Words Back

When you're under pressure, words come quickly and the rhythm of your speech speeds up. by reversing these patterns - slowing your words, articulating your thoughts more carefully, slowing your breathing - you can beguile your subconscious into believing you are relaxed.

I really like the tip about treating our work as important. Making that decision will not only help to alleviate drudgery, it will make it possible for us truly to enjoy our work and feel energized about it every day.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Cultivating calm

I was browsing among my books a few minutes ago and found a little "stocking stuffer" sized book called The Little Book of Calm by Paul Wilson. It's full of short pieces of advice about how to reduce the stress in our lives. I want to share three pages with you:

Start Ten Minutes Early

Start every journey ten minutes early. Not only will you avoid the stress of haste, but if all goes well you'll have ten minutes to relax before your next engagement.


The pace you move has a direct relationship with the way you feel. Slow down your movements, consciously relax your gestures and expressions, and before you know it you'll be relaxed.

Press on the Roof

Tense people have tense jaw muscles. To relieve this tension, simply press on the roof of the mouth, behind the front teeth, with your tongue.

Interestingly, the recommended position of the tongue during meditation is touching the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth.

Each of these tips will help set us settle down and prepare for meditation.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

No posting on Wednesday

I will be out of town attending a conference from Tuesday to late Thursday of this week so there will be no posting on Wednesday and possibly none on Thursday. Everything will be back to normal on Friday!

Blessings to all,

The Scripture of Loving-Kindness

This is the Metta Sutra or scripture of loving-kindness:
Let none deceive another, or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill will wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life, her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart is one to cherish all living beings, radiating kindness over the entire world.

Do remember that we are to give this loving-kindness to ourselves first. Forgive yourself for any way in which you have disappointed yourself. This softens the heart and makes it receptive and able to give loving-kindness to others. Just think of that wonderful word, "radiating" and radiate kindness first to yourself and then to every other being in the universe.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Precious human birth

"Precious human birth" is one of what's known as "The Four Great Contemplations". This is an exercise in gratitude. When we contemplate our human birth and are grateful for it, the point is not to devalue animals but rather to remember that, as humans, we are able to reflect on our experience and thus are able to engage in spiritual practice. I've said many times that my cats are better meditators than I am --- but can they reflect on their experience? That we don't know. But we know that we can.

Here is a wonderful statement by Douglas Adams on the joy of that human reflection:

The world is a thing of utter inordinate complexity and richness and strangeness that is absolutely awesome. I mean the idea that such complexity can arise not only out of such simplicity, but probably absolutely out of nothing, is the most fabulous extraordinary idea. And once you get some kind of inkling of how that might have happened, it's just wonderful. And . . . the opportunity to spend 70 or 80 years of your life in such a universe is time well spent as far as I am concerned.

Sometime today, stop and remember the big picture. And then see your time here as time well spent.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The divine dream

God's dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion. In God's family, there are no outsiders, no enemies. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist -- all belong. When we start to live as brothers and sisters and to recognize our interdependence, we become fully human.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


"I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it."

"If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies."

~Mother Teresa of Calcutta

It starts in the mind

"Watch your thoughts; they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch your actions; they become your habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character for it will become your destiny."
- Frank Outlaw