Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

Is this an amazing picture or what?

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Photo by Cynthia Burgess


This week in the ongoing classes we reviewed the five hindrances of craving, ill will, torpor, restlessness and doubt. All these are obstacles to making progress on the spiritual path. It occurred to me that they begin to interfere at the point of motivation. Lama Surya Das has some observations on motivation in his book Awakening the Buddha Within:
Those of us who embark on spiritual paths are motivated in different ways. Some of us want to know the unknowable; others want to know themselves; still others want to know everything. Some people want transformation; others want miracles. Many want to alleviate suffering, help others, and leave the world a better place. Most of us are seeking love and fulfillment in one way or another. Everyone wants inner peace, acceptance, satisfaction, and happiness. We all want genuine remedies to feelings of despair, alienation, and hopelessness. Don't we all want to find spiritual nourishment and healing, renewal and a greater sense of meaning?
Reflect on what your motivations are for engaging in a meditative practice. Then resolve not to allow the hindrances to take those motivations from you.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tuesday meditative picture blogging

Well, I usually give you a meditative picture on Mondays but yesterday was a particularly busy day so I'm a bit late. Here you go:

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Photo by Bill Miller

The art of letting go

Often people say they want to let go of a mind state when what they really mean is that they want to get rid of it. These are not the same thing! Jack Kornfield speaks to this in his book, A Path With Heart:

When difficulties arise and we are able to do so, we can simply let them go. But beware! This is not as easy as it sounds. Often we find ourselves too attached and entangled with the story or feeling to do so. Other times we may try to "let it go," because we don't like something. But this is not letting go - it is aversion. In the early phase of spiritual practice, many of our attempts to let go of difficulties are misguided in this way. They are actually gestures of judgment and avoidance.

Only when there is balance in the mind and compassion in the heart can true letting go happen. As skill in meditation develops, it then becomes possible to simply let go of certain difficult states as soon as they arise. This letting go has no aversion in it - it is a directed choice to abandon one mind state and calmly focus our concentration in a more skillful way in the next moment. This ability arises through practice. It comes as our composure grows. It can be cultivated but never forced.

We can cultivate this true letting go that is not avoidance by practicing something known as "distress tolerance". Remember, the ability to tolerate distress is an aspect of maturity. Frame this tolerance as a positive and it will truly be easier. Sometimes all that is needed to improve our distress tolerance is the inner conviction that it is a skillful, positive thing.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Meditation on difficulty

Here's a reflection process offered by Jack Kornfield in his wonderful book, A Path With Heart:
Sit quietly, feeling the rhythm of your breathing, allowing yourself to become calm and receptive. Then think of a difficulty that you face in your spiritual practice or anywhere in your life. As you sense this difficulty, notice how it affects your body, heart, and mind. Feeling it carefully, begin to ask yourself a few questions, listening inwardly for their answers.

How have I treated this difficulty so far?
How have I suffered by my own response and reaction to it?
What does this problem ask me to let go of?
What suffering is unavoidable, is my measure to accept?
What great lesson might it be able to teach me?
What is the gold, the value, hidden in this situation?

In using this reflection to consider your difficulties, the understanding and openings may come slowly. Take your time. As with all meditations, it can be helpful to repeat this reflection a number of times, listening each time for deeper answers from your body, heart, and spirit.
Of course, at the Center, we have the custom of working with reflection questions on paper. I recommend this approach.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The importance of gentleness

It's very important to be gentle with ourselves when we meditate and not force the mind in a harsh way back to the meditation support. This point is made by meditation teacher Gabriel Zappia in his online article on beginning meditation:

The most common question I get when I teach someone to meditate is "What do you mean by "think the mantra gently and easily?" My best answer is an analogy. When you read you take the effort to look at the page, to focus on the page and the words. And you intend to discern the meaning of the words. That is usually enough and the meaning comes without much effort, yet there is some effort involved. Thinking the mantra is similar in that you direct a similar level of effort (which is very little, yet it is there) toward thinking the mantra. You do not force yourself, brow furrowed, to think the mantra to the exclusion of all else. Just let it come, and if that is not enough, then encourage your mind to think it with a small effort.

This is the middle way, isn't it? Some effort, of course, is necessary. To think otherwise would be silly. But we let it be a relaxed, moderate effort. That way we encourage spaciousness in the mind rather than rigidity.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Letting go of black and white thinking

It's seductive to view the world in black and white categories and, sadly, our current culture in the United States supports this. But, in fact, the world and its people are not so neatly divided. Learning to appreciate the many shades of gray is part of what it means to grow emotionally and spiritually. I found a wonderful quote by Jack Kornfield on this subject. It's from A Path With Heart:
As one matures in spiritual life, one becomes more comfortable with paradox, more appreciative of life's ambiguities, its many levels and inherent conflicts. One develops a sense of life's irony, metaphor, and humor and a capacity to embrace the whole, with its beauty and outrageouness, in the graciousness of the heart.

This is about letting go of rigidity and learning to be deeply open and flexible in our attitude toward ourselves and others. Make it something of a game: See how many different ways you can find to look at various issues. You don't need to approve of or agree with a point of view to recognize it as a point of view. Notice then how this capacity helps you be more open and accepting of people and situations even if they don't represent your preference. Notice, too, how this gives you greater peace of mind.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Friday cat (and dog) blogging!

Okay. Here's what happens if I don't make up the bed right away! (Oh mercy!) Trust me, you don't want to try to move them when they get like this:

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Accepting our current situation

Here's a passage I found on the Wildmind website about the importance of acceptance even when there's something about ourselves we really want or need to change:
One interesting thing about meditation is that if we try too hard to change it actually makes it harder to change.

I'll tell you a story. There was once a man who wanted to become the finest swordsman in Japan, so he went to seek out a hermit who was reputed to be the best teacher, although it was said that he lived in a remote place and rarely took on students. After a long search, the seeker found the hermit deep in the mountains and asked how long it would take him to become a great sword master.

The hermit looked him up and down and said, "Maybe five years." The seeker thought this sounded like a long time, so he asked, "How long would it take if I tried really hard?" The hermit stroked his beard and thought about it. After a while he said, "Maybe ten years."

Desiring to change is okay, but longing for change actually hinders our growth. An important aspect of developing acceptance is learning to avoid craving. Craving is when we long for something, and unfortunately craving can make us very unhappy. One common form of craving is to crave experiencing something different from our current experience. This longing actually creates an unhealthy form of dissatisfaction with what we're currently experiencing since the flip-side of craving is aversion. Craving and aversion are polar twins. When we crave to be experiencing something different then we reject our current experience.

We will never learn to change until we learn to let go. And if we refuse to accept where we are, it's impossible to learn to let go.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Consecrate the day

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Today I bring you a paragraph from the writings of Sarah J. Hale, the mother of our Thanksgiving observance. For many years she lobbied for an official national observance of Thanksgiving. She did not see it merely as a time for feasting with family and friends but also saw it as a time to give compassion to those less fortunate. Here is what she said one year in Godey's Lady's Book, of which she was the editor:
Consecrate the day to benevolence of action, by sending good gifts to the poor, and doing those deeds of charity that will, for one day, make every American home the place of plenty and rejoicing. These seasons of refreshing are of inestimable advantage to the popular heart; and, if rightly managed, will greatly aid and strengthen public harmony of feeling. Let the people of all the States and Territories set down together to the "feast of fat things" and drink, in the sweet draught of joy and gratitude to the Divine giver of all our blessings, the pledge of renewed love to the Union, and to each other; and of peace and good-will to all the world. Then the last Thursday in November will soon become the day of AMERICAN THANKSGIVING throughout the world.
Of course, now the official day is the fourth Thursday in November. May yours be happy and blessed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Here's a marvelous description of what can happen in meditation if we just get out of our own way:
In meditation, awareness of the open ground breaks through as we wear out the projects and distractions of thought and emotion. Suddenly there appears a gap in the stream of thought, a flash of clarity and openness. It is neither particularly mystical or esoteric, nor any kind of introverted self-consciousness, but a clear perception of direct reality, or suchness.

This is from one of my favorite books on the relationship between meditation and psychological inner work, Toward a Psychology of Awakening by John Welwood. We can't make an experience like this happen but we can let it happen through consistent non-judgment of thoughts and a willingness to let go.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Life form blogging a day early!

Maria Palacios sent me this marvelous picture today of her little dog Titan (pronounced tee-tahn). Maria is about to go out of town for a while so I wanted to blog Titan early so she can see him on the blog before she goes! (Isn't he adorable?)

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Mindful conversation

Andrew Weiss discusses mindful conversation in his book, Beginning Mindfulness:
We have many ways of being with one another, but conversation is one of the most meaningful. Through our words we exchange information and we learn about each other. We humans tend to be language-based. Most of us think in words and in the concepts that words express. As you deepen your practice of mindfulness and become more aware of the consequences of your actions, you will also discover the deep impact that your words have on yourself and others. We know from our lives and encounters that words can make us feel great or lousy. We've all spoken rashly and regretted it later (or sometimes immediately), and we've all been on the receiving end of angry or hurtful words and have felt the impact they had on us. Most of us have also encountered someone who listened to us with such understanding that we felt better just from talking.

Mindfulness can help make our conversations deeper, more meaningful, more satisfying.

In the next couple of days, I'll share with you more of Weiss's remarks about mindful conversation. For now, remember that compassion for self and for the other - both - are the hallmarks of this practice.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Monday meditative picture blogging

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Hanging in there

Here are a couple of suggestions from Beginning Mindfulness by Andrew Weiss about persevering in a regular practice:

* Please try not to get entangled in expectations. Just because you are easily mindful of turning on the light one day does not mean it will be exactly the same the next. One trap to look out for is trying to recapture an experience or feeling you had the last time you sat (or walked or whatever). Go with the experience you are having now, even if it seems hopelessly confused or painful. That is your present reality.

* When in doubt, go back to basics. Remember your breath [or other support] is your anchor, and simple, honest mindfulness of breathing can lead you right back to the present moment. Don't get caught up in technique. Remember that the instructions and techniques, and even the words of great teachers, are no more than a finger pointing at the moon: Always go for the moon.
I really agree with the instruction not to get entangled in expectations. All the great spiritual teachers have warned us against chasing after experiences or trying to recapture an experience. The words "accept without judgment" mean just that. Accept whatever happens and bring the mind back to the support. That's really all you have to remember.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

More on stress and thoughts

The World Wide Online Meditation Center website has another reassuring question and answer on the subject of what to do about thoughts arising during meditation:

Sometimes I feel school and life in general can be very stressful, and I've always been interested in meditation as a way to relax and become happier. I was reading your instructions for meditation and noticed that you said that the point is to accept whatever occurs in meditation... but if school work is the only thing on my mind, how is this going to help me?

Are you are using a specific meditation technique... one in which there is a primary "object of focus," such as breath, an image, etc.? If you are using a method such as this, and putting forth a relaxed effort, then thoughts - no matter what their content - become a run-off of tension and stress.

Relaxed effort means easily focusing on the primary object, and when your mind drifts off, gently bringing it back, no matter how many times this occurs. There will be times when you spontaneously shift into a deeper, quieter state... but if you have begun your technique, even the thought-filled meditations will be having the effect of relieving stress. In most cases, people say they feel more relaxed after meditation, even if it seemed as though nothing happened and they were just thinking.

"Object of focus" is what we call the "support" at St. John's Center. Keep coming back to the support. It really doesn't matter what else happens. I like the expression "a run-off of tension". That's exactly what happens. It doesn't mean you're failing at meditation when you have this happen. It means the meditation is actually working!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Letting go of the story line

What is really going on when we think we can't let go of thoughts? Andrew Weiss speaks to this in a marvelous paragraph in his book, Beginning Mindfulness:
When we say that we are caught up in our thinking, we are really saying that we are attached to our narrative. The narrative is the story we tell ourselves about our lives: all the reasons we are the way we are, all the reasons why things happen to us. Our attachment to the narrative keeps us powerless. The narrative's job is to remind us that we are subject to forces we cannot control - other people, heredity, social problems, and of course, our habits and feelings. Our attachment to the narrative keeps us in the role of victim. The reason for this is simple: The narrative is the intellectualization of our emotions. It is also the creator, and the result, of our habits. It doesn't let us understand that we can choose how to face our feelings or that we can decide whether or not to follow our habits. Once we are locked into the narrative, we think and act out our lifetime's patterns of behavior.

Keep the word "choice" always before you. We have more choices than we readily acknowledge. Getting in touch with those choices is the way to liberation. Just try letting go of the story line and see what happens. The choices become wide open.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Friday cat blogging!

Here's Cynthia's Simon looking very elegant in black and white:

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Meditation and stress

All of us experience stress in life and each of us has certain triggers that tend to prompt a stress response. One of my triggers is traveling. I have a way of forgetting stuff I need when I travel and the very fact that such forgetfulness is habitual causes me to experience stress in getting ready because I'm trying so hard not to forget anything. (Yes, I traveled to Norman last night for the Convention of the Diocese of Oklahoma and so this is rather on my mind!) So I want to share with you another passage from the question and answer page of The World Wide Online Meditation Center website:

How does mindfulness meditation physically relieve stress? In other words, what goes on in the body during mindfulness? Does it reduce the production of stress hormones? Does it decrease blood pressure? Why and how does it work to relieve stress?

Mindfulness Meditation - as well as other methods of meditation - reduces stress in a number of ways, although the entire process is interconnected.

First, the deep relaxation of body and mind allows the body's muscles to let go of tension, and the mind's "muscles" to release the negatively charged energies of accumulated stress. This also gives the nervous system a break from its constant rapid-fire mode.

Yes, the blood pressure is lowered, and the release of stress hormones are decreased. This is largely due to the relaxation of the fight or flight mechanism centered in the cerebellum.

At a deeper level of this process is the expansion of consciousness, in a very literal sense. Expansion equates with relaxation and release, while contraction equals tension and holding. Energy follows consciousness, so when consciousness expands in meditation, the entire body-mind system follows suit, letting go of both surface and deeply rooted stress.

As mindfulness develops in meditation, the practitioner begins to bring a greater degree of the calm mindful state into daily life, which is a major key to stress prevention.

For the meditator, even if stress is experienced with certain triggers, the response is less intense than it would be if the person didn't meditate at all. What's even more beneficial is applying the meditative process for working skillfully with the stress response while it is happening. The ability to accept any feeling without judgment - without condemning it or justifying it - and then to bring the mind back to the present moment, to the task at hand, is wonderfully powerful.

Don't expect meditation to eliminate stress altogether. But you can certainly count on it giving you the skills to manage the stress effectively and beneficially throughout your life.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Can we "get it right"?

Often beginning meditators are concerned about not being able to focus throughout the meditation period. This issue is addressed on the website, "The World Wide Online Meditation Center" in the question and answer section:
I've been trying to meditate for a while now but I haven't been able to concentrate... When I do, I don't know if I am in the state of meditation. I need to know if I'm doing it right.

Your experience is fairly common with new meditators. However, when you begin to meditate, it's best not to expect yourself to be able to concentrate or stay focussed for very long. After all, you are just beginning and it's natural for your mind to wander a lot. Try to accept that this is ok, and bring your attention back to your object of focus (breath, light, mantra, or whatever) as many times as you need to. As you continue, you will gradually begin to find it easier to stay focussed.

In regards to correct meditation, there is no particular state of meditation that you are supposed to achieve, and there really is no absolute right and wrong way to meditate. It's best to put aside the idea of doing it correctly, and of trying to know what state you are in. There are many states that can occur in meditation, and they are all a valuable part of the meditation process. If you simply follow the guidelines of a particular method, put aside all the expectations, and accept whatever happens, you will begin to find meditation easy and enjoyable, and you will start seeing many positive changes occurring in your life.

Remember, all that you need to do for your sitting to qualify as "correct" meditation is to bring your mind gently back to the meditation support whenever you notice that your mind has wandered. It doesn't matter how frequently it wanders off. Just be willing to bring the mind back and your meditation is fine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

My friend, Bill Miller, sent me this wonderful photo of Smokey the pit bull curled up in a pot!

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Meditation and the brain

A number of people have sent me links to articles about the latest research on meditation and the brain. I'll share one with you called, "Meditate on This: Buddhist Tradition Thickens Parts of the Brain". Here is an excerpt:

Meditation alters brain patterns in ways that are likely permanent, scientists have known. But a new study shows key parts of the brain actually get thicker through the practice.

Brain imaging of regular working folks who meditate regularly revealed increased thickness in cortical regions related to sensory, auditory and visual perception, as well as internal perception -- the automatic monitoring of heart rate or breathing, for example.

The study also indicates that regular meditation may slow age-related thinning of the frontal cortex.

"What is most fascinating to me is the suggestion that meditation practice can change anyone's gray matter," said study team member Jeremy Gray, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale. "The study participants were people with jobs and families. They just meditated on average 40 minutes each day, you don't have to be a monk."
Most of the brain regions identified to be changed through meditation were found in the right hemisphere, which is essential for sustaining attention. And attention is the focus of the meditation.

It's interesting that last night and this morning in ongoing class we examined the principle of attention as part of our discussion on the topic of "right concentration".

So here's another motivation for sticking with your meditation and for coming to class. It really does improve your brain.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

How do you know when you're relaxed?

Here's some help with cultivating observer consciousness from Joel and Michelle Levey's book, The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation:

Many of us are more familiar with the symptoms of tension than those of relaxation. Listed below are some frequent indicators of relaxation. Which ones are familiar to you? What others might you add to your list?

I know that I'm relaxed when I experience:
breathing slower
breathing easier
flow of feelings
emotional release
eyes softening
muscles softening

I would add a profound sense of okay-ness and general well-being. Think of some words you associate with relaxation and use the comments function here to share them.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Monday meditative picture blogging

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The way of peace

Before me peaceful
Behind me peaceful
Under me peaceful
Over me peaceful
Around me peaceful

-- Taditional Navajo Prayer

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Another mindfulness technique

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

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

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

I recommend that you try a shorter review than a whole day right at first. Try taking a midmorning break and do a review then. That way you'll only have a few hours to remember rather than a whole day. Then gradually build up. And observe how mindfulness is enhanced as a result!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Common sense meditation

I just found a website that has some very sensible advice about meditation on its general information page. Here's a sample:

Some Misconceptions about Meditation

Misconception #1.
Meditation is turning off your thoughts or making your mind a blank.

Not True ...Inner quietness is experienced in meditation, but not by willfully turning off thoughts. Quieting the mind results naturally from:
* the effectiveness of the method used... and
* an uplifting spiritual energy that is beyond our own efforts.

Misconception #2.
Meditation is difficult and requires great concentration.

Not True ...Meditation can be easily learned and practiced. Meditation is only difficult if we become too concerned with doing it correctly or incorrectly. Although staying focussed in meditation does become easier with time and practice, it is definitely not a requirement for beginning to meditate. Thinking that we should be good at focussing when first starting out, is essentially putting the cart before the horse.

Misconception #3.
Meditation is not successful unless we see interesting things in our mind.

Not True...Although some meditations are specifically for visualizing, many are not. In those meditations, seeing things may be entertaining, but is not essential. Even visualization does not necessarily require seeing. Some people sense or feel things inwardly, and that's all right.

Sometimes we all need a little reassurance about the basics. Let the above debunking of misconceptions be that reassurance for you today!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday cat blogging!

Here is my favorite picture of Leroy that Cynthia has taken:

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More about mindfulness

Here are some wonderful comments on mindfulness by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche from his article How to Meditate:
How we tame the mind is by using the technique of mindfulness. Quite simply, mindfulness is compete attention to detail. We are completely absorbed in the fabric of life, the fabric of the moment. We realize that our life is made of these moments and that we cannot deal with more than one moment at a time. Even though we have memories of the past and ideas about the future, it is the present situation that we are experiencing.

Thus we are able to experience our life fully. We might feel that thinking about the past or the future makes our life richer, but by not paying attention to the immediate situation we are actually missing our life. There's nothing we can do about the past, we can only go over it again and again, and the future is completely unknown.

So the practice of mindfulness is the practice of being alive. When we talk about the techniques of meditation, we're talking about techniques of life. We're not talking about something that is separate from us. When we're talking about being mindful and living in a mindful way, we're talking about the practice of spontaneity.

It's important to understand that we're not talking about trying to get into some kind of higher level or higher state of mind. We are not saying that our immediate situation is unworthy. What we're saying is that the present situation is completely available and unbiased, and that we can see it that way through the practice of mindfulness.

I like the statement that we are not trying to get into some kind of higher state of mind. Many people come to meditation instruction thinking that the objective is to be in some lofty, ethereal state of altered consciousness. But meditation is about being fully present to what is. And the more we train ourselves to do that, the more liberated we become because we are then not trapped in the past or full of obsessions about the future.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Here's another pointed passage from Kathleen McDonald's, How to Meditate:
Don't forget to bring the good experiences of meditation into your daily activities. Instead of acting and reacting impulsively and following your thoughts and feelings here and there, watch your mind carefully, be aware, and try to deal skillfully with problems as they arise. If you can do this each day, your meditation will have been successful.

Don't let your thoughts take you hostage. Stay in the moment. Let go of attachments. And remember: This stuff works!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

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Wise words

Neither giving nor taking
Neither for nor against
Leave your mind at rest
with perceptions remain unconcerned
the great Way is a mind open to everything
which clings to nothing
which fixates nowhere
Radiant and stainless
Rest in the unmoved, uncreated and spontaneous
and you will soon reach enlightenment.

-- Tiolopa, 1oth Century

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Mantra Meditation

Well, I've found a new book. It's called The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation: Ancient Skills for Modern minds by Joel and Michelle Levey. Here is an excerpt on mantra meditation:
The actual practice of mantra meditation can be quite simple. You can just sit quietly and mentally recite a mantra or meaningful phrase, resting the mind on its sound or its inner resonance within you. Whenever your mind wanders, simply return to the repetition and keep your attention on what you are doing. To elaborate on this method, visualize waves of light and healing vibrations pouring from your heart to others, bringing more lights, love, and happiness into the world, and dissolving the darkness, pain, and fear that fills the minds of so many beings.

When you have a feeling for it, working with a mantra can help to calm and focus the mind when you are busy in the world. It is a simple, effective method for strengthening and developing positive qualities of the mind in moments that are ordinarily wasted - driving to work, waiting in line, holding the line on a telephone, walking down the street, and so on: all ordinary activities that can be easily integrated into your meditation practice.
I recommend these simple ways of bringing mindfulness into your everyday life.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Monday Meditative Picture Blogging

Near Taos:

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More about concepts

Here's another excerpt from Beginning Mindfulness by Andrew Weiss:

To practice mindfulness meditation and to live a mindful life, we must first open ourselves to the realization that we try our best to hide. A feeling arises - terror, say - and instead of living with it we create a whole tapestry of thoughts about it. That's hiding. Our prolific minds keep creating diversions for us. When we are stuck in our suffering, we are still lost in our concepts, as in this case, the concept of the story of our life. All we do is recite the story over and over again. So how do we come to rest? We cultivate mindfulness breathing. We become aware of our breath, we enter into the present moment, and we stop. Then we have the opportunity to recognize our thinking and identify our thought or feeling. Being aware of our difficult thoughts and feelings in this way is not the same as being stuck in our suffering. We can do this anytime, anywhere, not just during formal sitting meditation. Try some abdominal breathing, restore your stability and mindfulness, and then allow the difficult thought or feeling to reemerge. Your relationship to it will already have changed.

Of course this works with any meditation support - not just the breath. You can use mantra or sound or a visualization. The main thing here is to use some support to help us stop telling stories about our thoughts and feelings. Just notice, accept without judgment, let go, and bring the mind back to the present moment. "Let go" does not mean "hide from"!! Perhaps in this case, a better expression for "let go" is "let be". Just let the feeling be but don't get involved with it or invested in a particular outcome about it.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The problem with concepts

Meditation is a way of experiencing what is real beyond the conceptual arena. Andrew Weiss speaks to this in his book, Beginning Mindfulness:
Mindfulness meditation is not about being in a trance, or about escaping from reality. It is about waking up. We spend most of our lives caught up in the conceptual knowledge we have acquired, and in our concepts of who we are, or what our lives mean, or what a tree is or what a boulder is, and so on and on. This layer of concept sits between us and the reality of the present moment. To touch the present moment, we must allow this layer of concept to drop away. To allow this layer to drop away, we first have to be able to stop. We have to stop both body and mind. Only when our minds stop racing, only when we allow ourselves to be in one place, can we truly be present in the here and now. This is the first step we take in mindfulness meditation: We use mindfulness of breathing as a way to help us stop and truly be here. As we continue to practice mindfulness meditation, our capacity to stop and be present increases. Out of this we naturally develop deeper concentration and the capacity to look deeply into ourselves or into whatever we encounter.

Letting go of judgments is what helps the layer of concepts to fall away. Let it be okay just to be, just to experience what is without telling yourself stuff about it!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

When you're very busy

The Wildmind meditation site has some marvelous suggestions for relaxing and meditating when you're very busy. Here they are:

If you're very busy and perhaps rather stressed, then you'd really benefit from working through the in-depth meditation instruction that you'll find elsewhere on this site, but you may well be in urgent need of some "meditative first aid" to get you through the next few days until you can create the time to come back and thoroughly explore Wildmind. So for now, here are a few relaxation techniques that you can use to quickly relax in order to get through the day as a happier individual. You can do these exercises anywhere, anytime.

1. Centering breathing
Several times a day, stop, sit in a relaxed position, and breathe deeply and slowly into your abdomen for two or three minutes. If your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to your breathing. Slow, deep breathing has been shown to promote relaxation. In addition, focusing on your abdomen has a calming, centering effect. It will help if you really let go on the out-breath. There is a natural phase of relaxation that takes place every time you exhale. By paying attention to this phase of relaxation you encourage your body to relax more deeply, and this in turn has a calming effect on your mind.

2. Mindfulness triggers
Create a mindfulness trigger for yourself. This is something that reminds you to relax. It could be an action, like putting the phone back on the hook, or closing your planner. Every time you do this action, take a deep in-breath and then let it out, noticing how your muscles relax. The tension will probably tend to creep back again somewhat, but by repeating this exercise you'll get better at letting go of physical tension and find it easier to achieve a relaxed state.

3. Peripheral awareness
Spend a few minutes doing the peripheral awareness exercise. This simply involves letting your gaze fall naturally on an imagined spot on the wall in front of you. As you keep your focus lightly on that spot, begin to take your awareness to the edges of your visual field. You can even imagine that you are "seeing" behind you, and developing 360 degree vision. As you become more aware of your peripheral vision, you'll notice that your body begins to relax, that your mind becomes quieter, and you may even notice certain sensations in your hands or feet...

4. Project a protective sphere
Project a protective bubble around yourself. Imagine that there is a kind of force field surrounding and protecting your body. This protective bubble can create a calm space that outside events can't penetrate. I'm not saying that there really is a protective bubble around you, but your subconscious mind doesn't distinguish between imagination and reality, so you'll feel that you're protected.

I particularly like the advice about mindfulness triggers - which I call "prompts". Selecting prompts from our daily activities really helps prevent going through the day on automatic pilot. The more we train in mindfulness, the more we alleviate whatever suffering or unsatisfactoriness we may tend to experience.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's Henry with a typical Henry look on his face! The poor boy's ear is still not healed but is coming along. We have to leave his stitches in for a whole month. And every day he gets medicine in his ear which he hates. But at least he hasn't had to go back into the hospital for a while.

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Photo by Ellie Finlay

More on loving-kindness meditation

I found a page on the web simply entitled, "Meditation Instructions". It is dedicated to insight meditation but also has an instruction on loving-kindness. Here's a sample:
Loving-kindness is a kind of love, i.e., love without attachment, craving or lust. It is a wholesome and genuine desire for the well-being of all beings including ourselves. So when you practice loving-kindness and wish for your own happiness, saying, "May I be well, happy and peaceful", this should not be interpreted as selfishness because, in order to send out thoughts of loving-kindness to others, we have to generate these thoughts first in ourselves. Also, when you send thoughts to yourself, you can take yourself as an example. That means, when you say, "May I be well, happy, and peaceful," you think, "Just as I want to be well, happy and peaceful, so do all other beings. So may they also be well, happy and peaceful." To be able to practice loving-kindness towards other beings, you first have to practice loving kindness towards yourself. Then you send your thoughts to other beings. You can send these thoughts in different ways. You can send thoughts to all beings by location. You can send loving-kindness to all beings in this house. By "all beings" we mean not only human beings, but also animals, insects, etc. Then you send loving-kindness to all beings in this area, in this city, in this county, in this state, in this country, in this world, in this universe, and last, to all beings in general. When you say the sentences to yourself, please, mean them and try to see and visualize the beings you mention as really well, happy, and peaceful, and your thoughts of loving-kindness reaching them, touching them, embracing them and making them really well, happy, and peaceful.

Nothing could be less selfish than giving ourselves loving-kindness. In fact, it is selfish not to because we tend to be hard on others when we're hard on ourselves.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Meditation and choice

Choice is one of my favorite words. So I was delighted to find a passage on meditation and choice on the Wildmind website. Here it is:
In meditation we cultivate the faculty of mindfulness, or awareness. This helps us to become more deeply aware of the patterns that our mind and emotions give rise to - including the patterns of responses that we experience as stress. We can become more aware, for example, of how we blow things out of proportion, so that we add to our woes. We might become aware of how we indulge in anxious thoughts, so that a neutral thought about something we have to do leads to worrying about what will happen if we don't do it, and how this leads in turn to us actively seeking out things to worry about. Once we are aware of these internal activities, we clearly are in a better position to do something about them. With awareness comes choice. Once we have become aware of a pattern of experience, we are able to choose to act otherwise. No awareness = no choice.

The basic choice when we are actually meditating is whether or not we will bring the mind back to the meditation support. That simple choice - to bring the mind back rather than to chase after thoughts - is the practice that will truly support our liberation.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Wednesday life form blogging

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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Meditation encouragement

Years ago, a priest friend of mine made this astonishing statement: "Oh, I can't do yoga; I'm not flexible enough." Can you believe it? Dude, the way you GET flexible is to do yoga! The same principle applies to people who think they can't meditate because they're too easily distracted. We start where we are and go from there. Everybody does. That's the wonderful point made on the website Wildmind about starting to meditate:
The idea behind meditating is not that we're seeking to have "perfect meditations", like an Olympic gymnast going for a perfect 10 in a competition, but that we're doing some basic work on developing our minds, more like when we go to the gym and do some exercise. When we go to work out, it wouldn't be a very helpful attitude to think, "Oh, I can't work out, I'm not strong enough or fit enough". The whole point of working out, as we know, is to start from where we are and to develop greater levels of strength and fitness.

It's the same deal with meditation. If we're very distracted, or very anxious, or we keep getting irritated by sounds in our environment when we're trying to meditate, that's just what we're starting with. That's our raw material. Meditation helps us to become aware of these habitual tendencies, and also helps us to work with them so that they become less prominent in our lives, so that we become a bit less distracted, less anxious, more accepting.

And just like working out at the gym, where we don't make some sudden leap to athleticism, in meditation we change gradually. Breath by breath, meditation by meditation, day by day, we work changes within our hearts and minds; changes that accumulate over time. It's possible to change from being a very anxious person to a very confident person; to move from being habitually in a bad mood to being more laid-back. We just have to do the practice.

May I recommend the "so what" practice? What you do is just say "so what" when distractions arise. Realize that it really doesn't matter. Just gently bring the mind back to the meditation support. No forcing, no strain. Just give the mind permission to rest.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The importance of honesty

Meditation, if done correctly, enables us to be honest with ourselves. Today someone sent me an email that refers to how important this is. I share it with you:

Feelings without honesty are defenses
The world without honesty is an illusion
Memory without honesty is only a fantasy
Time without honesty can never be now
Space without honesty can never be here
Love without honesty is possessiveness.

Without honesty there is no real growth
Without honesty there is no freedom
Without honesty there is no hope
Without honesty nothing is real
Without honesty nothing is.

I really like that first observation that feelings without honesty are defenses. We will all be healthier happier people if we become less defended in our attitudes toward ourselves and others. Telling ourselves the truth is the first step.