Friday, September 30, 2005
Before we as individuals are even conscious of our existence we have been profoundly influenced for a considerable time (since before birth) by our relationship to other individuals who have complicated histories, and are members of a society which has an infinitely more complicated and longer history than they do (and are members of it at a particular time and place in that history); and by the time we are able to make conscious choices we are already making use of categories in a language which has reached a particular degree of development through the lives of countless generations of human beings before us. . . . We are social creatures to the inmost centre of our being. The notion that one can begin anything at all from scratch, free from the past, or unindebted to others, could not conceivably be more wrong.
This principle can help us have compassion on ourselves and also help us to let go of false pride. Whatever personality of character difficulties we have, we undoubtedly came by them honestly. Yes, we need to work on those things but it is both unskillful and inappropriate to condemn ourselves for them. Likewise we did not come by our positive qualities all by ourselves so this recognition of interdependence can also bring us to a state of gratitude. And practicing gratitude is the best mood enhancer going! You want to be happy? Practice gratitude every day, many times a day. It works.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Your attitude to distractions of all kinds should be passive. The attention is poised lightly on the meditation object [support]. Inevitably it will wander. As soon as you are aware of the shift, gently, without fuss, bother, or irritation, bring attention back on to the object. Even if this has to be done many times, the return should always be gentle and unhurried.
When Dr. Herbert Benson sought out the components of meditation that bring out the Relaxation Response, he came to the view that "a passive attitude" was the most important of them.
With practice, the return of the attention to the meditation object becomes automatic and effortless. It is rather like being carried down a smoothly flowing river by canoe. Now and again the canoe moves off course and you have to dip the paddle into the water to keep the canoe on course, poised and perfectly balanced, at the very center of the flow.
I think Hewitt makes an important point when he says we are to return to the meditation support "without fuss, bother, or irritation". We need to consider it normal to have distractions and not make ourselves failures because of being distracted. That's why I like the phrase, "accept without judgment". This keeps the meditative process open and spacious.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Renunciation refers to opening the tight fist of grasping and relinquishing our weighty burden of accumulated excess baggage. The heart of renunciation implies allowing rather than controlling. It requires letting go of that which is negative and harmful while opening up to sanity and wholeness. The question is: Can we let go of holding back? Can we relinquish our fears and defenses? Can we forgive? Can we surrender and learn to better accept things as they are? Typically, this is accomplished in small gradual steps. We grow up, and we adopt a more mature attitude. When we do this, we leave the homeland of our childhood. We give up our childish ways. We depart from the nest of our family of origin and free ourselves from frozen behaviors. We stop telling ourselves stories; we stop spinning fantasies. We're all carting heavy baggage that is not helping us get where we want to go or do what we want to do. Once we realize that we no longer need this baggage, we can relinquish it: once we have inner certainty, we can leave our old habits and negativities behind.
The inner certainty I believe he is talking about is the certainty - the deep conviction - that the way of compassion and staying in the moment is actually in our best interests. So a healthy renunciation is not about deprivation; it is about true freedom.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Let pessimism once take hold of the mind, and life is all topsy-turvy, all vanity and vexation of spirit. There is no cure for individual or social disorder, except in forgetfulness and annihilation. "Let us eat, drink and be merry," says the pessimist, "for to-morrow we die." If I regarded my life from the point of view of the pessimist, I should be undone. I should seek in vain for the light that does not visit my eyes and the music that does not ring in my ears. I should beg night and day and never be satisfied. I should sit apart in awful solitude, a prey to fear and despair. But since I consider it a duty to myself and to others to be happy, I escape a misery worse than any physical deprivation.
Don't ever think that happiness is a matter simply of chance. We can take definite steps to cultivate happiness. A firm decision not to entertain resentment is undoubtedly key. Personally, I tell myself that I simply cannot afford it. It really doesn't matter whether the resentment can be justified or not. Please don't get into that debate because resentment will find a way to win every time. Realize, rather, that it will assuredly rob you of your happiness. It will. Oh yes, it will. And I would rather be happy any day.
Here's something else that Helen Keller said:
Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.For me that worthy purpose is applying the meditative principles to the way I work with my own mind and also helping other people to do the same. Everyone can have the application of meditative principles as his or her worthy purpose because we can apply them all day, every day no matter what our life's work happens to be.
Monday, September 26, 2005
This Shining Moment in the Now
When I work outdoors all day, every day, as I do now, in the fall, getting ready for winter, tearing up the garden, digging potatoes, gathering the squash, cutting firewood, making kindling, repairing bridges over the brook, clearing trails in the woods, doing the last of the fall mowing, pruning apple trees, taking down the screens, putting up the storm windows, banking the house—all these things, as preparation for the coming cold...
when I am every day all day all body and no mind, when I am physically, wholly and completely, in this world with the birds, the deer, the sky, the wind, the trees...
when day after day I think of nothing but what the next chore is, when I go from clearing woods roads, to sharpening a chain saw, to changing the oil in a mower, to stacking wood, when I amall body and no mind...
when I am only here and now and nowhere else—then, and only then, do I see the crippling power of mind, the curse of thought, and I pause and wonder why I so seldom find this shining moment in the now.
Of course, I would hasten to remind everybody that a thought is only a curse when we don't know what to do with it. As meditators we know that when thought arises we can accept it without judgment, let it go, and then return to the meditative support. That will bring us just as reliably to "this shining moment in the now" as the wonderful activities celebrated by the poet.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
"[War] is instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands! But we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today!"
-- Kirk, "Arena", stardate 3193.0
This is the very basis of all 12-Step programs. A person will be overwhelmed by the prospect of giving up something for life. But for one day? Anybody can refrain from a given behavior for a day. So "one day at a time" is the quintessential slogan.
Why don't we all choose to be in solidarity with the anti-war protesters by deciding not to give energy to judgmental, blaming, resentful thoughts just for today. I will not blame today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to blame today.
Because peace begins in the heart, in the mind. Be the peace you want to see.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Friday, September 23, 2005
Happiness cannot come from hatred or anger. Nobody can say, "Today I am happy because this morning I was very angry." On the contrary, people feel uneasy and sad and say, "Today I am not happy because I lost my temper this morning." Through kindness, whether at our own level or at the national and international level, through mutual understanding and through mutual respect, we will get peace, we will get happiness, and we will get genuine satisfaction.
- the Dalai Lama
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Relaxation should be done slowly. The mind is simply focused on the different body parts in turn in the following way: turn your attention inwards and mentally repeat the phrase to yourself. After each phrase you should also experience a release of tension in the body itself. Take your time with this exercise.The idea is not to space out but to come to a state of relaxed alertness. Try this exercise the next time you feel tense. You can do it at the computer while reading the instructions off the monitor as a little meditation break in the middle of your work. Then when you have it memorized you can do it anytime, anywhere.
The top of my head is relaxing; I feel relaxed.
My face feels relaxed; I am relaxed.
My shoulders and chest feel relaxed; I am relaxing.
My arms and hands feel relaxed; I am relaxing.
My legs and feet feel relaxed; I am relaxing.
I am relaxed. My mind is calm. My body is calm.
I am relaxed. My mind is alert. My mind is awake.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
The first step in meditation involves looking into the mind and its busy contents. When we become conscious of space within our minds, we will find that we have made room for thoughts and realizations of a new order to be born. Creativity, insight and intuition can only come into being when there is space for us to be receptive to the still small voice of inspiration.
Awaken yourself to the extraordinary mystery of space. Go out and observe the night sky and meditate on what you see. Become aware of immensities beyond measure. Consciously seeking your space will eventually enable you to find your space as part of the heavens here on earth.
What she's talking about is a connection with the whole universe. Meditation exposes the illusion of separation and helps us recognize the connection that is real.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Our minds, like our lives, teem with plans, memories, ideas, words and thoughts. We become so used to this state of being that in time we don't even notice it. The rushing stream of consciousness, thoughts mainly without purpose and idle chatter, is ever present like an internal white noise. Everything is hurried, all mental space is filled. It is only when we take the trouble to observe the process that we can evaluate its effect upon us. A mind that is full is like an untidy cupboard that spills its contents whenever the door is opened. It has no space for insight, creativity or applied thought.
In one way, we create space by meditating. In another way, we don't have to create it at all; it is already there. All we need to do is notice the space that is naturally present - and keep noticing it.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Meditation may appear to be a solitary pursuit even when it is performed in groups. However, far from being an isolating or self-centered activity, meditation brings expansion and connection to others. Meditation inescapably brings the world into your heart. Meditators have always known this.
We live upon one world and breathe one air, yet we consciously divide all that we have into "mine" and "not mine". We are convinced by the illusion of separation. We are steadfastly wedded to territorial principles. Global consciousness, on the other hand, unites where we choose to divide, connects where we choose to isolate and unifies where we choose to fragment.
Mystics through the ages have recorded the personal experience of unity and affirmed the wholeness of all creation. Such individuals were not informed by global communication or holistic philosophy. Yet testaments of mystical experience from all traditions and times tell us what we have only recently come to know, that Life is a Unity which takes on the appearance of a myriad of forms.
It's true. The more we meditate, the more connected we feel and the less isolated. You don't have to be a mystic to have this experience. Just the practice of letting go of judgments during meditation will increase a sense of unity with others and with the universe.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Friday, September 16, 2005
“People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.”
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Whenever we allow ourselves to experience some difficult feeling, or whenever an old identity starts to loosen up, the larger space of being that this feeling or identity had been obscuring starts to be revealed. This is a challenging moment, because it can often feel as though we are falling through space. If we resist space at this point, the falling becomes terrifying, and we may try to abort the experience, "pulling ourselves together" by contracting and tensing. This prevents us from freeing ourselves from the old fixation that was starting to dissolve.
Yet if we can learn to relax into the expansiveness that is opening up, then we may begin to discover space as support: The ground of our being actually hold us up. We may feel extremely light at the same time, as though we are floating on a bed of clouds. Once we have made this discovery, the shedding of old identities becomes far less frightening.
This is where the role of "right effort" comes into play. Courage is actually an aspect of right effort. What I want to emphasize here is that it's normal for courage to be required for deep inner work. Take heart and don't give up, no matter how strange it may feel to start becoming aware on an interior level.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Psychological problems move in the direction of healing only when we can relate to them in a spacious way, from the space of our being. When we try to fix our problems directly, we usually pit one side of ourselves against another, and this creates inner pressure and stress - which only contract our space. This is what our mind is like most of the time - a crowded, narrow thoroughfare that is choked with traffic trying to move in different directions. One thought moves in one direction, and other thoughts move against it. ("I'm angry" - "I shouldn't be angry" - "Why shouldn't I be angry?" - "But what will people think?") These inner oppositions create a traffic jam and shut down the space. When we can give our experience space in which to be, with awareness, the jam in our mind starts to clear up and the traffic has room to move freely once again. We may not have fixed the problem, but we have found a larger space in which to hold the problems. This is how true healing occurs.
Meditation is the method by which we learn to access that inner spaciousness. This is why regular practice is so important. It is also why we need to be gentle and relaxed in our daily practice and not slip into a forced, harsh way of working with ourselves. Try using the word "spaciousness" as a mantra for a few minutes and see how open and relaxed you feel as a result!
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
If ego is the tendency to hold on to ourselves and control our experience, then feeling our emotions directly and letting their energy flow freely threatens ego's whole control structure. When we open to the actual texture and quality of a feeling, instead of trying to control or judge it, "I" - the activity of trying to hold ourselves together - starts to dissolve into "it" - the larger aliveness present in the feeling. If I fully open to my sorrow, it may intensify for a while, and I may feel all the grief of it. Yet opening to this pain, without stories, also makes me feel more alive. As I turn to face my demons, they reveal themselves as my very own life energy.
Emotions, we could say, are the blood shed by ego - they start to flow whenever we are touched, whenever the defensive shell around the heart is pierced. Trying to control them is an attempt to keep this shell from cracking. Letting ego bleed, on the other hand, opens the heart. Then we rediscover ourselves as living beings who are exposed to the world, interconnected with all other beings. Letting go of judgments and story lines and feeling this naked quality of being alive wakes us up and nurtures compassion for ourselves and others.
So accept whatever you're feeling. Don't judge it by either condemning it or justifying it. Also don't assume that you have to act on it. Let the feeling just be itself. Then remember impermanence. The feeling will dissolve according to its own time table.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Don't strain. Don't force anything or make grand, exaggerated efforts. Meditation is not aggressive. There is no place or need for violent striving. Just let your effort be relaxed and steady.
Sometimes people scold themselves in meditation when their minds wander. Be sure not to do this! Have a gentle interior tone of voice with yourself. Meditation is not a contest with distractions. Rather it is a way of deeply resting the mind.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
If you don't get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don't want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can't hold on to it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change. Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is a law, and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.
Regularly reflecting on the reality of change, of impermanence, will help us accept unwanted change when it comes. Resisting change will cause suffering - sometimes great suffering. Letting go of that resistance is truly the skillful way forward.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Make a gift of your life and lift all mankind by being kind, considerate, forgiving, and compassionate at all times, in all places, and under all conditions, with everyone as well as yourself. This is the greatest gift anyone can give.
What would happen if we all did this? What would happen if just a few people did this - really did it? If you want to make a difference in the world, this is how.
Friday, September 09, 2005
A woman complained to a visiting friend that her neighbor was a poor housekeeper. "You should see how dirty her children are - and her house. It is almost a disgrace to be living in the same neighborhood as her. Take a look at those clothes she has hung out on the line. See the black streaks on the sheets and towels!"
The friend walked up to the window and said, "I think the clothes are quite clean, my dear. The streaks are on your window."
Ah. We tend to judge others by ourselves, don't we? Meditation is the way to clean our own window so that we see clearly.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
...Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
...Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
...Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
...Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
...Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
...Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
A flash of enlightenment offers a preview of coming attractions, but when it fades, you will see more clearly what separates you from that state -- your compulsive habits, outmoded beliefs, false associations, and other mental structures. Just when our lives are starting to get better, we may feel like things are getting worse - because for the first time we see clearly what needs to be done.
Here's where we need to remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Freedom is waiting for us if we only persevere.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
To a visitor who described himself as a seeker after Truth the Master said, "If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else."
"I know. An overwhelming passion for it."
"No. An unremitting readiness to admit you may be wrong."
It seems so obvious, doesn't it? But it's so very hard for many people. Think about it, though. Don't we experience it as being very unattractive when other people can't admit they're wrong? So it is appropriate to cultivate that ability in ourselves. It's really a relief when we do so.
Monday, September 05, 2005
It is a great art to have an abundance of knowledge and experience - to know the richness of life, the beauty of existence, the struggles, the miseries, the laughter, the tears - and yet keep your mind very simple; and you can have a simple mind only when you know how to love.
Let us keep our mind simple. And simply be willing to send love to all beings who are suffering right now. Love in action, of course, means sending contributions to the relief effort and may well involve volunteering our time and effort if evacuees come to our community. But whatever we do, let us keep our mind simple.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
A writer arrive at the monastery to write a book about the Master.
"People say you are a genius. Are you?" he asked.
"You might way so," said the Master, none too modestly.
"And what makes one a genius?"
"The ability to recognize."
"The butterfly in a caterpillar; the eagle in an egg; the saint in a selfish human being."
My own spiritual director of many years standing is like that. He is able to see the illuminated, enlightened, resurrected reality of the person sitting before him - no matter how troubled or messed up that person is at the time. It is a very great gift and one we would all do well to cultivate.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
For Tonglen you visualize or just bring to mind the person or beings of your intention. Then when you breathe in, you take their suffering off of them and bring it into yourself. It is then transformed because when you breathe out you send them happiness and well being and relief from suffering. You do not have to feel any particular way for this practice to be effective. What matters is your intention.
Metta or lovingkindness is a sending practice. I use the sentence, "May they be happy; may they be well; may everything be well in their lives."
Be sure and start each practice by giving yourself compassion and lovingkindness. Then you can share it with all beings everywhere. Focusing on a particular group or individual is completely appropriate.
Another important focus is to do the practices for other people just like you who have the same feelings of distress you have about the disaster. It's sometimes easier to get started this way that to try to focus on the victims right away.
Tonglen and Metta are not substitutes for action. They are the context and the ground for action. They keep us from desensitizing ourselves and from giving up. They stir the inner potential for deep caring and motivate us to give blood, to give money, to volunteer in whatever way we can. Do make these practices part of your daily discipline as more and more news reaches you about the devastating effects of the disaster before us.
Friday, September 02, 2005
Please do what you can to help. Right now, what most of us can do is donate blood and money to the Red Cross or other relief organizations. I also want to call your attention to Noah's Wish, an animal disaster relief agency. Yesterday I read the following quote from an AP article on one of the blogs I frequent:
Many people had dogs and they cannot take them on the bus. A police officer took one from a little boy, who cried until he vomited. "Snowball, snowball," he cried. The policeman told a reporter he didn't know what would happen to the dog.
I would do the same thing. I'm sure I would cry until I vomited if one of my animals were turned away. I simply do not think I could leave them.
How horrible for people to have managed to rescue their dogs for so many days only to have them turned away on the evacuation bus. And what is to happen to those animals that are just turned loose? Please give to Noah's Wish and/or PETA who are both engaged in animal relief efforts right now. PETA sent out a message yesterday saying that they had worked hard to give people instructions before Katrina hit on how to evacuate their animals. But there are many people who just abandoned their animals or whose animals were refused shelter or transportation. The suffering of both humans and animals is beyond anything we can imagine. But the animals don't understand what is happening. Please help.
If you want to give money to help humans, may I recommend Episcopal Relief and Development. They are launching a full scale, multi-state response to the disaster. You can earmark your donation for Hurricane Katrina relief.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
"What is the highest act a person can perform?"
"Sitting in meditation."
"Wouldn't that lead to inaction?"
"It is inaction."
"Is action, then, inferior?"
"Inaction gives life to actions. Without it they are dead."
Meditation grounds us, stabilizes us and trains us to perform our actions skillfully and with compassion.