Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Reinforcing daily practice

Many people complain to me that they lack discipline. The solution to this situation is not to scold oneself but simply to make certain practices non-negotiable - like brushing one's teeth. Here's an instruction found on the website Interlude: An Internet Retreat that helps stabilize a daily practice:

Consider how you move through your day. Is your mood and state of mind determined randomly by events as they unfold? Do you often say, “I’m having a bad day, because…”? Do you set yourself up to feel bad by persisting in negative, angry, resentful or anxious thoughts? Do you get caught up in the events of the day and find yourself distracted, ungrounded, or swept away by thoughts and emotions? If so, you could help yourself by establishing a pattern of daily rituals to remind you of what you are about. To design your own daily practice consider these factors: How often do you intend to practice? Options include:

* On rising and on going to bed or an hour before bed
* At specific hours
* Every three hours of waking
* Sunrise, noon, sunset, midnight
* At each meal
* Before specific activities, such as brushing teeth, shaving, bathing, using the toilet, dressing, and doing household chores.

What form will your practice take? It can be a combination of activities including:

* Prayer
* Chanting
* Repeating a mantra
* Song
* Meditation
* Postural movement, such as bowing, kneeling or prostration
* Repetition of affirmations
* Time for silence
* Conscious breathing
* Reading scripture or other inspirational material
* Remembering to be mindful

Whatever form your daily rituals take, they will become your second nature by repetition. Like any habit, you may need to repeat the practice for a significant period of time for it to seem natural and part of you. You may want to write down what you intend your practice to be and refer to it now and then to keep on track. Practicing with other people can also deepen the meaning and help keep you on track. If you plan to say specific prayers for specific activities, write them down and place them where you will see them at the appropriate time.

I have found it helpful to write whatever practice I want to remember on an index card and to prop that card against the clock on my beside table. A sticky note on the bathroom mirror is also a good idea. Get creative about giving yourself reminders and you will find it quite possible to institute a daily practice.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

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Photo by Bill Miller

Meditation and virtue

You know, we can hardly be successful meditators if we continually indulge thoughts of hatred, resentment, vengeance, jealousy, cruelty and the like. This point is well made in a short paragraph by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in his book, The New Meditation Handbook: Meditations to Make Our Life Happy and Meaningful :
Meditation is a mind that concentrates on a virtuous object, and which is the main cause of mental peace. The practice of meditation is a method for acquainting our mind with virtue. The more familiar our mind with virtue, the calmer and more peaceful it becomes. When our mind is peaceful, we are free from worries and mental discomfort, and we experience true happiness.
It's really easy to demonstrate this. Repeat the word, "hate" on the outbreath for about 30 seconds or so. Notice how you feel. Then repeat the word "peace" or "compassion" the same way. Notice how you feel now. The alleviation of "mental discomfort" is truly remarkable, isn't it?

But remember, even using a seemingly neutral support for mindfulness meditation is also a way of acquainting the mind with virtue. We employ the virtue of non-judging whenever we bring the mind back to the support. And the support is always an example of "the way things are" - whether we use the breath, sound or a visual object. There's a certain intrinsic integrity to whatever support we choose. And so resting the mind on that support is truly a way of familiarizing our mind with virtue.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Exploring your inner life

Today, I came across a form of insight meditation or reflection that can be done with or without pen and paper. I found it on the website called, "Zen Practice and Dharma study". Here's how the process goes:
The thousand-petaled lotus meditation is a symbolic rendition of the idea that everything is connected to everything else and that nothing is really separate and isolated from all the rest of the universe. For this meditation you chose an image or idea to be the center of the lotus flower. Start out with ideas like: flower, love, peace, light, home, or friend. Later you could use words like: angry, sad, or pain. The petals of your flower symbolize the connection between the center to other ideas that come up. Look at the petal idea for awhile then let it go returning to the central idea after you have observed each petal idea. Try to observe the association between the center idea to the petal idea. This style may lead to surprising insights about your inner life if consistently worked at. It is also used to observe particular problems or conflicts.

For example: Suppose I place "peace" at the center of the lotus. Then while I'm meditating, I think of one of my cats. The connection is that I feel peaceful while stroking my cat. Then suppose I think of taking out the garbage. I may initially think that this is something that takes me away from peace since I dislike taking out the garbage. But, in exploring a bit deeper, I might then realize that only from a state of inner peace can I let go of my aversion to taking out the garbage or I might realize that if war were to come to our shores, our infrastructure might be so damaged that there would be nobody to collect the garbage so I'm privileged to take out the garbage during peacetime. Do you see how that works? This is a wonderful exercise for examining and investigating one's inner life.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Does lovingkindness matter?

Here's an inspiring paragraph by Lama Surya Das from Awakening to the Sacred:
Can we be a little kinder, gentler, more loving to those around us? This requires a certain amount of conscious determination. I find that it is important to think about speaking kindly and gently, and being more present with others, even when we feel burdened and busy. We have to think about using words that convey acceptance and support. We have to think about being more generous with what we have - with our time, with what we know, with our financial resources, and with our feelings and emotions. A little kindness, a little warmth, a little affection, a little empathy goes a long way in all our relationships. We know this is true with our children, our mates, and our friends. But it's also true with others - even in chance encounters with those we may never see again. We need to live in ways that express our belief that lovingkindness matters.
I like the emphasis on thinking. In other words, don't expect kindness and gentleness to be automatic. Thought and effort are required.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Here I am trying to hold Henry still so I can snap a picture!

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Inner stability

I found myself exploring the Gratefulness.org site again this morning and found something very moving in the questions and answers section. The question had to do with the inner pain a woman was experiencing after her boyfriend broke up with her. Patricia Carlson gives the answer and here's how she ends it:
And finally, you can be grateful for your dreams. Who says that they depended on this relationship to take form? If you dreamed of creativity or companionship or continuity, you can find them in new and unexpected ways: through volunteering to work with a needy child or elder, through artistic self-expression, through exploring a hobby or profession that attracts you, through holding steady in your established friendships. Most of all, you can seek the source of your dreams: the Peace “which passes understanding” and dwells within you. You can come to recognize it more and more fully and to live from an inner stability that cannot be shaken nor taken away from you. Then each time you go through a major change – and life is full of them, both joyful and sorrowful! – you will have a reference point in which to rest, observe, and respond in the ways that best benefit you and those around you.

Engaging in a committed meditative practice will assuredly give us that "inner stability that cannot be shaken or taken away." It doesn't mean we won't feel pain when we go through difficult times. It does mean that we can learn to accept our situation with equanimity until the pain subsides.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Precious gifts

Your mindful breath and your smile will bring happiness to you and those around you. Even if you spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone... nothing you could buy them can give as much true happiness as your gift of awareness, breathing, and smiling, and these precious gifts cost nothing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

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A Healing Prayer

This is by Lama Surya Das and is found in his book, Awakening to the Sacred:
We, who need help, pray for the healing of our physical, emotional, and spiritual pains and difficulties.
Source of all blessings and power, heal us, empower us, and bless us.
We realize that we can't do it alone, and we ask for blessings from all those who have the power to help, elevate, and heal.
We ask for the help from the sacred that is above us.
We ask for the support of those around us, our friends, families, and communities.
We pray for the wisdom to find ways to help ourselves.
We ask for guidance to help us ease our way and heal our hearts.
May we open ourselves to the mystery that is beyond us, the source from which we are never apart.
May we be happy and whole.
May energy pour through us for the benefit of one and all.
May we dance and lift up our hands and our hearts in praise and rejoicing.

This is actually an expanded version of "metta" or lovingkindness practice. "May we be happy and whole." May we, indeed.

Teddy Bear Sunflower

Well, I needed to go home at lunch time anyway so I got my camera. Here's the flower everyone wanted identified. We think the edges are dyed:

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The flowers

To everyone in the Tuesday evening ongoing meditation class: The flowers you liked are called Teddy Bear sunflowers. Cynthia is very pleased that everyone liked the flowers so much!

I'm sorry I didn't bring my camera to the Center today or I'd show everyone what I'm talking about! :-) But here's a link if you want to see what they look like!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Walking the Labyrinth

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For those of you who live in the Tulsa area, you might like to know that a labyrinth is painted on an area of pavement at Hunter Park between Yale and Sheridan on the south side of 91st Street. Krena White told Cynthia about it and Cynthia and I went to see it on our lunch hour yesterday. You might like to read up on the labyrinth as a form of walking meditation on the web page simply called, "The Labyrinth". Here's an excerpt:
A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.

A labyrinth is an archetype with which we can have a direct experience. We can walk it. It is a metaphor for life's journey. It is a symbol that creates a sacred space and place and takes us out of our ego to "That Which Is Within."

Labyrinths and mazes have often been confused. When most people hear of a labyrinth they think of a maze. A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is like a puzzle to be solved. It has twists, turns, and blind alleys. It is a left brain task that requires logical, sequential, analytical activity to find the correct path into the maze and out.

A labyrinth has only one path. It is unicursal. The way in is the way out. There are no blind alleys. The path leads you on a circuitous path to the center and out again.

A labyrinth is a right brain task. It involves intuition, creativity, and imagery. With a maze many choices must be made and an active mind is needed to solve the problem of finding the center. With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made. The choice is to enter or not. A more passive, receptive mindset is needed. The choice is whether or not to walk a spiritual path.

At its most basic level the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are.

Walking the labyrinth can be very powerful. I know because I've done it several times and have been deeply moved by the experience; I enthusiastically recommend it. I also want to remind you that we have a wooden finger labyrinth at the Center. You can come early for class or for an appointment and pick up the labyrinth from the front of the meditation hall. Hold it in your lap or lay it on the floor in front of you. Then slowly, mindfully trace the indented path with your finger. Tracing the path is then your support for meditation.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

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Photo by Bill Miller

Clear comprehension

How do we effectively make decisions about what to do or what to say in various situations? Kevin Griffin explains a process called "clear comprehension" in his book One Breath at a Time:
The four components of Clear Comprehension are:

Question my purpose. Why do I want (or not want) to do or say this? Is my intention to help others or to further my own self-centered wants? If I can see that, at least to some extent, my motives are good, I go on to the next question.

Question my means. Do I actually have the personal ability, as well any material things I might need, to accomplish what I'm thinking about? If my motives are positive and I see that I probably have what I need to get it done, then I can go to the next question.

Question my alignment with the teachings. Is what I want to do or say in accord with the Precepts, with lovingkindness and compassion? Will it lead to less suffering? If I've answered all these questions positively, then there's a good chance things will work out. I take the leap.

Question the results. After we've done or said something, we look back at how it worked out. What can we learn? If the results were good, it's helpful to see how we got there, so maybe we can do or say something like that again. If the results aren't so good, what went wrong? What part of the first three stages did we foul up on?

These strike me as excellent discernment questions. I recommend them.

Remember, the Five Precepts are to refrain from harming, to refrain from wrongful speech, to refrain from taking what is not given, to refrain from sexual misconduct and to refrain from the use of intoxicants leading to heedlessness.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Clear seeing

The mind poison of delusion is very seductive. This is the need not to see, not to know. Lama Surya Das speaks to the advantage of letting go of this poison in a passage on clear seeing in his book, Awakening to the Sacred:
When we are able to see "what is", we are able to approach the world fully conscious and awake. We are then able to see through and beyond all the false messages and false messengers; we are able to recognize and see past what attracts us or repels us; we are able to get beyond our own prejudices, projections, and biases. We see why we accept one person's point of view and reject another's. In this way, our distortions ad delusions begin to lose their hold over us, and we become better able to recognize what's important and meaningful. On an individual level, this can have tremendous implications. Wisdom - clear vision - means that as we become wise, we are less controlled by circumstances, people, or unfulfilling and questionable habits.

You see, just because we don't see or know about a prejudice, projection or bias doesn't mean we're not ruled by those things. We are slaves and don't even know it when we are overtaken by the mind poison of delusion or non-awareness. So even if it's painful to learn to see things as they are and our minds as they are, it's worth it because that journey into truth will ultimately set us free.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Other people's heads

When you find yourself dealing with difficult people, have you ever thought that they have to deal with themselves all the time? That point is successfully made by Kevin Griffin in his book One Breath at a Time:
A few years later, I was working for a magazine distributor in Venice Beach, and we were talking about one of his other employees who spoke harshly and critically a great deal of the time. I was complaining to my boss about it when he said that whenever someone talked (or yelled) like that to him, he just remembered that the person was also talking like that to themselves, inside their head. When he said this to me, it struck me as a wonderful insight - of course we speak the way we think!

Making a habit of bringing lovingkindness and compassion to mind in daily life can shift our entire outlook. And this is a practice - a real practice. It requires first noticing when our thoughts are angry or judgmental toward someone (Right Mindfulness); then consciously shifting our focus to the other person and how we might view them and their behavior differently (Right Effort). When someone cuts us off on the freeway, we can consider that they might be rushing to the hospital to visit an injured relative; we can also consider that whatever is pushing them to behave like that is certainly painful - the stress and anxiety involved with driving dangerously is very unpleasant, and when we are in that place, we are usually completely unaware that it's happening and so are not able to change. We've all been there; can we feel compassion for someone stuck in that suffering?

I am really helped by remembering the universal motivation in cases like this. We all want to be happy - every single one of us. And we do what we do because on some level we believe that it will make us happy. We may be very misguided in that regard but that's why we do what we do. If I remember that then it's not so hard to have compassion on the difficult person because I know the person is just trying to be happy and doesn't know how. That also helps me have compassion on myself when I'm less than skillful in any of my interactions. I, too, am trying to be happy and I can help myself by cultivating more and more skill in working with and training my mind.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Here's Leroy on the sofa looking so sleek and fine!

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Creating sacred space

It's easier to meditate in a place set aside just for that. Lama Surya Das speaks to that in his truly marvelous book "Awakening to the Sacred":
New meditation students frequently ask me whether I think they should create a special place for meditation in their home. I think it's a good idea to have such a space simply because it will help remind you of your intention and commitment to meditation. In most matters, there is something to be said for finding a personal comfort zone. The same is true of spiritual practice. Some people, for example, always go to the same church or synagogue; often they sit in exactly the same seat. There is a comfortable sense of belonging and rightness to the familiar. Although it's not absolutely necessary, when you first start a spiritual practice, it will probably help if you meditate regularly in the same place. Most people discover, as I did, that your meditation space, no matter where it is, seems to become invested with its own spiritual energy and blessings. Later you will be able to carry this atmosphere and energy with you wherever you go.

Of course, if you live in the Tulsa area, I recommend that you come to the Center for the daily meditation sittings. Here we have a place set aside just for meditation. And in addition to availing ourselves of sacred space at the Center, we have the support of the group and someone ringing the bell to help us with our practice. Everything that helps us be more faithful to our meditation practice is all to the good.

Now before I sign off here, I want to tell you about someone named Bill Butler whose life was truly changed as a result of reading the book quoted above. I found the following review on the Amazon page for Awakening to the Sacred:
I read the book. Fine. Before I read the book, I was a Libertarian for Harry Browne. After I read the book, I voted for Ralph Nader and became a "Green". Before I read the book, I no longer believed in God. After reading the book, I once again believe in God. Before reading the book, I thought that mathematics was fun - but had no real use. After I read the book, I am including the study of mathematics as part of my spiritual path.

The main point of this book, if there is one, seems to be to hammer away at our attachments. I am this...I am that... On and on and on. The biggest leap in spiritual practice seems to be to jump over the "hurdle" of logic. Lama Surya Das pounds and pounds away. Forging away for a new American Buddhism. I coughed blood many times while reading this book. "He prays to God everyday?!?" "He sees a therapist?!?" "He's one of those 'environmentalists' who have trees growing out of their ears?". "He loves 12-step meetings where they worship a Christian God?"

If you are fixated on one or many different agendas in spirituality, this book will disgust you. It disgusted me! But I kept chewing and finally swallowed it. After, of course, spitting it out several times. It's very good to upset the intellect this way. To bruise the ego. I was following into the trap of "I go by logic, therefore, I know everything!" Order and read the book. It may not be a fun read. But it's a good thing to do. Good luck (you will need it!)

Any book that can change a person from being a Libertarian to being a Green is one powerful book. I'm looking forward to reading all of it!

Thursday, January 19, 2006


In my work, I see a lot of people who are impatient with themselves - who scold themselves for not living up to their own expectations. Part of the solution to this dynamic is to let go of the imaginary idealized self that a person concludes must be realized. But sometimes what the person really needs is self-forgiveness. Lama Surya Das speaks to this in his book, Awakening to the Sacred:
Often we need to begin our practice of forgiveness by simply becoming more gentle with ourselves. Saint Francis de Sales once wrote: "Be patient with everyone, but above all, with yourself... Do not be disheartened by your imperfections. How are we to be patient in dealing with our neighbor's faults if we are impatient in dealing with our own?"

I've noticed that people who are hard on themselves are often very judgmental about other people. Self-forgiveness is the key to learning to accept and forgive others. Really!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Can you let go?

I'm going to venture a guess here. I'm going to guess that everyone who's reading this has suffered with a desire for things to be different from the way they are. This is the core suffering, isn't it, and the way out of that suffering is to let go of that desire. Now let me be clear about what I'm not saying. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the preference that things be different. It is, rather, the attachment to that preference that causes the suffering. What we need to cultivate is the willingness to let go of our preferences and accept what is. This is the path of surrender. The principle of surrender is explored in a book I've just started reading by Kevin Griffin called, One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps. Here's a passage:
Surrender is a traditional element of every spiritual journey. Before we can begin to realize our potential, we must break out of limiting concepts of who and what we are and what we think is possible. This may mean giving up long-held beliefs and comfortable behavior patterns. Cynicism or fantasy, fear or control, anger or grief - many of us cling to these patterns and others. As we begin to surrender, we see that we will have to let go of these destructive habits of mind before we can move toward freedom.
What would happen if we were willing to surrender such long term patterns? Would the sky fall? Probably not. But because of the strength of habitual tendency, letting go is often very difficult. This is why we practice. When we meditate, we let go of thoughts and gently bring our mind back to the meditative support. This slowly but reliably trains the mind in surrender - because we surrender the desire to chase after thoughts, to continue to be involved with them. We then discover by experience that letting go is not only possible, it is restful and refreshing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Attachment to routine

I really identify with my dog on the subject of routine. Izzy just loves her routine. You can see the happiness on her face as she expects the next thing and then participates in it - her food at a particular time, then her medication, then leaving the house, then her walk, then going to day care, then doing tricks for the kennel manager and getting her treats, then being put in her run. I like my routine too. I do things in a certain order at home getting ready to come to the Center and then I do other things in a certain order after I arrive.

Lately, I've encouraged myself to vary that routine because it has become an attachment. I deliberately try to do something different just so I won't get so rigid. Lama Surya Das speaks to this in his book, Awakening to the Sacred:
We're all somewhat ritualized in our behavior. We wake up, walk the dog, take a shower, drink juice, drink tea, read the morning paper. What happens if we change the order of any of our little daily habits? If we allow our attachment to rituals to become too ingrained, these rituals can become addictive patterns and hang-ups. This will obscure the miraculous little spontaneous arisings that spring up like flowers along our way.

I recently spoke to someone who complained that her life felt empty and lonely; she spent so much time on her spiritual regimens that there was no time for friendship or personal relationships. So many hours of her day are taken up with meditation, shopping for her vegetarian diet, and doing yoga that there is no place for anything else. She readily acknowledges that she has become obsessively rigid about these activities, and in the process her life has become more and more narrow.

As soon as we become too ritualistic about anything, our priorities inevitably get all screwed up and form assumes more importance than essence. For example, instead of spending time with our children, we spend time nagging them to make sure that they and their rooms look a certain way. Openness, warmth, and love feel more sheltering and protective than mere spit and polish. In fact, as we get older, it seems to become increasingly obvious that, on all levels, it doesn't matter how things look from the outside.

So, we can be trapped in an attachment to anything - even a good thing. This is not to suggest that we throw in the towel on our disciplines. No, not at all. But rather that we can let it be okay if our routine is interrupted for some reason. We can train ourselves to appreciate the unfolding of events rather than be caught up in engineering them.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Power and love

What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.
--Dr. Martin Luther King

Monday meditative picture blogging

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Letting go of attachments

Today I want to share with you a passage from Awakening to the Sacred by Lama Surya Das:
We all have a tendency to define and identify ourselves by our attachments - résumés, clothes, job title, social status, academic accomplishments. I'm a successful person because I own nice things; I'm a smart person because I read and think a lot and have informed opinion. We buy into the stories we (and others) tell about who we are based on our attachments. Often we take our first steps on the spiritual path because we realize that we don't want to do this any longer.

When we make a commitment to the spiritual path, we enter into an unspoken internal contract with ourselves: We agree that we will begin thinking about what our attachments cost us. We will begin thinking about the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what's important.

We ask ourselves: Do we own our possessions or do they own us? Are we controlled by our desire for pleasure? Do our opinions so define us that our innate goodness gets lost in the rhetoric? Are we so driven by our need for personal rites and rituals, schedules, timetables, and set ways of doing things that our priorities are lost? Are we so attached to our ego that...we are accidents waiting to happen?

When we walk the spiritual path, we start relinquishing the attachments that aren't really important in the long run.

Every loss can make way for gifts yet unimagined.

I think the above questions make for very good reflection exercises. Often we aren't aware of an attachment until suffering arises around it. But have we considered the possibility that we could prevent suffering by identifying attachments ahead of time and learning to sit loose to them?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

so true

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

-- Carl Jung

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Healthy aging

Go on over to CNN and read the edited transcript of their interview with Dr. Andrew Weil, a noted spokesperson for alternative or, as he prefers to call it, integrative medicine. The article is entitled, "Dr. Andrew Weil: Living longer, better". Here's a sample I particularly like that's toward the end of the interview:

COLLINS: Should we have dogs?

WEIL: I can't imagine life without dogs. It doesn't have to be dogs. There's very interesting medical research showing that people who have pets recover faster from illness. They get out of the hospital faster if they have surgery. So I think there's a lot of benefits to being involved with, you know, other things than yourself.

COLLINS: Anything else?

WEIL: Well, I think aside from eating right, you want to maintain physical activity throughout life. And that doesn't mean you have to run marathons, or go to aerobics classes. Walking is a perfectly good physical activity if you do enough of it regularly enough. You want to learn some method of stress management. You know, as I said, I like breathing exercises. But, you know, anything you can do. You want to really try to identify negative thought patterns that lead to negative behavior, and see how you can change them.

As everyone knows, I definitely recommend living with companion animals. And what we do together in meditation class - in the "insight meditation" part of class - is to identify negative thought patterns and work skillfully to change them.

I recommend clicking through and reading the whole article. It's good advice for everyone - regardless of age.

Three good strategies

I told you a few days ago about the little book I picked up at Barnes and Noble called, Stress Control for Peace of Mind. In it there's an essay on spirituality that includes the following suggestions for nurturing yourself in this regard:
* Hold an inner dialogue. Choose someone to act as your imaginary spiritual guide. This can be someone real or imaginary, alive or dead, famous or ordinary. Then imagine talking to that person, asking him or her for advice on how to handle a stressful situation in your life.

* Find beauty in the mundane. When you're feeling dispirited and drained, take a few moments to meditate intently on something beautiful in your surroundings. No matter where you are or what you're doing, there's bound to be something worth appreciating, whether it's the sight of sunlight dancing across the floor, the sound of children playing, the feel of air conditioning softly brushing your skin, or the smell of dinner cooking.

* Cultivate your gratitude. This approach was suggested by Krista Kurth, PhD, an executive coach who writes and consults about spiritual renewal in the workplace: Start a journal in which you record the things you're grateful for each day. Make a special effort to find things that inspire your gratitude even in tough situations or involving difficult people. Then whenever you start feeling stressed, look back through the journal to remind yourself of all the positive things in your life.

I've used each of these methods. They are very practical; they work.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Here's Ethel in her typical pose:

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Healing does come if we let it

Those of you who read my other blog, Child of Illusion, will have noticed that I quoted the Zen teacher Zoketsu Norman Fischer today about taking care not to despise those whose actions we do, indeed, despise. I want to quote him again here on pretty much the same subject although this passage is in response to someone who's estranged from a member of her family. Yet it has implications for any kind of difficulty with another person - public or private:
You can see from what we are hearing in the news that the forces of misunderstanding and hatred in the world are strong and have awful consequences. What stands out for me is this: there are no evil people. There are only misguided actions. And misguided actions don't happen spontaneously; there are reasons for them. They usually happen because the perpetrator has been hurt and so is confused and bitter and acts out of that confusion and bitterness. When someone is completely twisted because of this it is hard to reason with her, hard to make progress in our relationship with the person. Sometimes we have to remove ourselves, or, in the case of crimes, to find the perpetrator and try to prevent further crimes from happening.

But the point is that the criminal, the twisted person, is to be pitied more than oppposed. And even if we do have to oppose, to do so with a heart of understanding rather than bitterness. If we are bitter than we become also twisted and our actions will perpetuate the cycle of suffering.

Sometimes though we really are bitter- we have been hurt- we can't help feeling that way. If that's so we try to be mindful of it and to be quiet and seek healing (as you have done in addressing this question to the website). Take your time, feel your pain, but don't blame or lash out. It takes time to heal, but if you don't fan the fires of hatred and misundesrstanding healing does come.

Be well in these difficult times.

Zoketsu Norman Fischer

It's important to remember that hatred is a mind poison. What's crucial is the decision not to give it energy. It's very hard when someone has betrayed us - very. Still, for the sake of our own happiness and peace of mind it important not to harbor anger or hatred.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Therapeutic writing

I was in Barnes and Noble looking for something else, actually, when I came across a little book called Stress Control For Peace of Mind by Linda Wasmer Andrews. Here's a passage on a process called "therapeutic writing":
Therapeutic writing is another way to get your worries out into the open and then dispense with them. Bruce Rabin, MD, PhD, medical director of the Healthy Lifestyle Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, recommends this procedure. He says it often leads to a dramatic reduction in stress.

1. Pick something that is bothering you as the topic for your writing. It can be a distressing event that occurred today, or it can be a problem that has plagued you for decades. Any issue of concern will work.

2. Find a quiet spot where you won't be disturbed. Then write about your topic continuously for 15 minutes. Although Rabin says that he's still unsure why, it seems to be important that you write your thoughts out by hand. Typing on a computer doesn't appear to have the same benefits. If you run out of new things to say, repeat what you've already written. Don't worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Just get your thoughts on paper. Also, if you start crying, don't be alarmed. Rabin says this is a common reaction.

3. When your 15 minutes are up, tear up or shred the paper immediately. Discard it so that no one - not even you - will ever see what you wrote.
From a meditative perspective, this obviously works because it is an exercise in both coming out of the mind poison of delusion as well as in letting go. There's also a non-judging element involved as well in that you just write continuously without worrying about spelling or grammar - that you just let it flow.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Our real work

It may be when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tea meditation

I just found a WONDERFUL exercise in Five Good Minutes by Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine. It's entitled, "Your first sip of tea":
Make yourself a cup of your favorite tea (or a beverage of your choice) in your favorite cup. Place the mug with the loose tea or teabag at your place at the table. As you pour water into the cup, pay attention to the way your body moves, the weight of the kettle, and the sound and look of the water. Be mindful of every movement as you replace the kettle on the stove and sit at the table in front of the teacup. Wrap your hands around the cup and breathe the steam in, paying attention to how it feels on your face, the smell of the tea, and the warmth of the cup in your hands. Look at the tea and notice how it moves or swirls as you lift the cup. Be mindful of its color. When you sip the tea, pay close attention to how it feels on your tongue, the complexity of the taste, and the movement of your tongue and lips. It should take you five minutes to swallow your first sip of tea.
You can apply these same principles to eating an orange -- or anything else for that matter. This is both a contemplative exercise and a process that will strengthen mindfulness. Anything that helps us develop the ability to be more aware is all to the good.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Arriving at your own door

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The importance of practice

Here's another passage from Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
If mindfulness is an innate quality of mind, it is also one that can be refined through systematic practice. And for most of us, it has to be refined through practice. We have already noted how out of shape we tend to be when it comes to exercising our innate capacity to pay attention. And that is what meditation is all about... the systematic and intentional cultivation of mindful presence, and through it, of wisdom, compassion, and other qualities of mind and heart conducive to breaking free from the fetters of our own persistent blindness and delusions.

And that's why we do it, isn't it? To break free, to be free. There is no prison like the prison of ignorance. Without mindfulness we cannot see what is as it is and so it is inevitable that we will be blind. But with a meditation practice firmly in place we have the means for getting out of that prison and for seeing clearly again.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The difference between mindfulness and ordinary thinking

What are the benefits of cultivating what's known as "observer consciousness"? Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses this in his book, Coming to Our Senses:
Once you have tasted some degree of concentration and stability of focus in your attention, it is somewhat easier to settle into such stability of mind and reside within it at other times than on retreat, right in the midst of a busy life. Of course, this doesn't mean that everything in the mind will be calm and peaceful. We are visited over time by all sorts of mind states and body states, some pleasant, others unpleasant, others so neutral they may be hard to notice at all. But what is more calm and more stable is our ability to attend. It is the platform of our observing that becomes more stable. And with a degree of sustained calmness in our attending, if we don't cling to it for its own sake, invariably comes the development of insight, fueled and revealed by our awareness, by mindfulness itself, the mind's intrinsic capacity to know any and all objects of attention in any and every moment - as they are, beyond mere conceptual knowing through labeling and making meaning out of things through thinking.

We do that a lot, you know. We label things and make things up. We layer on interpretations of our experience so that we forget what the original experience actually is. Observer consciousness is about direct experience without all those extra layers of thinking. It's actually quite refreshing.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Cindy Reynolds gave me this darling ceramic cat tree ornament:

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And here's Ethel being her usual standoff-ish self:

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Photos by Ellie Finlay

More on loving-kindness

Joan Halifax, a Zen roshi, writes the following in an essay on lovingkindness published on the Gratefulness.org website:

It is helpful to see that we are part of a greater whole. We are more than our bodies, more than our thoughts, more than our feelings. Every time we identify with some fixed point in space or time, we close our hearts to the vastness of our being. Every time we narrow the vision of what we really are, we become afraid and fall out of love. A contemplative practice like this one can remind us that we are part of an ever-changing continuum.

When I think about what it means to be a wise person, I contemplate those whom I consider wise. My father was a wise man. He was naturally kind, a person to whom others turned for support and counsel. Through him I realized that wisdom and kindness give birth to each other.

As he lay dying, my father did not seem to be afraid of death. He had included old age, sickness, and death in his life as he was letting go of it. He included the memory of my mother; the presence of his new wife; his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchild; nurses, doctors, and aides; and his sickness and humor. Nothing was left out. As he was giving away his life, his wisdom and kindness grew even deeper. He let go of opinions, concepts, and ideas. He let go of all of us. His true nature shone through his dissolving body as boundless love, completely free of clinging, for everyone around him.

Lovingkindness is supremely relational: it works only if it is offered, given away, or shared. We cannot bank love; it grows as we give it away. The more we give it away, the greater our capacity for love. This is how lovingkindness becomes limitless.

We would all do well to practice that process of letting go while we are healthy and vigorous so that when sickness, old age and death comes our way we will know how to do it!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The importance of self-affirmation

Many people are in the habit of scolding themselves regularly for real or imagined failures. A big breakthrough for me in my own inner work was when I learned to affirm myself for all sorts of little things and to let go of that scolding voice. Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine make the same point in a section called "Give yourself praise" in their book Five Good Minutes:

You accomplish dozens of things every day. But do you remember to thank yourself? Do you think to reward yourself with some much-needed praise for all the wonderful things you do that often go unnoticed? This morning is your chance to be grateful for all the little things you do to make your life and others' lives simpler and smoother. Make a mental or written list of five things you did yesterday that helped out someone else, and then give yourself a hug or thank yourself out loud. When you take the time to acknowledge all the things you do, you remind yourself that you are a marvelous and magnificent person. Here's what your list might reflect:

* "I am thanking myself for giving up my weekend to clean house."

* "I am thanking myself for going over and beyond my call of duties at work"

* "I am thanking myself for taking such good care of my friends and family."

* "I am thanking myself for being a good friend to others in their times of need."

* "I am thanking myself to taking everyone out for dinner."

You deserve a round of applause and a song of praise every day.
My only concern about the above list is that some of the accomplishments are either too general or too exalted. I try to affirm myself for much smaller things like remembering to put the newspapers I'm re-cycling in the car or getting up in the morning when I'd rather sleep late. We all need acceptance and affirmation. By learning to give these to ourselves on a regular basis, we will actually end up doing a better job of affirming others.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

I love this picture. Cynthia is truly an artist with the black and white medium.

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Photo by Cynthia Burgess


Anyone who comes to see me for private appointments soon learns that I strongly recommend the process of self-coaching. This answers the complaint that many have about understanding something intellectually but not experientially. The way we move a principle that we know in our heads so that it penetrates our feelings is by self-coaching -- using what we know to instruct the part of us that is frightened or resistant. Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine have the same approach in their little book, Five Good Minutes. Here's a passage that gives some self-coaching advice:

Release the trap

When stressful thoughts inundate us, we all need a quick-fix coping technique. Coping mantras are a simple way to redirect your focus away from anxious thoughts. Positive coping statements enable you to talk yourself through any stressful occurrence. Here are some possible affirmations that will help guide you in your efforts to remain calm and focused. Speak these words aloud:

* "My anxiety will soon pass."

* "I am okay. I am safe. I can cope with any stress that comes my way."

* "I have support and love from others around me."

* "I trust my ability to handle this stress in a calm way."

* "I am choosing to relax now because there will be time later to take action."

Carry these strengthening and calming coping declarations with you throughout your day. By giving yourself permission to find your calm, centered place, you move away from the trapped feelings of anxiety and put yourself in a more pleasant frame of mind.

Of course, if you're in a situation in which it is not appropriate to speak these words aloud, by all means do so silently.

I have learned that reliable self-coaching phrases help me let go of the attachment to things being other than they are. Such an attachment is the primary cause of suffering, after all. Anything that helps us stay in the moment in an accepting way will enable us to alleviate our own suffering consistently and without fail.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Five-fingered peace

I've just found a marvelous little book called Five Good Minutes by Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine. It's subtitled, "100 morning practices to help you stay calm & focused all day long." Here's one of the exercises:
With a little practice, in just five minutes you can induce a highly effective relaxation technique using just your hand. Follow the steps below to guide yourself to a centered, focused state of awareness.

1. Touching your thumb to your index finger, travel back to a time when you felt a healthy exhaustion after exerting yourself physically, such as cleaning house, mowing the lawn, or biking.

2. Touching your thumb to your middle finger, travel back in time to a loving exchange with someone special, such as a devoted love letter, a tantalizing sexual experience, or a heart-expansive conversation.

3. Touching your thumb to your ring finger, try to recollect the most caring gesture you have ever received. Take this opportunity to truly accept this gift.

4. Touching your thumb to your little finger, travel back to the most magnificent place that you've seen or dreamed about. Take this moment to absorb all the beauty that surrounds you.

This five-finger relaxation is your ticket to building inner strength, harmony, and a sense of ease.

It also strikes me that it is a good exercise for cultivating gratitude.

I've been telling the Foundations classes for years that if you faithfully and consistently do five minutes of meditation a day, it will change your life. I'm delighted to find a book that makes the same point and that gives a variety of awareness exercises (besides just tranquility meditation) for what to do during those five minutes.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

What stress does

Marilyn Bedford tells me that the Tulsa World published its usual "in and out" lists for 2006. Now check this out: Meditation is "in". Multi-tasking is "out". That makes sense to me. Multi-tasking is a great way to put yourself under unnecessary stress. In case you've forgotten, here's what stress does to your body:

* Heart and blood vessels: Stress hormones increase the heart rate and make you more susceptible to developing blood clots. Long-term stress strains the heart and can raise blood pressure, according to Consumer Health Interactive (now Caremark).

* Immune system: some germ-fighting cells shut down during times of stress, making you vulnerable to colds and respiratory infections.

* Brain: Stress can impair short-term memory and make it difficult to concentrate. Ongoing stress can also lead to anxiety, depression, increased anger or irritability, sadness, and frequent mood swings.

* Digestive system: Your intestines can become irritated, leading to stomachaches, diarrhea, and constipation. Stress may also be a factor in irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and peptic ulcer disease.
The above list was published in Health News, the newsletter of the Episcopal Church Medical Trust.

And according to The Lancet, "prolonged stress doubles the risk of having a heart attack. In fact, the risk from prolonged stress is the same as from smoking."

Give yourself a wonderful present for the new year. Get serious about your meditation. Come take the Foundations course at the Center again if you need a refresher or read one of the wonderful books on meditation that I've quoted here on this site. Consider coming to daily sittings and make a real commitment to ongoing class. If you live outside the Tulsa area, go on and make an effort to find out where meditation groups meet in your area. Your health will thank you.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A cherishing exercise

Here's an exercise recommended by the Dalai Lama:
!. Spend five minutes at the beginning of each day remembering we all want the same things (to be happy and to be loved) and we are all connected to one another.

2. Spend five minutes breathing in, cherishing yourself; and breathing out, cherishing others. If you think about people you have difficulty cherishing, extend your cherishing to them anyway.

3. During the day extend that attitude to everyone you meet. Practice cherishing the simplest person (clerks, attendants, etc. as well as the "important" people in your life; cherish the people you love and the people you dislike).

4. Continue this practice no matter what happens or what anyone does to you.

I like the instruction that if the practice is difficult simply to do it anyway. There's no attempt at providing a magic formula for making it easy. There's no permission to coddle oneself and not do it just because it's hard. If you want peace and serenity, this works.