Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

You are already whole

Who or what is the real you? Definitely not your ego. And definitely not the afflictive emotions that cause suffering. Here's a passage from Coming to our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn that speaks to this:
Your awareness is a very big space within which to reside. It is never not an ally, a friend, a sanctuary, a refuge. And it is never not here, only sometimes veiled. But knowing it is subtle. The realm of awareness requires visiting many times, if every so briefly. Aiming, sustaining, aiming, sustaining, aiming, sustaining. If you appeal to
awareness in your doubt, in your unhappiness, in your confusion, in your anxiety, in your pain, these mind states are no longer "yours." They are just weather patterns in the mind and body. That dimension of "you" that already knows that you are doubting, unhappy, confused, anxious, in pain, resentful, is not any of those things, and is already okay, already whole. It will never not be what and who you actually are at the most fundamental level.

We visit that awareness during meditation and regular formal meditation teaches us to have that awareness at other times during our day. It is so worth it to do this practice because of the profound alleviationg of suffering meditation makes possible.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Impatient nation

I want to share a CNN article with you today entitled, "U.S. is an impatient nation, poll finds". Here's an excerpt:
An Associated Press poll has found an impatient nation. It's a nation that gets antsy after five minutes on hold on the phone and 15 minutes max in a line. So say people in the survey.

The Department of Motor Vehicles, the U.S. version of the old Soviet bread line, is among the top spots where Americans hate to wait. But grocery stores are the worst.

Almost one in four in the AP-Ipsos poll picked the grocery checkout as the line where their patience is most likely to melt like the ice cream turning to goo in their cart.

And it seems people don't mellow with age. The survey found older people to be more impatient than younger people.

Nor does getting away from the urban pressure cooker make much difference. People in the country and the suburbs can bear a few more minutes in a line before losing it than city inhabitants can, but that's it.

In short, Americans want it all NOW. Or awfully close to now.
Overall, 60 percent in the survey said they can usually wait no more than 15 minutes in a line before losing their cool.

Their fuses are even shorter on the phone.

Nearly four in five respondents in the survey said their patience has run out while being kept on hold.

Now you know this impatience is not good for us! Do remember that meditation is wonderfully effective for cultivating patience. Not only do we simply become more willing to wait after we become meditators, we actually have something to do when we're not able to escape waiting. We can meditate during that time. If you use a mantra or a memorized visualization as a support for meditation you can practice easily while waiting in line or on hold. I recommend it.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

"When the conditions are ripe"

In Coming to our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn, there is a chapter called, "Mindfulness and Democracy". I want to give you a passage today in observance of Memorial Day:
Of course, democracy can take root and grow in a particular culture only if and when the conditions are ripe. It cannot be imposed from without, any more than we could impose meditation on anybody, even though it too may be intrinsically beneficial. As a culture, we may be committed to nurture conditions for universal freedom, and liberation from oppression, exploitation, and ignorance as best we can for a complex set of reasons and motives that sometimes generate policies that seem to support the exact opposite. But to the extent that we care about true democracy emerging elsewhere, we also have to be patient, waiting for the unseen metamorphosis and inward transformation to take place, nourishing it as best we can, to the degree that we can, yet without forcing the chrysalis to open before its time, at least if we hope for a butterfly to emerge.

Since the potential for wisdom and emotional states such as kindness, compassion, empathy, devotion, joy, and love are already folded into our deepest truest nature as beings, their conscious development and deployment may make the difference between peace and perpetual war, between true security and perpetual insecurity, between rampant dis-ease and true liberation of human society from its own self-destructive tendencies. What do we have to lose by moving more intentionally in this direction, other than those ingrained habits of inattention and perpetual self-distraction that distance us from ourselves and keep us living in perpetual fear, forgetting that we are already whole, already complete, and that our true security is in a healthy body politic, in which we all paly a critical role?

Let us each cultivate kindness, compassion, empathy, devotion, joy and love through our meditative practice. And let us be the peace we long to see.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Managing emotions

Here's a really wonderful entry in that little book I've shared with you before called 1,001 Meditations by Mike George:
Emotions can feel uncontrollable - we have no choice but to experience them. But to live by our emotions is to live under a tyrant's rule. Acknowledge emotions for what they are, without shame or guilt, and then allow them to pass through you like wind moving through the leaves of a tree. Remember that it is only with your permission that feelings can change the way you behave.

It's easier to let go of emotions when we're regular meditators because the meditative process is one of continually letting go. That way we have a lot of practice.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Making stuff up

One of the ways we cause ourselves to suffer is to make stuff up. We make stuff up about what we think the future holds and we make stuff up about what others are thinking. We also make stuff up about who and what we are. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes how meditation can help relieve us of this habit in his book, Coming to our Senses:

We recognize the proliferations and the endless construction projects of the mind, and how easily we get absorbed in them, how easily we get emotionally involved in them. We recognize how easily we cling to them and have opinions about them, whether positive or negative, pleasant or unpleasant. When it comes right down to it, all of this, we see, is mere fabrication. So we keep watching the mind's constructs arise and pass away. We rest in awareness itself, beyond thinking altogether, even thoughts of watching and knowing. We rest in this awareness momentarily, and this "momentarily" is itself beyond time.

Over time, such timeless moments emerge out of the background of proliferations and fabrications and are seen and known because they become more familiar to us and therefore more visible and more accessible. We are naturally drawn to reside in undisturbed peacefulness and clarity no matter what is happening. We have momentarily at least gotten out of our own way, at which point the way becomes evident, bright, and undisturbed, even when the proverbial stuff is hitting the proverbial fan, maybe even especially when the proverbial stuff is hitting the proverbial fan.

Lets try to see and know what's actually happening in the moment and not make up stories about what's happening. We will prevent much personal suffering that way.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Ethel being lazy on the front porch
Photo by Ellie Finlay

Meditation across the board

I came across an article in the Kansas City Star by Bill Tammeus called "Meditation has a role in our faiths". Here's an excerpt:
It turns out meditation is one of those techniques or traditions that crosses all kinds of religious lines. It is mostly associated with Eastern religions, but also has had a long and honored place in the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam (or at least the mystic path of Islam, Sufism).

Meditation is not a big part of the Protestant tradition of which I’m a part. Oh, you can find some Christians in my area of the faith who engage in contemplative prayer or something called
centering prayer. But, truth be told, a lot of us seem to be satisfied with what true contemplatives and people who do serious meditation probably would call drive-by prayer.

A few years ago I attended a weekend-long retreat on contemplative prayer — and confirmed I am not a contemplative, though I was glad to know more about the practice. Nor do I have much experience with meditation, though I saw it practiced in various ways when I lived in India for two years as a boy.

But the world — and increasingly the Western world — is full of opportunities to learn about and engage in meditative practices, both religious and secular.

I think the most engaging book I’ve read on this subject is
Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey, by University of Arizona scholar Fenton Johnson. In it, Johnson describes growing up Catholic (in fact, as a neighbor of a famous Catholic monastery in rural Kentucky) but having to find his way back to Catholicism through experiencing the meditative practices of Buddhism.

There also are countless other books by people who have become known as meditation leaders. For instance, Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, a native of India who was educated as a scientist in the United States, has written such books as
Inner and Outer Peace Through Meditation and Empowering Your Soul Through Meditation.

The common thread, if there is one, among practitioners of meditation seems to be a desire to tap into the benefits — physical, emotional and spiritual — of focusing one’s mind in healthy ways. The term meditation gets used to refer to many kinds of practices, including prayer. So it’s hard to be very specific about what meditation is. But concentrating the mind in some way seems nearly always to be part of it, and it has been adopted even in many parts of the secular world as a tool for achieving better physical and mental health.

It's good to see an article that treats meditation as a universal practice and not the province of a particular faith tradition. That's what St. John's Center for Spiritual Formation is all about. Participants are from many different religious and non-religious backgrounds and current commitments. But we all come together to practice settling the mind and gaining deep insight into how our minds work. And we all benefit as a result.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.

--The Buddha

Just be yourself

Here are two reminders of how important it is not to try to be somebody else. First this simple poem:
Peonies bloom on peony trees.
A cat doesn't become a chicken.
Tulips are tulips, not roses.
Why can't we realize this true fact?
That to be me is great.
I don't have to be anyone but me.
I am blooming as I am in my life, just as
a peony blooms on a peony tree.
Further, a beautiful peony flower does not
worry about when it will wilt and fall to the ground.
It does not compete with the flower next to it;
rather it blooms with its whole self.

-- Sensie Oguifrom "Zen Shin Talks"

And now a simple observation:

The privilege of a lifetime is to be yourself.

-- Joseph Campbell

How happy we will be if we choose not to compete with others but rather rejoice in who and what we are!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

This is Frank Ford's dog, Duge. He is 8 years old.

Striving for inner peace

I found the following quote on

Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgement. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.

-- St. Seraphim of Sarov

The fundamental aspiration of inner peace will definitely alleviate and prevent suffering and that's a powerful motivator!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Relaxation and pain

Here's a small tidbit from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Meditation. It one more piece of information about how meditation - the relaxation part - can help with pain management:
Some physicians claim stress is the original source of all illness. Even in cases where illness or the source of pain isn't caused by stress, stress-reduction techniques can promote healing and reduce the experience of pain. In one study conducted by the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, after an eight-week training period in the clinic during which patients were taught a variety of stress-management relaxation techneques, 75 percent of patients with chronic pain achieved a 33 percent reduction in their pain (according to how they rated their pain on a questionnaire), and 61 percent of pain patients achieved at least a 50 percent reduction in their pain. In addition, most showed an improvement in their ability to engage in normal activities and a drop in negative mood states.

Meditation is a basic relaxation technique. It is more than that, of course, but it is at least that!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photo by Bill Miller

Meditation and cancer treatment

Here's an article found in an Australian paper entitled, "Disease opens door to meditation":
THE constant chatter and stress that once consumed Maree Reeves' mind has vanished since cancer shook her life almost two years ago.

The vicious disease had never crossed her mind until a routine pap smear signalled a total life change.

The then 50-year-old businesswoman had cervical cancer but was adamant she would fight the disease and get on with the next stage of her life.

"I was devastated but I realised you have to get used to this and accept it,'' Mrs Reeves said.

"I learnt you have to enjoy every day while you can and be positive. After all, you might be dead in six months.''

A complete life overhaul came as she found a new spiritual calling towards the calming technique of meditation.

While at the height of chemotherapy she started meditation as an alternative therapy.

Three days a week she meditates in her lounge overlooking the sea.

"It has the power to unearth a mind-body connection producing a calming flow. It stops that chatter in your mind,'' Mrs Reeves said.

"If you are constantly thinking of the disease it just upsets you too much. This can change your entire outlook.''

Mrs Reeves is tackling her second bout of the disease after discovering a tumour in her neck last June but remains a picture of good health.

Tomorrow she will find out the result of her six-monthly check-up and is expecting a positive result.

"You don't want stress in your life. I think that has a lot to do with (cancer). With meditation you don't focus on the past or future. You visualise on getting rid of the tumour,'' Mrs Reeves said.

"My mantra is in every day and every way to get better. I concentrate on that and not the disease,'' she said.

Next month I will be giving a talk to the medical staff at the Tulsa location of Cancer Treatment Centers of America on the benefits of meditation. I'm so glad medical people are waking up to the importance of inner work in their treatment plans.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Meditation is a lifesaver.

Literally. Read this:
Trapped upside down in his car after it flipped over on a slippery Hecker Pass Road in Gilroy in April, John Martinu did the only thing he could think to do under the circumstances: He practiced his Buddhist meditation exercises. When rescuers finally arrived and found Martinu to be remarkably calm, they said that in light of the injuries he had sustained, his composure helped save his life.
"The paramedic said that not panicking was the best thing I could have done," Martinu said.
"Meditating helped me keep my blood pressure and pulse from skyrocketing. I had internal injuries, and fighting to try to get out of the tangled seat belt would have made them worse under the circumstances," Martinu said. "I stayed perfectly still and calm, and they said it was amazing how little blood I lost.

The above passages are from an article called "Calming the Mind" by Kat Teraji. A very good instruction on meditation is included:
Begin meditation by finding a quiet place where you won't be disturbed for at least 20 minutes. Meditation does not mean spacing out or going blank. You are not switching off your mind or allowing it to just drift.

Meditation can be practiced while sitting, standing or walking. Lying down, however, is generally not recommended because the tendency is to become too relaxed. Your mind should not be too relaxed, but it should also not be too tight, which can make the body tense and uncomfortable.

It is best to find a natural balance between alertness and relaxation. Choose a position that's comfortable for you, whether cross-legged on a pillow on the floor or sitting in an ergonomic chair. Keep your spine relatively straight, so that breathing is easy. Focus on the way you breathe, and notice the subtle changes in sensation as you breathe in and out.

When your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the rising and falling of your abdomen. Try to remain uninvolved with thoughts about other things as they come and go; just enjoy the simple experience of breathing in and breathing out. After 15 minutes, slowly move your body, stand up and resume your everyday activities.

Meditation is a lifesaver in more ways than one. John Martinu's experience can serve as an inspiration to us all.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Moving meditation

Here at the Center we do some walking meditation during each daily meditation practice. I want to share a passage with you from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Meditation about mindful movement:
If sitting can be meditation and walking can be meditation, can anything be meditation? Yes, anything can be meditation. With practice, you can maintain a state of mindful awareness 24 hours a day. So once you've learned to meditate while sitting and meditate while walking, expand your meditation practice to other areas of movement. If movement is more your style, get out your energy with dynamic meditation before you attempt sitting meditation.

For centuries, various cultures have attempted to extend the meditative state into other areas of physical activity, resulting in many forms of mind-body-spirit fitness programs, from yoga to whirling. Each of these systems is designed to nurture, maintain, strengthen, and actualize the entire self. To reap the maximum benefit, they are best practiced in a state of mindfulness.

Whether you're looking for an interesting variation to your regular fitness program or want to immerse yourself in the spiritual dimension of your favorite tradition, consider adding moving meditations to your meditation repertoire.
I often recommend mindful sitting and mindful standing as a movement meditation. You slowly sit and then stand and repeat these movements for the duration of the meditation period. You can do this using a chair or sitting on the floor. Just sit and stand over and over but do it with great care and appreciation for your ability to do so. This is a very effective meditation for people to do when they're very agitated.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Henry in the living room.
Photo by Ellie Finlay

Keeping your word to yourself

I have often made the point in my teaching that the most important spiritual practice we can do is to keep our word to ourselves. This strengthens self-esteem, respect, commitment and the ability to change. Carol Adams makes this point as well in The Inner Art of Vegetarianism Workbook: Spiritual Practices for Body and Soul.
Meditation is the process of calming the restless mind's ceaseless wanderings. Through meditation, we develop attention and learn how to focus awareness. The practice cultivates the mind, awakens something within us, and allows us to focus attention on the present moment. When I wanted to bring meditation practice into my life, I decided to meditate for ten minutes. The energy that was released by meditating for ten minutes became a part of me. Besides the morning energy that desired a meditation practice, there was now also the energy generated by the practice itself, as well as the energy that flowed from the excitement of keeping the promise. Keeping promises to ourselves is a way to say to our unconscious, "I will meet you here" and, by doing so, we signal our commitment. The art of doing it is important.

When we don't keep our word to ourselves we are devaluing ourselves. Be willing to assign significant value to your own inner journey. We do that by following through on our commitment to meditate. Even if it's only for five minutes a day we will reap enormous benefits.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What is a mandala?

Mandala by Kenneth Croneland.

I want to share a website with you called, "The Mandala Project". Here's passage from one of the pages:

The pattern of creationThe word "mandala" is from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit. Loosely translated to mean "circle," a mandala is far more than a simple shape. It represents wholeness, and can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself--a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.

Describing both material and non-material realities, the mandala appears in all aspects of life: the celestial circles we call earth, sun, and moon, as well as conceptual circles of friends, family, and community.

"The integrated view of the world represented by the mandala, while long embraced by some Eastern religions, has now begun to emerge in Western religious and secular cultures. Awareness of the mandala may have the potential of changing how we see ourselves, our planet, and perhaps even our own life purpose." (From
Mandala: Journey to the Center, by Bailey Cunningham)

Some years ago I decided to create mandalas as a part of my inner work. I got a sketch pad and traced circles on the pages using a coffee can. Then I just let my imagination run free.

It was very illuminating to interpret the symbols I used as if I were interpretting a dream. Carl Jung did this as part of his inner work and that's how I got the idea. You can begin by exploring the site I've mentioned above and studying some examples of mandalas. Or you can print out a mandala you particularly like and use it as a support for meditation.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Breath awareness

Today I spent some time hanging out in a used book store and I found The Inner Art of Vegetarianism Workbook: Spiritual Practices for Body and Soul by Carol Adams. I want to share with you this passage on breathing:
Breathing time is space to recover, to become refreshed, to start again. Breathing time helps us to experience how we are the breathing partners of plants. This breathing technique reminds us of our relationship with the plants who need our carbon dioxide just as we need the oxygen they produce. It also helps us relax and become energized.

* Sit comfortably in a chair or in the meditation posture on the floor...
* Inhale slowly through your nostrils.
* As you inhale, imagine that the air you are inhaling is a white cloud filled with pure oxygen.
* Watch as this white cloud fills your lungs completely.
* Suspend your breath (neither inhale nor exhale) and watch as this white cloud permeates your lungs, enters your bloodstream, and travels throughout all of your body - all the way to your fingertips and your toes.
* Exhale slowly, releasing what remains of the white cloud.
* Watch as it exits your nostrils as a smoky, de-oxygenated cloud.
* Suspend your breath (neither inhale nor exhale) and imagine that your lungs are empty. See the plants and trees that surround you absorb the carbon dioxide.
* Repeat this breath-sharing practice at least ten times and notice how you feel afterwards.

Once you have practiced this technique sitting, you can practice it standing, while cooking, or in the midst of other movements.

It strikes me that this would be a good settling exercise before beginning to meditate - that one could do it instead of stretching or in addition to stretching in order to calm the body. Or, as described, it can be an exercise that stands on its own.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Meditation and pain

Today I found a really good article on meditation and pain management. It's called, "Meditation brings calm in medical storm". Here are some passages:
Robert Shearer has had painful migraines since he was 12 years old. His headaches are so bad that he took disability leave from his job. To relax and deal with the pain, the 43-year-old Richmond resident practices meditation.

“It’s difficult to do a 40-hour a week job when I don’t know from one day to the next what my pain is going to be like,” Shearer said. “Meditation is not a cure, at least not for me, but it sure helps me cope.”

Meditation is a practice that can be used to achieve many goals — to elicit a relaxation response, focus the mind, create greater awareness, or as part of a spiritual journey. It is widely — and increasingly — used in concert with medical treatment to help patients deal with their conditions, from cancer to AIDS to anxiety and mild depression. Techniques vary, from the use of mantras and visualization to focusing on one’s breath.
[Dr. Magdalena] Naylor said she teaches patients techniques so they are not overwhelmed by their pain. Shearer does meditation to elicit a relaxation response, a state that through many years of practice, he can bring on within several minutes. Although his headaches are still just as painful, Shearer said he can deal with the ache better as a result of meditation. He also said meditation helps him clarify his thinking and concentrate better.

“Through the use of meditation you can reach a point where you feel pain but you don’t suffer. You don’t get the distress that goes along with pain,” Shearer said.

The distinction between pain and suffering is an important one. Pain may be necessary but suffering is not. Suffering can be defined as pain plus judgment or non-acceptance. Interestingly, that non-acceptance (or fighting against the pain) tends to increase the pain itself so when we meditate we not only alleviate suffering, we also sometimes reduce the actual pain as well.
[Another patient] worked with Dr. Arnold Kozak, a Burlington psychologist who teaches mindful meditation to patients, many of whom have serious medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS or heart conditions, or have impulse-control problems or mild depression.

“Coping with their conditions is one thing,” Kozak said. “What circulates through people’s minds tends to be the problem.¤... People are engaged in a story about what’s going on with them and it causes regret, anxiety and worry.”

Unlike Shearer, who does meditation to relax, Kozak teaches mindfulness meditation as a way to pay attention to what is happening in the present moment, usually in the body. Relaxation is generally a side effect, but not the primary focus, Kozak said. Other benefits include increased ability to cope, reduced anxiety and stress levels, some increase in positive emotions and acceptance of chronic pain.

“They can use it as a tool, just as with medication, to cope with conditions,” Kozak said. “It helps them be able to actively intervene.”

Isn't that what we really need - the ability to intervene and not be taken hostage by our situation and our mental reactions? But it's really necessary to practice meditation regularly to get these benefits. It won't work if you only try it when you're in distress. The skill must be cultivated.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

A patch of blue

Here's a visualization that will help us work skillfully with thoughts during meditation. It's found in Beginning Mindfulness by Andrew Weiss:
One meditation teacher invites us to envision the true nature of our mind as a clear blue sky. Thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions are clouds that come and go across the blue sky. Some clouds are white wisps, others dark gray thunderheads. Sometimes the clouds are few; sometimes they reach from horizon to horizon. Yet, however many clouds may obscure the blue sky, the blue sky is always there. Just as a small patch of blue often appears during a hurricane, the blue-sky true nature of our mind/heart can reveal itself through the clouds of thinking, feeling, and perceiving, no matter how dense they become.

Envisioning our thoughts and feelings this way can help us let go of the impulse to try to control our mind. Control is not necessary because the blue sky is just there. We don't have to engineer it in any way.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

More on gratitude

There's a self expansive aspect of gratitude. Very possibly it's a little known law of nature: the more gratitude you have, the more you have to be grateful for.

~~ Elaine St. James

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Bird migration

Here's a really marvelous passage from 1,001 Meditations by Mike George:
Each year, with the onset of winter, flocks of birds from the Northern hemisphere fly long distances to warmer territories in the south. Birds navigate their way by following internal compasses comprising tiny grains of a mineral called magnetite stored in their brains. During rest stops they recalibrate their inner compasses using the positions of the stars to account for the fact that magnetic north lies 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from the North Pole. When rest stops are too short, birds can get disoriented. In a similar way we possess a sense of inner knowing that helps us to find our way in life. But, unless we allow ourselves daily periods of time alone in which to tune into this inner knowing and recalibrate it against changing circumstances, we, like migrating birds, can lose our way.
How very true. Don't deprive yourself of meditation time. It's just too important.


Claiming your own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others.

~~ Henri Nouwen

Friday, May 12, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Photo by Ellie Finlay

We become what we worship

A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives and our character. Therefore, it behoves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping we are becoming.

~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mindful eating and drinking

Andrew Weiss, in Beginning Mindfulness, offers the following:

This food is the gift of the whole universe - the earth, the sky, and much hard work
May I be aware of the quality of my deeds as I receive it.
May I practice mindfulness to transform greed, hatred, and ignorance.
May this food nourish me and prevent illness.
In gratitude I accept this food so I may realize the path of love, compassion, and peace


This drink is my cup of mindfulness.
I hold the present moment
In my hands.


My plate is empty. My hunger is satisfied,
And my body's strength is fully restored.
I use my power for the benefit of all.
May all beings have the nourishment they need.

Mindful eating and drinking can be very soothing and centering. And, as always, a reminder to practice gratitude is truly valuable.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Working skillfully with pain

I want to bring you another passage today from Andrew Weiss's wonderful book, Beginning Mindfulness. This one is about an effective way of bringing mindfulness practice to pain management:

When we truly disengage from the drama and the narrative we create around the feeling, when we enter into an awareness of the feeling without judgment, without opinions, and without labels, we encounter the feeling itself. And that may be very different from what we imagine the feeling is. Zen Master Bo Mun likes to say, "Don't give back to the pain any more than it gives to you." If you have a pain in your leg, you may be more aware of your feelings about the pain - your fear of pain, your anger at being hurt, your desire to be free of pain - than you are of the pain itself. The pain is simply pain; what we give back to it is our opinion of the pain (we don't like it), our judgment of the pain (it's bad), and our label for it (the word and concept of "pain", with all the emotional freight that goes with it). When we are present with the pain in this way, without concepts, opinions, and judgments, we are present with it in true mindfulness. And free from our opinions and judgments, the pain can simply be there and show us its true face.

We can practice mindfulness with either emotional pain or physical pain; the process works the same way with both. One helpful way of accepting pain is to confront our (possibly unconscious) sense of entitlement that we be 100% pain free all the time. That's simply not a guarantee anybody has in life and when we look at it that way, we let go of our unreasonable demands on reality.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Are you a drama queen?

The ability to accept a feeling without judgment is one of the most important skills we can learn from the meditative process. This point is expanded upon in a marvelous paragraph from Beginning Mindfulness by Andrew Weiss:

Most of us find it difficult to be present with our feelings. When a feeling is one we label "good," like joy or pleasure, we want to grab onto it and fix it permanently in time and space. When the feeling is one we label "bad," we want to avoid it. As ways to avoid the reality of what we are feeling, we usually engage either in dramatizing the feeling - acting it out - or in suppressing it. Neither approach really allows us to stay steady with our feelings. When we act our feelings out, we may think we're getting rid of them, when all we're doing is making the seeds of those feelings stronger by feeding them. When we deny or suppress our feelings, we may think they will not bother us. In fact we're creating a big pressure cooker. Sooner or later the feelings we didn't want to know about will explode and we will end up acting them out anyway. When a friend asks you if you are having a nice day and gets a tirade of everything that's gone wrong for the last ten years, you can be sure you've suppressed some strong anger, hurt, or resentment, and that you are acting it out on your friend. Even if you don't act the feeling out, the drama you create around the feeling - the story you tell yourself about what caused it, why you feel the way you do, who is responsible, and so on - creates far more suffering for you than the feeling itself does. In Shakespeare's play by the same name, Othello creates a terrible drama out of his inability to tolerate his feelings of jealousy; ultimately he destroys himself and his beloved Desdemona. We create dramas of our own all the time; drama is a habit of avoidance just as potent as suppression.

These are some very powerful observations. Be willing to accept whatever feeling you have but don't feed the feeling by either condemning it or justifying it. (It's possible to over-dramatize either one.) And do remember impermanence. You've never before had a feeling that was permanent so the one you're having now is not the one. Accept. Let time pass. Then accept again. This is a system that will work for you for the long haul.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller


Here's a wonderful description of mindfulness. It's from Beginning Mindfulness by Andrew Weiss.
Mindfulness is the energy or state of being within which concentration and insight arise. You have already tasted the fruit of mindfulness in your practice every time you maintain your attention on your breathing. As you experienced the change in your breathing and the space that opens within you with each breath, you experienced concentration, a oneness with the object of your attention. As you further deepen your practice of mindfulness, one of the insights that arises is the experience of the disintegration of your sense of isolation. You may notice this in a sense of spaciousness within you that incorporates the sounds or sights around you, even if just for an instant. Or you may be looking at or talking with someone and suddenly know inside you what it is like to be that person.
This is the path to true empathy. Mindfulness enables us to experience another person with awareness and solidarity. We break through our narcissism when we practice mindfulness with a deep willingness to be present to beings other than ourselves. This is extraordinarily powerful.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

True compassion

Let your soul lend its ear to every cry of pain as a lotus bares its heart to drink in the morning sun. Let not the fierce sun dry one tear of pain before you yourself have wiped it from the sufferer's eye. But let each burning human tear fall on your heart and there remain, nor ever brush it off until the pain that caused it is removed.

-- Traditional Vedic meditation

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Meditation helps prevent depression

Here's good news for people who are prone to depression. It's been scientifically proven that meditation really helps. Here are a couple of passages from an article entitled, "Meditation Improves Mental Health":
"Our research is identifying the mental muscles that people build that protect them against depression and enhance their well-being," says Adam Anderson, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Toronto.

Anderson is using brain imaging to actually see why "mindfulness meditation" - which emphasizes non-judgemental, moment-to-moment awareness of your feelings and thoughts - is so effective in preventing depression relapse.
"We found that when people focused on simply being aware of how they were feeling, their brain activity moved from the problem solving, judgmental part of the brain that is closely linked to depression, to an older part of the brain that's focused on body awareness," says Anderson. "And this move is very calming. It's like moving into the eye of the storm. You're actually turning off the judgmental part of your brain."

Anderson believes his research will help build a strong case for the use of mindfulness meditation in treating depression. His next step is a clinical study that will examine the effectiveness of meditation in preventing depression relapse, specifically among patients who've taken anti-depressants.

One important warning here: If you're taking anti-depressants do not stop taking your medication without your doctor's knowledge and approval. Meditation is appropriate in addition to medical treatment - not instead of!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

My favorite picture of Leroy
Photo by Ellie Finlay

Unconditional acceptance

I feel quite confident in saying that everyone has a longing for complete and unconditional acceptance. We can't always get that from another person but we can certainly get it from ourselves. In fact, giving ourselves unconditional acceptance will cure any "hungry ghost" tendencies we may have in which we're constantly seeking approval and affirmation from other people. Here's a story I found in 1,001 Meditations by Mike George that illustrates this principle:
Consider the snake. In an old folktale a snake was once asked whether it would have preferred to have legs, if given the choice. The snake was mystified by the question. "No," it said. "I am what I am." We are what we are. We need have no wish for anything that we do not have.

So let's remember the snake and not make the impossible demand on ourselves that we be other than we are.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Chanting meditation

If you use a mantra as your meditation support, try chanting it if you have privacy. Here's a paragraph about that from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Meditation:
No matter what tradition you believe in, chanting helps prolong the exhalation of the breath, calm the mind, slow the heart, and after long periods, helps bring the meditator into an alternate state of consciousness. Whether this is due to the effect on breathing, the effect of one-pointed thinking, the effect of the repetition, the vibrations of the mantra itself, or (most likely) a combination of the four hasn't been proven, but chanting or reciting mantras does seem to be a highly effective form of meditation for people of many beliefs, traditions, and cultures. It might be just the technique for you.

You don't need to know any particular tune in order to chant. You can simply chant your mantra on one pitch that's comfortable for your voice.

Here are some possibilities for mantras if you don't already have one:

One is all, all is one
Let it be
Shalom ("peace" in Hebrew)
Om shanti shanti shanti ("All is peace, peace, peace" in Sanskrit)
Om (The primal sacred syllable)
Kyrie Eleison ("Lord have mercy" in Greek)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

My friend Walt's dog

Meditation and ADD

Here's another article about the benefits of meditation for children with Attention Deficit Disorder. Needless to say, it works for grownups too! The article is entitled, "Treatment options, from medicine to meditation". Here's an excerpt:
Dr. Alarik Arenander, of the Brain Research Institute in Iowa, said the practice of transcendental meditation has worked wonders for some children. Children who practice it twice a day, he said, have shown marked improvement almost immediately.

Arenander, who spoke recently at Bastyr University, described the treatment as empowering. Children do not have to rely on a pill, or on a counselor, to improve their behavior, he said. They can improve their own behavior whenever and wherever they choose — on the bus, in the classroom or at home.

"It gives back control to these kids," said Arenander. "They realize they now have a tool that makes them who they want to be."

Whatever challenges we may have in life, the meditative principles will help. And they can help on the spot. No matter where we are or what we are doing we can apply the principles of mindfulness. They are both calming and focusing.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Here's another suggestion from 1,001 Meditations by Mike George:
Perceive inscape

The nineteenth-century English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins attempted to reveal what he called "inscape" - the pattern of distinctive characteristics that constitute the individual essence of a thing. In your daily life take time to pause and absorb the inscape in the people and things you see around you. Try to move beyond superficialities to perceive the uniqueness of each thing. Appreciate this uniqueness as an expression of the spirit.

Well, it's another outlook on mindfulness, isn't it? Looking for "inscape" is also an aspect of "penetrating insight". This practice will help us avoid the mind poison of delusion - or the need not to know. When we look for "inscape" we are actually cultivating the willingness to know a thing on a deep level.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photo by Bill Miller

Scientist meditator

Now here's an interesting news story:
UW scientist named one of Time’s 100 most influential

UW-Madison professor of psychology and psychiatry Richard Davidson has been named one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2006.

According to a University statement, Davidson has devoted his career to understanding the human brain in regards to how it regulates emotion.

Davidson is the director of the UW-Madison Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, which researches how the brain produces emotions like depression and anxiety.

Davidson became famous in the ‘90s for his research on how meditation affects the human brain, work that was done at the request of the Dalai Lama.

Davidson, who meditates regularly, still communicates with the Dalai Lama.
It's very encouraging, isn't it, when somebody who studies the brain believes it is important to meditate. That can be a truly motivating realization for us.