Thursday, November 30, 2006

Making yourself happier

Yes, it's possible. I just found a fascinating AP article entitled "Researchers seek routes to happier life". Here's a little bit of what it says:

NEW YORK - As a motivational speaker and executive coach, Caroline Adams Miller knows a few things about using mental exercises to achieve goals. But last year, one exercise she was asked to try took her by surprise.

Every night, she was to think of three good things that happened that day and analyze why they occurred. That was supposed to increase her overall happiness.

"I thought it was too simple to be effective," said Miller, 44, of Bethesda. Md. "I went to Harvard. I'm used to things being complicated."

Miller was assigned the task as homework in a master's degree program. But as a chronic worrier, she knew she could use the kind of boost the exercise was supposed to deliver.

She got it.

"The quality of my dreams has changed, I never have trouble falling asleep and I do feel happier," she said.

Results may vary, as they say in the weight-loss ads. But that exercise is one of several that have shown preliminary promise in recent research into how people can make themselves happier — not just for a day or two, but long-term. It's part of a larger body of work that challenges a long-standing skepticism about whether that's even possible.

Apparently, the research is indicating that it truly IS possible to make ourselves happier.

There are several other happiness exercises described in the article. Do click through and read the whole thing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How true it is!

You are destined to fly, but that cocoon has to go.

Nelle Morton

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The time it takes

Please don't despair if you find yourself having the same issues over and over. That is so normal. It's also normal for it to take a long time to get free:

A lifetime may not be long enough to attune ourselves fully to the harmony of the universe. But just to become aware that we can resonate with it -- that alone can be like waking up from a dream.

-- David Steindl-Rast

The meditative process works by the saturation method. We need to have the same principles explained to us over and over. We need to coach ourselves on the same techniques over and over. That, too, is normal. After a while, our ability to work with our material gets more and more skillful. And, as a consequence, we experience more and more freedom.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Thinking about gratitude

Just because the Thanksgiving holiday is now over, I hope we don't stop thinking about the importance of giving thanks. The website has a very thorough exercise about developing a gratitude list and then acting on it to share with others. Here's how it gets started:
We begin by waking up to the gifts around us. Although our webteam isn’t omniscient, we can pretty much say for certain that you’re in front of a computer. We also guess that you can read, which sets you apart from two billion people in the world who cannot. So already you can tally opportunities you have that not everyone can claim.

Look around at your surroundings, your own body included. What can you add to your list of blessings? You might mention such joys as comfortable clothing, good health, satisfying work, or a home to call your own. And what beyond your immediate surroundings: nourishing food, faithful friends, spiritual moorings? You may even discover less obvious blessings; for instance, a difficult relationship forces you to mature, or deep distress over violence spurs you to spread peace. On a sheet of paper or a word-processor at your fingertips, record a few of these gifts.
The exercise continues and directs us to other sites that can help us develop awareness. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Computer woes AGAIN

This time it was the dog. While I was in the shower, Izzy managed to pull my lap top off my desk and onto an open drawer. It now won't boot up at all. As I write, I'm waiting for my computer guru to phone. In the meantime, there will be light posting as I must use Cynthia's computer at the Center and I don't have round the clock access to that!

Ah well! I get to do some equanimity practice now, don't I?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Our task

Please remember that the teaching to accept our thoughts without judgment when we meditate does not mean we should renounce action when compassion demands it. Acceptance and approval are not the same thing at all. But we need to take action with the greatest degree of equanimity possible. And we need to be realistic about what we can actually do:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

-- Clarissa Pinkola Estés

I like the word "mend". It has a nurturing quality to it.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Meditation timer

Do you have a problem with timing your meditation? I've got just the website for you! The site is called Audio Dharma and it serves as the archives of the dharma (teaching) talks given by a teacher named Gil Fronsdal as well as several guest speakers at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California.

The page with the bells offers meditation times between 15 minutes and one hour. You can also use the screen as a visual support if you wish as a constantly moving but very soothing visual is offered along with the sound of the gong.

You can also download the files of the bells and save them to your own computer.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Friday cat blogging!


Smiling for peace

Thich Nhat Hanh

In Thich Nhat Hanh's tradition, part of meditation posture is assuming the half-smile. Even though that is not taught in the Tibetan system in which I'm trained, I try to do it from time to time. It's amazing how it shifts one's attitude:

Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace. It is not by going out for a demonstration against nuclear missiles that we can bring about peace. It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.

--Thich Nhat Hanh

I don't think he's suggesting that we not take action. Thich Nhat Hanh is a person of action himself. But he's saying it needs to start with oneself. We need to be the change we wish to see.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Cultivating gratitude

On this Thanksgiving Day it is appropriate to focus on the mind state of gratitude and how to cultivate it. I want to call your attention to an essay entitled To Give Is to Receive by Roger Walsh. Here's an excerpt:
Like other attitudes, gratitude can be cultivated. We don't have to wait for our fairy grandmother to shower us with gifts before feeling thankful. We can develop gratitude by reflecting on the gifts that are already ours. This reflection can be done for a minute, a day, or throughout a lifetime. Most people celebrate their birthday and holidays, but those who cultivate gratitude celebrate every day. We can be grateful because we are happy, but we can also be happy because we are grateful.

We tend to forget how very different the laws that govern the mind are from the laws that operate in the physical world. In the world, if we give a physical thing to another person, whether it be a toy or a diamond, we lose it. Yet in the mind, the opposite is true. Whatever we intend for another person we experience ourselves
, whatever we give we gain, whatever we offer flowers in our own mind.
I consider myself to be a truly happy person but, like anybody else, I can get frazzled and grumpy if I've got too much going on or if I'm experiencing events as frustrating. When that happens, all I have to do is remember gratitude - my own gratitude which is ongoing - and my feeling of deep happiness returns. Truly, there is no more powerful a practice for supporting our experience of profound well being.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Two on gratitude

Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow and so it is a good time to be focusing our awareness on gratitude. Here are two quotations worth pondering, I think:

Sanctity has to do with gratitude. To be a saint is to be fueled by gratitude, nothing more and nothing less.

— Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing

Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted.

— David Steindl-Rast in The Music of Silence

As meditators, we do well to be grateful for our practice and for the circumstances that led us to ask for instruction in the first place. If we cultivate gratitude for meditation, we will practice more easily and we will definitely enjoy it more.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Blogger troubles again

Hello, everyone.

I apologize for the lack of postings. Blogger has been down for the last 36 hours or so, I'm afraid, so I haven't been able to post.

I'll get caught up as soon as possible.

Bye for now.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Seeking happiness

This morning, Cynthia gave me a copy of an article called Mastering Your Own Mind by Katherine Ellison that's published by Psychology Today. It's about the benefits of meditation. Here's one observation that I've told you about before:
One recent study at Massachusetts General Hospital found that 40 minutes of daily meditation appears to thicken parts of the cerebral cortex involved in attention and sensory processing.
And here's an excerpt toward the end of the article:
Meditators find that when they stop taking their own emotional upheavals so seriously, the self drops away. They process the world more directly. Absorption, a state similar to what is known as "flow" increases. "People are hungry for this kind of authentic experience," observes [Jon] Kabat-Zinn.

Urging seekers of happiness to not only shake off egoism but to understand the amorphous nature of the ego itself remains an subversive idea in the West, even though some leading neuroscientists have come to the same conclusion. Wolf Singer, director of the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, for instance, describes the brain as lacking any decision-making "coherence center." It's like an orchestra without a conductor.

It's a tremendously hopeful possibility that brains can change for the better - specifically, become sharper, nicer, happier.
Remember, the universal motivation is the wish to be happy. It's what we all want. What Western researchers are now discovering is that we can, indeed, experience true happiness through meditative practice.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Mindfulness and psychotherapy

I came across a blog today called "Health Psych: Current issues in clinical health psychology". I was particularly interested in a posting entitled simply "Mindfulness". Here's part of it:
There's increasing interest in the so-called "third wave" of development of cognitive-behavioural therapy. Just as behavioural therapy was expanded by the inclusion of cognitive approaches, there is a further movement towards the incorporation of mindfulness and other more spiritually-based approaches into cognitive-behavioural therapy.

Based on a combination of Eastern meditation and Western psychology, mindfulness based cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques are used in the context of both physical and psychological health problems.

Mindfulness involves developing the ability to pay deliberate attention to the experience of life from moment to moment. Using relaxation, an awareness of the breath and a gentle focus of attention, individuals learn to observe their thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations in a non-judgemental way.
The shrinks are discovering what meditation teachers have known for a long time and that is that experiencing emotions without judgment actually helps with emotional regulation. I'll tell you again, folks, what I've told you so many times before: This stuff really works!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

It is important to recognize the power of our emotions--and to take responsibility for them by creating a light and positive atmosphere around ourselves. This attitude of joy that we create helps alleviate states of hopelessness, loneliness, and despair. Our relationships with others thus naturally improve, and little by little the whole of society becomes more positive and balanced.

- Tarthang Tulku

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ethel - in memoriam

Ethel Finlay (? - November 15, 2006)

I am so grateful for the words of sympathy sent to me by so many about both Edgar and Ethel. I thank you from my heart.


The Dalai Lama said the following:
Spirituality is like a medicine. To heal the illness, it is not sufficient to look at the medicine and talk about it: You have to ingest it.
Our illness is the attachments that cause our suffering and the mind poisons that overtake us. The medicine is meditating regularly, coming to class, and applying the meditative principles in our everyday life. Let's all ingest that wonderful medicine!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Our natural state

I went through a period of my life in which I immersed myself in the writings of Anthony de Mello - to my very great benefit! This is from a transcript of a talk he gave. Click through if you want to be really challenged. For now let's look at something he said about happiness:
Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture. To acquire happiness you don't have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don't you experience it? Because you've got to drop something. You've got to drop illusions. You don't have to add anything in order to be happy; you've got to drop something. Life is easy, life is delightful. It's only hard on your illusions, your ambitions, your greed, your cravings.
Some years ago I listened to a series of tapes by Richard Rohr called "Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction" that made essentially the same point as de Mello. That inner change - the one from striving for addition to embracing subtraction - is one of the most important ones we'll ever make. Let go, let go, let go. This is truly the way to peace and well being. And there's no other way. Of that I am convinced.

This time it's Ethel

Ethel Finlay (? - November 15, 2006)

It is with great sadness that I tell you that Ethel was hit by a car last night and died almost instantly.

She had been depressed with the loss of Edgar and was not eating. I can only surmise that she was not at her best and therefore momentarily lost her usual street smarts.

I'm still in a state of shock. It's hard to believe that I lost them both in the span of six days.

But I'm glad they are together now. Somehow I can't imagine Ethel being happy without Edgar. Now she has joined him.

Even though she would rarely let me touch her, I loved her very much.

Good-bye, dear Ethel. May you rest in peace.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


This week in the ongoing classes we discussed the importance of enthusiasm with regard to our meditative practice. We looked at three approaches to enthusiasm: the enthusiasm we practice for our own sake, the enthusiasm we practice with regard to others, and the enthusiasm in others from which we benefit. Practicing enthusiasm is one of the most effective ways we can offer support and encouragement. Today I want to offer a quotation specifically about encouragement:

There are people whose presence is encouraging. One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own.

— John O'Donohue in Eternal Echoes

John O'Donohue is an Irish philosopher and spiritual teacher who also wrote a wonderful book called Anam Cara (that's Gaelic for "soul friend"). Any of O'Donohue's writings or tapes are well worth your attention.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tuesday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Weaver Bloomfield

Our task

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

-- Jalaluddin Rumi

Monday, November 13, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Trying to fix the ego

One of my big challenges is to persuade people to let go of the effort to fix themselves. Here's a wonderful quote from Fingers Pointing Toward the Moon by Wei Wu Wei that speaks to this:
There seem to two kinds of searchers: those who seek to make their ego something other than it is, i.e. holy, happy, unselfish (as though you could make a fish unfish), and those who understand that all such attempts are just gesticulation and play-acting, that there is only one thing that can be done, which is to disidentify themselves with the ego, by realising its unreality, and by becoming aware of their eternal identity with pure being.
The kind of spirituality that liberates is one of subtraction - not addition. It's one of letting go, not adding on.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Shrine for Edgar

Well, I've started a little shrine for Edgar. The little stone sleeping cat was given to me just yesterday as a memorial for such a fine, fine kitty. I will be adding some flowers and a photograph soon.

Know thyself

As I mentioned over on Child of Illusion, I came across a very interesting blog yesterday called Markham's Behavioral Health. The postings offer a mixture of mental health, public health, social work, education, politics and spirituality topics. Here's something the blog owner had to say about knowing oneself:
We all have our light side and our shadow side. It is best if we become aware of and manage constructively both our talents and abilities and virtues as well as our weaknesses, our deficits, and our sins. It is the witness in us that gives us the ability to observe ourselves: our physical bodies, our personalities, our values, our spirits so that we can attain wisdom. Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living. Are we living examined lives?

Knowing ourselves we can use different parts of ourselves at different times depending on our purposes and our goals. The idea is not repress and deny parts of ourselves, or to exalt and brag in an egotistical way about parts of ourselves, but to keep all the parts of ourselves in balance. It is in our self knowledge that we are enabled to do this.
I recommend that you go over and take a look. I particularly enjoyed browsing in the archives.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Saturday meditative picture blogging

Photo by C. Robin Janning

Do visit Robin's blog, Gramercy Digital Diary. Her work is amazing. And you can always reach it from Meditation Matters because it's on my blog roll.

True prayer

Found on the site:

Prayer begins at the edge of emptiness.

-- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Friday, November 10, 2006

Rest in peace

Edgar Finlay (? - November 9, 2006)

Ethel and Edgar

Dear friends, it is my sad duty to tell you that Edgar had to be put down last night. The circumstances are too complicated and painful for me to go into right now but be aware that he was FIV positive (feline AIDS) and that that was part of it.

He had a very beautiful death. He purred right up to the end when he died with his old head on the arm I was cradling him with. Needless to say, I am heartbroken.

Ethel will miss her life partner. Now she is all alone. Unlike Edgar, who was a real love muffin, Ethel is still quite wild and will rarely let me touch her - and then only for a second or two. I have tried to invite her in but she won't come. Perhaps when it gets cold and Edgar is not there for her to snuggle with, I will be able to coax her inside. We shall see.

I'm having Edgar cremated. Perhaps I will bury his ashes in the yard where he was so happy. Perhaps I'll come up with another plan. I'm not sure yet.

Do remember me in my grief and say a prayer or spare a thought for Edgar as he makes the great transition.

He was a good, good kitty.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A runaway horse

I found this on the Daily Zen website:

The working of the mind seems similar to being on a runaway horse at times. Restlessly moving from one emotion, idea, or construct to another. Meditation is like reining the horse in, drawing the awareness back inside. And with practice the Return happens more and more gracefully.

-- Elana, Monkess for Daily Zen

So true.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

She guards llamas at the Reynolds farm.

Experiencing unity

Here's an excerpt from a book by Clarice Bryan called Driving to Nirvana:
The first time it happened, I was driving on a two-lane highway near the Trinity Alps in a well-wooded area of Northern California. It was a rolling, gently curving road, and there was no other traffic in either direction. All at once, I became the car. I could feel my tires rotating on the pavement and a divine sense of union with the road. There was no conscious effort to turn the wheel or press on the accelerator, because I was the road as well as the car. I was the harmony of the car and the road. I was the melody of the universe. I was bursting with joy and a feeling of oneness. My body was totally aware of everything around me; the eucalyptus trees along the roadside, the manzanita bushes, with their dusty green leaves, the tiny cloud overhead, the clicketyclack of the tires, the purr of the engine, the smell of fresh air. My body was all these and so much more. My whole body smiled in this union as we floated along together through the forest and out into the sunshine. Words are totally inadequate to describe the unbelievable happiness I felt.
This is truly what it means to be in the moment. We can give ourselves permission to experience this unity any time, any place. Because it's always, always true. It's always, always the way things are!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Setting a good example

People will always follow a good example; be the one to set a good example, then it won't be long before the others follow... How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straightaway... And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!

-- Anne Frank

Monday, November 06, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Are you attached to security?

It's natural to want security, of course. But can we ever really have it? Is it all it's cracked up to be anyway? I want to share with you some observations about security and insecurity that I found on a wonderful blog called "Meditation Photography".* Here's an excerpt:
What exactly is insecurity? It means tomorrow is not going to repeat today. It means tomorrow you may not even be alive. It means that one has to live each moment as if it is the last moment. A life of security will be simply boring. It will be like seeing the same movie again and again and again — knowing every detail of what is going to happen. You can enjoy a movie only once. If you are an idiot, then it is another matter….

Insecurity is the very fabric of life. If you don’t understand insecurity, you can never understand life. Seasons will change; climates will change; the fall will come, the spring will come. Everything will go on changing, nothing can be taken for granted; this is insecurity. You want everything to be certain, permanent. But have you ever thought what will be the outcome of it if everything is permanent? You eat the same food every day, you say the same things every day, you listen to the same things every day. And there is no death even to demolish this tragic living — you are living in a nightmare.

Insecurity keeps people fresh, alive, adventurous — knowing that things can be changed. Even without their changing them, they are going to be changed. So there is great scope for change, for transformation.
Of course, I normally make the same point about impermanence. I like this person's observation that the desire for security is really a desire for permanence and that if things are permanent, no change is possible. So impermanence - and, by extension, insecurity - is actually our friend.

* I do recommend that you take a look at the Meditation Photography blog from time to time. The pictures are absolutely stunning.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The most important thing

Etty Hillesum

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inwards in prayer for five short minutes.

-- Etty Hillesum

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Saturday flower blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

What happens when you meditate?

Many people wonder just how it is that meditation has the effect it does. Today I came across a little article entitled "Meditation – An Amazing Stress Reduction Technique That is Easy to Do". Here's an excerpt that explains how meditation works to reduce stress:
One of the pioneers of serious meditation research was Harvard's Dr. Herbert Benson, whose 1968 book The Relaxation Response showed that meditation had a measurable affect on stress, slowing breathing and heartbeat and lessening the body's natural fight-or-flight response. Meditation will allow you to relax your body and focus your thoughts, thus focusing your mind and allowing you to let go of the day's troubles. It allows your body to refresh its resources, which is good for your immune system, your blood pressure and your mental outlook.

When you meditate, your heart rate and breathing slow down, your blood pressure normalizes, and you use oxygen more efficiently. Your adrenal glands produce less cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline and you produce good, healing. Your mind clears, allowing you harper thought and greater creativity. Meditation has proved beneficial for people trying to give up smoking, drinking and drugs.
Everything that helps motivate us is all to the good. And I do recommend Benson's The Relaxation Response, by the way. It's now a classic.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Photo by Ellie Finlay

Peace and happiness

One of my favorite books by the prolific Thich Nhat Hanh is entitled Peace Is Every Step. Here's a passage from the introduction:

Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We don't have to travel far away to enjoy the blue sky. We don't have to leave our city or even our neighborhood to enjoy the eyes of a beautiful child. Even the air we breathe can be a source of joy.

We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available. We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.

Suppose circumstances are not to your liking. Does that mean you have to be unhappy? Not if you take Thich Nhat Hanh's advice. Things can be very bad indeed and we can still focus on the moment and know real happiness and inner peace.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Meditation CD

Here's some information I found that might be of interest to you:

The website offers a meditation bell CD. This CD is supposedly going to take the place of the clock, and yet can offer you so much more than time. If you wish to meditate, relax, or simply rest, for a few minutes to an hour, this CD will be perfect for you. You will be made to know that it is the end of your meditation or relaxation time by the calming tones of a 17th century Himalayan meditation bell. This CD is a tool for a guided meditation itself. Playing it from the start will take you to the meditation process where the mind is free from any thought into a state of deep serenity.

The meditation bells will sound every fifteen minutes which serves as your signal to take stretch or change positions. You don’t have to look at the clock and time yourself. The meditation bells will make three closing sounds to mean the end of the meditation session. This meditation bells CD is not only restricted to work for those who are doing meditation practices. This is also perfect for those who are doing yoga, or any kind of exercises. Aside from working as your clock or timer, the meditation bells will put you in the right mood.

The featured meditation bell sounds in this CD were also used in the past to guide the Tibetan monks during their meditation sessions. For a wide array of sounds of the different Tibetan meditation bells, one may visit and sample the unique tones online.

Of course we have our simple little homemade CD at the Center. One track has a bell every 5 minutes and the other track has a bell every 10 minutes. Let us know if you would like one and we'll get it to you for whatever donation you feel is appropriate.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Wonderful dog of Angela and Steve Kilcullen

Deep meditation

This is from an article called "Deep Meditation is the Road to Inner Peace":
Deep meditation practices give us insight into both the fundamental nature of our being. It allows us to experience emotions and thoughts with great clarity and balance. The mind is freed from conditioned patterns of self-centeredness, negativity and confusion, and the heart is opened to deeper wisdom and compassion. We begin to recognize and know each moment as practice for growth toward wholeness and harmony. We discover a place in ourselves which is already whole and always in harmony, and we learn to live from a clearer center and reach into the inner part of us that results to completeness and happiness.
I'm struck by the point that we can free ourselves from the patterns of self-centeredness, negativity and confusion. We do that by accepting our feelings without judgment and then letting go of our attachment to things being other than they are.