Saturday, June 30, 2007

About equanimity

Equanimity is one of the "Four Divine Abodes" or "Sublime States". I want to call your attention to a little essay I found that is simply called "Equanimity". Here is an excerpt:
From time to time, as we are passing through various experiences, we simply "fall into" states of relative equanimity. If we are alert to this whenever it happens and use it as an opportunity to explore the nature of equanimity, then it will happen more frequently and last longer.

For example, let's say that you have been working with a physical discomfort. At some point you notice that even though the discomfort level itself has not changed, it somehow seems to bother you less. Upon investigation you realize that you have spontaneously fallen into a state of gentle matter-of-factness. By being alert to this and by exploring the state, you are training your subconscious to produce the state more frequently.
Often we think of equanimity as being associated with Buddhism but take a look at the following:
Early and Medieval Christianity placed a great value on equanimity. Indeed it was considered one of the primary Christian virtues. This is because Christianity viewed itself as a path of radical spiritual cleansing (katharsis), with equanimity as the main tool for achieving this goal. The church fathers, who wrote primarily in Greek, had three words for equanimity:

Nepsis: "Sober observation"
Ataraxia: "Freedom from upset"
Apathia: "Dispassion"(N.B. Apathia does not equal apathy!)

In Christianity, the theory of purification through equanimity constituted a major branch of spiritual study known technically as "ascetical theology."
Whatever our belief system, equanimity is a quality worthy of cultivation. It contributes deeply to happiness and to the alleviation of suffering.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday cat blogging!

Mama cat adopts baby squirrels:

Here's a great lesson for all of us!

CNN on meditation

How interesting. I just found a CNN article on the benefits of meditation. It's called "Meditation: The key to calm" and here's part of what it says:
Says Maitreyabandhu of the London Buddhist Center, "Meditation is about being in life. People tend to think its about blanking your mind: it's not, it's about becoming more alive -- alive to your own experiences, the world and others."

How does it help?

According to many practitioners, learning meditation helps to manage daily stress, concerns and pressures. Says Maitreyabandhu, "Lots of people come to meditation because they want to relax. Some people come because they want to live more vividly. I meditate now because I want to gain some sort of transcendental awareness of the universe. It's about that experience that changes you completely - so it's not just a fluffy, relaxing, muesli eating thing."
As a result of our rushed lives we can also lose touch with ourselves. Meditation then becomes a way of "checking-in" and assessing how things are going.

Says Maitreyabandhu, "We can become alienated from our more subtle emotions. We are alienated from our bodies. There is a real need to get in contact with something alive. We easily get stuck on the surfaces of ourselves. In the west we forget the mind has depths. There are depths of the mind that are really satisfying and profound."
It's a good little article. Go read all of it if you have time.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Awareness meditation

Recent studies with brain scans have indicated that if we simply name our mind states they have less power over us. Here are instructions for an awareness meditation that enable us to do just that:
• Relax and focus on any meditation object.
• Make good contact with it. It is the seat from which you watch the stream.
• Every few seconds, name the most obvious thing in the mind, whether it is important or not: "sore knee ... hungry ... TV ... money ... traffic...."
• Don't lose contact with your basic meditation object. Spend at least half the time with it, and check that you're actually relaxing. In fact, go as deep into the object as you can without ignoring the peripheral thoughts and sensations.
• Notice how the scenery changes the deeper you relax.
• Notice that when you wait for thoughts, they often don't come!
• Enjoy the bland, impersonal quality of the clear mind.
By "bland" I don't think the writer means boring or unimportant but rather non-agitating and a state that does not prompt or stimulate attachments.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Another look at happiness

This is so true:

It is not by accident that the happiest people are those who make a conscious effort to live useful lives. Their happiness, of course, is not a shallow exhilaration where life is one continuos intoxicating party. Rather, their happiness is a deep sense of inner peace that comes when they believe their lives have meaning and that they are making a difference for good in the world.

-- Ernest A. Fitzgerald

Remember that the whole purpose of meditation is to alleviate suffering and promote happiness. Your meditative practice will help create the conditions within that make it possible for you to believe that your life has meaning and that you are making a difference.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

One way to happiness

Epictetus is surely my favorite philosopher from ancient times:

There is only one way to happiness, and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Monday meditative picture blogging

Chicago Peace rose
Photo by Bill Miller

More on brain scans and meditation

I want to call your attention to another article on the neurological benefits of meditation. It's called "Brain scans show meditation changes minds, increases attention" and it's published in The University of Wisconsin-Madison News. Here's part of what it says:
For hundreds of years, Tibetan monks and other religious people have used meditation to calm the mind and improve concentration. This week, a new study shows exactly how one common type of meditation affects the brain.

Using a scanner that reveals which parts of the brain are active at any given moment, the researchers found that meditation increased activity in the brain regions used for paying attention and making decisions.
Practitioners were instructed to focus attention intently on a stimulus, and when the attention wandered off, to simply bring the attention back to the object, explains [study leader Richard] Davidson.
Davidson says scientific studies of meditation are proving traditional beliefs about the mental benefits of meditation. Yet although meditation is often associated with monks living a life of simplicity, poverty, and prayer, "There is nothing fundamentally mysterious about these practices; they can be understood in hard-nosed western scientific terms."

And, he adds, a growing body of "hard-nosed neuroscience research" is attracting attention to the profound effects of meditation.
This is not a matter of faith - although I do not want to belittle the role of faith in meditative practice. It is a matter of emperical demonstration. Meditation works. Please don't neglect it!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A new acquisition


I just wanted to share with you all that I have recently bought the painting above and it should be delivered soon. It's going in my new living room.

If you haven't yet discovered the work of C. Robin Janning may I heartily recommend that you do so now. Here are her blog sites:

Gramercy Galleria

Gramercy Digital Diary

ECVA Sketchbook: Art in the Desert

I'm planning to save my pennies and acquire more of her work before too long!

Letting go

I decided to do a web search on the words "letting go" and see what I could find. I came across a little article on the website entitled just that: Letting go. Here's part of what it says:
People who are very stressed often have increased muscle tension. This tension can result in headaches, neck and shoulder pain, joint pain (such as TMJ pain), and other problems. Various relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and hypnosis all help people reduce muscle tension. Physical approaches such as massage therapy and yoga can also be very helpful. People participating in these techniques learn to let go of this tension in their body. Many find it easy to let go of cares and worries during a time when they are also letting go of muscle tension.

We are beginning to discover that there are health benefits to letting go. People who worry a lot and hold on to problems may be more vulnerable to physical problems than people who are able to let go. Anger and hostility have even been associated with heart attack risk. At least two personality types have been connected with an increased risk of heart attack. Type A and Type D personalities both involve an inability to let go. The type A person is pressured and driven, while the type D person is worried and anxious. By learning to let go of cares, worries, anger, deadline pressure, and similar concerns we may be lengthening our lives. We are certainly making them more enjoyable.
What was not mentioned in the first paragraph of the excerpt is, of course, meditation. The "how" of letting go becomes clear to us as we practice mindfulness and/or "calm abiding" meditation. One more motivation, folks!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Alzheimer's and meditation

Well, early this morning I found a VERY interesting article about meditation called "Meditation holds hope for Alzheimer's in tiny, early study". If you EVER needed a reason to jump start your motivation to meditate, this is it:

For the first time, there is evidence that daily meditation appears to improve memory loss and may strengthen parts of the brain affected by Alzheimer's disease.

That has to be welcome news to the millions of Americans facing the threat of this brain-destroying disease — expected to strike in epidemic numbers among aging baby boomers in the coming decades.

However, experts warn that the study showing that meditation improved memory function and increased blood flow to vital areas of the brain lacked scientific controls and was too small to actually prove meditation can delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer's.

Even so, the preliminary findings are provocative — suggesting that a simple, inexpensive mind-body exercise with known health benefits may fortify our brains against mental decline as we age.

The results were presented this month at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia in Washington, D.C. The study was funded by a Tucson-based foundation.

Practiced for centuries in ancient cultures — and now studied for its effects on human health — meditation, in its various forms, indeed has proved good for the body and the brain.

Studies show it can reduce stress and pain, ease depression, lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, increase attention, and promote stability in handling crises.

This is the first study to indicate positive effects on memory.

Okay, folks. Even if the results aren't conclusive, they are, as the article says, provocative. And even if there's a CHANCE that meditation might help prevent or delay Alzheimer's, it's worth giving it a go.

The rest of the article is fascinating, by the way, so click through and read it all if you have the time to do so.

UPDATE: I just found an article entitled "Alzheimer's: Prevention, Treatment, and Slowing Down". It is excellent. I suggest we all study it and take it to heart.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday cat blogging!

Henry in my lap
Photo by Cynthia Burgess

An observation

I heard Writer's Almanac on NPR as I was driving to Oklahoma City for a meeting and was very struck with today's poem:

for Persia

Under ledge, under tar, under fill
under curved blue stone of doorsteps,
under the aggregate of lakebed rock,
under loss and under hard words,
under steamrollers
under your heart,
it doesn't matter. They can live forever.
The seeds of thistles
push from nowhere, forming a rose of spikes
that spreads all summer until it
stands in a glory of
needles, blossoms, blazing
purple clubs and fists.

-- Louise Erdrich

There is something to be said for perseverance, tenacity.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Well I don't want to be remiss about reminding you that today is the Summer Solstice. Actually it literally took place at exactly 18:06 UT (Universal Time) - what used to be called Greenwich Mean Time or GMT.

You might find it interesting to read the Relgious Tolerance article entitled "Summer solstice celebrations: ancient and modern".

Everyone, please do enjoy this, the longest day of the year!

Let's not be fools!

We will all do well to ponder the following:

Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.

-- Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pure silence

For some reason today I decided to do a search on the word "silence". I found an interesting site with which I do not entirely agree but which offers this gem:
Pure Silence is within you. It is not just the absence of sound, or lack of noise. It is the ground, the basis of your very being. There is nothing to find out, nothing to prove. Just listen with your whole being to what is here, now. It is the most amazing thing you can ever discover.

It is with you now. It is you. The only way to find this is to stop everything else. Everything! Just be.
What would happen if we gave ourselves permission to "just be"? I don't think that would mean we would turn passive and useless. I think it would mean that we would become free.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tuesday meditation picture blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

The value of compassion

I've called a number of articles to your attention recently about the effects of meditation on the brain. Here's another one from the Wall Street Journal called "Scans of Monks' Brains Show Meditation Alters Structure, Functioning". Here's an excerpt:
"We tried to generate a mental state in which compassion permeates the whole mind with no other thoughts," says Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk at Shechen Monastery in Katmandu, Nepal, who holds a Ph.D. in genetics.

In a striking difference between novices and monks, the latter showed a dramatic increase in high-frequency brain activity called gamma waves during compassion meditation. Thought to be the signature of neuronal activity that knits together far-flung brain circuits, gamma waves underlie higher mental activity such as consciousness. The novice meditators "showed a slight increase in gamma activity, but most monks showed extremely large increases of a sort that has never been reported before in the neuroscience literature," says Prof. Davidson, suggesting that mental training can bring the brain to a greater level of consciousness.

Using the brain scan called functional magnetic resonance imaging, the scientists pinpointed regions that were active during compassion meditation. In almost every case, the enhanced activity was greater in the monks' brains than the novices'. Activity in the left prefrontal cortex (the seat of positive emotions such as happiness) swamped activity in the right prefrontal (site of negative emotions and anxiety), something never before seen from purely mental activity. A sprawling circuit that switches on at the sight of suffering also showed greater activity in the monks. So did regions responsible for planned movement, as if the monks' brains were itching to go to the aid of those in distress.

"It feels like a total readiness to act, to help," recalled Mr. Ricard.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to cultivate that total readiness? The good news is that we can.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A truly healing practice

The purpose of meditation is to alleviate suffering and to promote happiness. Here's the first paragraph of a little article that explains this:
In the West, the word ‘meditation’ means a concentrated state of mind in serious reflection. The Latin root of the word meditation, mederi, means ‘to heal’. It is an effort to heal afflictions of the mind, the hurt ego, by trying to understand the cause of the problem and finding a way to solve it, that is, by knowing what counter-measures to take. To meditate thus, is to deepen a state of understanding.
We can heal ourselves if we truly want to. It takes time and it takes perseverance. But it really isn't very difficult.

No-self and kenosis

Clyde Glandon sent the following quote this morning:

We realize insight by practicing mindfulness of our body, feelings, mind and the objects of our mind... To reach truth is not to accumulate knowledge, but to awaken to the heart of reality... The doctrine of “not-self”... demonstrates to us that the concepts we have of things do not reflect and cannot convey reality. The world of concepts is not the world of reality. [note: Compare this “not self” of Zen meditative practice with the Christian concept of “kenosis,” or self-emptying, also practiced in contemplative prayer.]

-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Keys

I've always agreed that the Buddhist teaching of no-self is the same as the Christian "kenosis". Kenosis is a Greek work that means emptiness or "poured out".

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday gratitude blogging

This is EXCELLENT - simply excellent:

If you cannot be grateful for what you have received, then be thankful for what you have been spared.

- Yiddish proverb

Stress, obesity and meditation

I just found an article that looks at the connection between stress and obesity - particularly childhood obesity - and suggests that meditation is an important factor in addressing this problem:
Obesity among U.S. children has become of the most pressing health concerns for Americans current and future well-being...Uniting Americans in this epidemic is chronic stress, a risk factor that is enhancing our understanding of obesity and its potential treatments. Clinical respect is developing for the view that "stress is a risk factor for chronic illnesses such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension ... exhibiting greater weight, BMI and abdominal circumference," all of which are conditions that plague the U.S. population.
While scrunched faces and head-scratching often accompany the mention of "meditation," its techniques have proven to be one of the most effective non-pharmacological interventions for various ailments. Recent studies credit meditation with large improvements in mood and emotion, both of which are linked to more extreme eating and exercise habits. A study by the Duke University Department of Psychiatry found that "even brief instruction in a simple meditation technique can improve negative mood and perceived stress in healthy adults, which could yield long-term health benefits. ... Those most likely to experience negative emotions may benefit the most from the intervention." Children would presumably show an even greater result since the technique could be utilized at a preventative rather than a curative level of care. Also, currently obese children — widely reported as experiencing low self-esteem and self concept — could make major strides in enhancing their overall health by improving mood and emotion. This is a highly efficient means of stress reduction, with relatively low costs to train teachers in guiding simple meditation and priceless improvements in children's overall well-being.
Unfortunately, many fundamentalists believe that meditation is of the devil and so would object to having it taught in school. It would be wonderful if we could convince the naysayers that meditation is theologically neutral. One can be of any religious belief and none and still meditate.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Have you changed?

This is very interesting:

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

- Nelson Mandela

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday cat blogging!

Leroy and Henry
(It's an old picture but I think it's a hoot!)

43 Things

I have just discoverd a website called 43 Things. It poses the question, "What do you want to do with your life?" and assists in helping participants reinforce their commitment to those aspirations.

I'm amazed at the number of people who want to learn to meditate or simply to meditate. As I write, 984 people want to learn to meditate.

Check out the site right here:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Another reason to cultivate kindness

Isn't this lovely?

Kindness does wonderful things to a face.

-- Dixie Doyle

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Light a candle

It's been a while since I've told you about the website. It's a wonderful place to go for consolation and inspiration and one of the things you can do there is light a virtual candle. We light a candle for someone's intention. That's a way of saying that we dedicate the action of actually lighting the candle as well as the symbolism of the light for a particular purpose. It's a way of helping us focus. Try it - both on line and in real life! (But be sure with real candles never to leave them unattended.)

UPDATE: I was wandering among the candles lit on the website and found this message by a candle:

Dearest Godchild Hannah, May my suffering be a substitute for your suffering now and forever. Blessings on your week!

— Aunt Shelly from NY, United States

This is an intuitive form of Tonglen - the "taking and sending" Tibetan meditation. How wonderful! A very fine instruction on this form of prayer or meditation is the little essay by Pema Chödrön called THE PRACTICE OF TONGLEN. Do click through and read it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

About that attachment to "progress"

Last night a priest friend, Clyde Glandon, sent me the following monastic story that I'd heard before but forgotten about:

"So, what is it that you do up here?" asked the inquirer who had never traveled up the hill to visit the monastery above his town.

The monk, who was sitting on a big rock that day, replied: "We fall down and we get up, we fall down and we get up, we fall down and we get up."

--Origin unknown

This is so true. And it's not something to be depressed about but rather to accept on a very deep level. Nothing will give us greater compassion or empathy for others than the realization that we ourselves continue to struggle and always will. Acceptance of this reality will give us a peace of mind we can cultivate no other way.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Spiritual respect

I have always treasured the Native American understanding that absolutely everything has a spirit:

My father explained this to me. "All things in this world," he said, "have souls or spirits. The sky has spirit, the clouds have spirits; the sun and moon have spirits; so have animals, trees, grass, water, stars, everything."

-- Edward Goodbird

We would not be so destructive of our fragile earth if we believed this.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Life and mystery

Whenever we penetrate to the heart of things, we always find a mystery. Life and all that goes with it is unfathomable…Knowing of life is recognition of the mysterious.

-- Albert Schweitzer

From a theological point of view, the word "mystery" doesn't just mean bewildering or incomprehensible. It means overwhelmingly sacred.

UPDATE: I was reading the Wikipedia article on Schweitzer that I linked you to above and found this:

Respect for life, resulting from contemplation on one's own conscious will to live, leads the individual to live in the service of other people and of every living creature. Schweitzer was much respected for putting his theory into practice in his own life. He was, for instance, a well-known cat lover, who, although left-handed, would write with his right hand rather than disturb the cat who would sleep on his left arm.

How wonderful! Anyone who has lived with cats completely understands this!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Making changes

We stay motivated regarding our meditative practice because it means we're not stuck. Here's a quote that encapsulates that confidence:

The great metaphors from all spiritual traditions - grace, liberation, being born again, awakening from illusion - testify that it is possible to transcend the conditioning of my past and do a new thing.

- Sam Keen, Hymns to an Unknown God

Never give up!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday cat blogging!

Photo by Ellie Finlay

Being fully engaged

Often great athletes really understand the basic meditative principle:

Winning is important to me, but what brings me real joy is the experience of being fully engaged in whatever I'm doing.

-- Phil Jackson

Stay young through meditation

As you know, I'm always encouraging you to find more and more motivations for persevering in your meditation practice. Here're are the first two paragraphs from a little article entitled "Zen meditation can help prevent age-related cognitive decline":
Washington, June 8 (ANI): Meditation might keep you young, especially Zen meditation, for a new study has found that regular practice of it, it can reduce stress in long run, as well as the cognitive decline associated with normal aging.

Zen meditation, a Buddhist practice, is centered on attentional and postural self-regulation and scientists believe that its regular practice may affect the normal age-related decline of cerebral gray matter volume and attentional performance observed in healthy individuals.
Mindfulness meditation (the kind we do here at the Center) is also centered on attentional and postural self-regulation so it certainly qualifies.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

About meditation

I like this definition of meditation I just found:

Meditation is the intentional and sustained focusing of attention.

Here's a video that might interest you:

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Walt Calahan

Don't waste your life!

Everyday, think as you wake up: Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself to expand my heart out to others for the benefit of all beings.

-- The Dalai Lama

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Encouraging words

We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.

-- Marion Wright Edelman

Monday, June 04, 2007

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Awareness exercise

Here's an excerpt from the book Listening with Empathy by John Selby. (You can find a longer excerpt here.)

Awareness itself is a remarkable quality of the mind - it's our very core of being. When we aren't aware, we simply aren't here. When our awareness is low, we're hardly here. But, our awareness has the amazing quality of being able to expand . . . and expand more . . . and expand still more.

You know that feeling of being vibrantly alive and alert, when you seem to be aware of your whole body at once and tuned into the whole world around you. In this expanded state of awareness, you're in peak condition to participate in the world. You're in the zone, you're spontaneous and friendly and powerful. The more aware you are, the more able you are to share empathy with those around you - and in this expanded state of awareness, naturally your customers will enjoy you and want to return to be with you again.

Notice how your awareness naturally and quite effortlessly expands when you become aware of your breathing. The first focus phrase expands your awareness to include your nose and your head. The second focus phrase that I'm going to teach will expand your awareness to include also the breathing movements in your chest, hands, and down lower in your belly. Suddenly you experience a sense of three-dimensional volume inside your body - and with this experience you pop into the present moment and tune also into the world around you.

Say to yourself, "I feel the air flowing in and out of my nose," and experience that expansion of your awareness for a breath or two. Then say to yourself, "I also feel the movements in my chest and belly as I breathe," and sure enough, your awareness will expand effortlessly so that you're aware of your head, chest, and belly all at once.

This is "consciousness expansion" in a nutshell, and it's your most valuable boost for shifting instantly into the perfect mode for relating with customers. What you're doing at deep levels with this simple two-sentence refocusing process is breaking free from the grip of habitual worries and manipulative thoughts and tuning into where the action's really happening. When you shift from thought to experience, from inner ruminations to perceptual sensory awareness, you make the greatest leap of consciousness possible. You bring yourself back into engagement with the world around you.
Staying in the "now" is so important for so many reasons. Obviously, truly tuning in to the person you're listening to is one of those reasons.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The value of a smile

I found this on Cynthia's desk bulletin board:

Sometimes your joy
is the source of your smile,
but sometimes your smile
is the source of your joy.

-- Thich Nhat Hahn

That's quite wonderful, isn't it?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Comment on our connectedness

This quote isn't really about meditation but it is about how utterly connected we are one to another. We would all do well to consider that our lives belong to the community:

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no 'brief candle" to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

-- George Bernard Shaw

Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday cat blogging!


The lotus crown

Here's a visualization meditation that sounds very effective:
Sit comfortably with your spine erect and breath deeply and slowly for a few moments. Imagine a wonderful lotus flower of a thousand petals all bathed in golden light opening atop your head.

As the petals open visualize a shaft of the purest light filter into you from the heavens. Allow it to fill your being and beyond, light shinning out from every pore.

Enjoy any sensations that come for a few minutes before you gently close the lotus petals softly above you. Take your time to come back to the present moment before going about your day.

If you feel a little light headed after this exercise you may like to follow it with the golden routes meditation given above and you should also have a drink of water.
You can click through and read the whole article to learn about the "golden routes" meditation if you like.

Enjoy the benefits!

I just found a very nice little article entitled "Meditation Benefits". Here's an excerpt:
Meditation benefits people with or without acute medical illness or stress. People who meditate regularly have been shown to feel less anxiety and depression. They also report that they experience more enjoyment and appreciation of life and that their relationships with others are improved. Meditation produces a state of deep relaxation and a sense of balance or equanimity.
Do click through and read the whole article. It sums everything up very nicely.