Monday, March 31, 2008

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The science behind meditation

I've told you all about this research before but here's just a little reminder about how meditation actually affects the physical make up of the brain:
A University of Wisconsin-Madison research team placed 32 subjects, experienced or new to meditation, under a magnetic resonance imaging scanner and exposed them to sounds that evoke empathy. Sounds included a baby laughing, a woman crying, ambient noise in a restaurant.

The researchers discovered significant activity in the insula, the frontal portion of the brain that maps emotional response.

The study was part of an effort to uncover how meditation can change the climate of schools and prevent bullying and aggression in students. Neuroscientists have begun searching for clues that link meditation with improved cognitive function and immune response as well as with stress reduction. Mindfulness is also being investigated as a treatment option for disorders, such as ADHD and depression.

Harvard researcher Sara Lazar led a study that found mindfulness practitioners had thicker gray matter in the frontal portion of the brain responsible for attention and sensory processing. UMass Medical School researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn has documented meditation’s positive effects on patients with chronic pain and stress related disorders.
It's really important that we not give up, that we keep on meditating no matter what.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Saturday prayer blogging

May the sun bring you new energy by day,
may the moon softly restore you by night,
may the rain wash away your worries,
may the breeze blow new strength into your being.

-- Apache Blessing

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday cat blogging!

Photo by Cynthia Burgess


Now this is a very good point:
Another shortcoming of desire is that it leads to so much that is undesirable.
-Lama Zopa Rinpoche, The Door to Satisfaction

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Passing on blame and interconnectedness

A blog I regularly check in on is called Bouphonia and I always go there on Fridays because of the Friday Nudibranch Blogging. (A nudibranch is a sea slug.) But for some reason until today I had never experienced any curiosity about the name. Take a look at what the ancient ritual of "bouphonia" was all about:

The weapons were then sharpened and handed to the butchers, one of whom felled the ox with the axe and another cut its throat with the knife. As soon as he had felled the ox, the former threw the axe from him and fled; and the man who cut the beast's throat apparently imitated his example. Meantime the ox was skinned and all present partook of its flesh. Then the hide was stuffed with straw and sewed up; next the stuffed animal was set on its feet and yoked to a plough as if it were ploughing. A trial then took place in an ancient law-court presided over by the King (as he was called) to determine who had murdered the ox. The maidens who had brought the water accused the men who had sharpened the axe and knife; the men who had sharpened the axe and knife blamed the men who had handed these implements to the butchers; the men who had handed the implements to the butchers blamed the butchers; and the butchers laid the blame on the axe and knife, which were accordingly found guilty, condemned, and cast into the sea.

The name of this sacrifice,--the murder of the ox,--the pains taken by each person who had a hand in the slaughter to lay the blame on some one else, together with the formal trial and punishment of the axe or knife or both, prove that the ox was here regarded not merely as a victim offered to a god, but was itself a sacred creature, the slaughter of which was sacrilege or murder.

-- Sir James Frazer

I would submit that this ritual acknowledges both the human tendency to pass blame along and also the futility of trying to escape it. The reality of interconnectedness means that no one can truly deny responsibility for what happens in our community. And, remember. It's a small world these days. Our community is the whole planet, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wednesday life form blogging

Smokey and young friend
Photo by Bill Miller

Slogans to remember

Charlotte Alexandre sent me a list of slogans today. Two I particularly like are these:
The heaviest thing I can carry is a grudge.

One thing I can give and still my word.
And as many meditation participants have heard me say, the most important spiritual practice of all is to keep your word to yourself. Many people understand that they need to keep their word to other people but think it doesn't matter if they break their word to themselves. Making needed or wanted changes is only possible if we can keep our word to ourselves.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Antidote to fear

Mindfulness definitely helps with understanding:

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

-- Madame Marie Curie

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

Let the resurrection joy lift us from loneliness and weakness and despair to strength and beauty and happiness.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.

-- Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Spring!

"Spring Equinox"

Today is the Vernal Equinox. Here's some information about that:

Far from being an arbitrary indicator of the changing seasons, March 20 (March 21 in some years) is significant for astronomical reasons. On March 20, 2008, at precisely 1:48 A.M. EDT (March 20, 05:48 Universal Time), the Sun [crossed] directly over the Earth's equator. This moment is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. For the Southern Hemisphere, this is the moment of the autumnal equinox.
Translated literally,
equinox means "equal night." Because the sun is positioned above the equator, day and night are about equal in length all over the world during the equinoxes. A second equinox occurs each year on September 22 or 23; in 2008, it will be on September 22 at 11:44 A.M. EDT (15:44 UT). This date will mark the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the vernal equinox in the Southern (vernal denotes "spring").
Modern astronomy aside, people have recognized the vernal equinox for thousands of years. There is no shortage of rituals and traditions surrounding the coming of spring. Many early peoples celebrated for the basic reason that their food supplies would soon be restored. The date is significant in
Christianity because Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It is also probably no coincidence that early Egyptians built the Great Sphinx so that it points directly toward the rising Sun on the day of the vernal equinox.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Jeannie Dibble

What IS mindfulness, anyway?

Here's a wonderful description of mindfulness from Beliefnet:
If you're constantly thinking about what you'd rather be doing—getting off work, driving a different car, or eating dessert, your mind is starving for mindfulness. So what? Well, if you're reading an instant message and talking on your cell phone while thinking about things you need to get at the store, you're not doing any of these things fully—and essentially, you're missing out on your own life.

The antidote? Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a quality you can cultivate in any situation—whether you're walking down the street or washing the dishes... In mindfulness meditation you stop the restlessness of your mind by focusing your undivided attention on whatever you're experiencing in the here and now. The simplest version involves simply focusing on your breath. By enhancing your awareness in this way, you calm your mind, experience life more fully, and bring new clarity of thought to any situation that comes your way.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tuesday meditative picture blogging

More on the benefits

Just another little summary of the benefits of meditation:

• Help heart conditions. Meditation can reduce cholesterol buildup and the risk of heart attack and stroke, reducing the death rate among the elderly. Meditation also lowers blood pressure, creating a 12.5% lower risk of stroke or coronary mortality. Some studies actually showed how heart and artery health improved 69% in meditation test groups.
• Reduce stress and anxiety. Meditation releases tension and creates the will power of consciousness to be in control of one’s life. Meditation can also help improve sleep patterns and post-traumatic stress response as well as decrease psychological distress. It helps increase mental abilities, focus and concentration.
• Reduce chronic pains. Regular meditation can reduce pain symptoms and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms as well as migraine pains.
• Improve life quality. Meditation helps improve people’s life quality, reducing the health care facilities and helps control substance abuse.
I found it right here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Irish blessing

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the shining stars to you,
Deep peace of the gentle night to you,
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you,
Deep peace of Christ,
the light of the world to you
Deep peace of Christ.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sleep exercise

Here's a simple exercise to help you sleep:
This would be a good exercise to try before bed to get a better sleep:

1. Lie flat on your back with your arms held loosely at your sides and your neck straight and in line with your spine.
2. Begin with your toes. First curl and then uncurl your toes slowly, feeling the tension releasing. Repeat two to three times.
3. You may want to repeat in your head or out loud while doing this, “Toes, relax. Toes, relax.”

Continue this with your entire foot and then your ankle, as you work your way up your body. By the end you should be ready for a deep, restful sleep.
I found it right here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday cat blogging!

The video is entitled "Water Drip Meditation".

Meditation and patience

I've had the same experience as described here. Even though I don't have children of my own, I'm less patient with the people I encounter in my life when I don't meditate than when I do! Really. You can test this:
“One thing I find—and I typically meditate every day—is, if I don’t meditate over a three-day period or week, I start getting shorter with my kids,” Jordan told the Georgia Straight by phone from his Victoria home. “This little voice starts going in my head; it starts out saying, ‘Eric, you have a choice as to what kind of father you want to be. Do you want to be one who is shorter with your kids or one who is more patient?’ It is a choice, and if I meditate, it is easier to be more patient. If I don’t meditate, I am not as patient, and I can just see it in my actions.”
The above is from an article about meditation practitioner Eric Jordan.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

We need to let go of the idea that the most important thing in life is to earn a living:

The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.

-- Aristotle

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On stress

I first came across Natalie Goldberg when I read her book Writing Down the Bones which is really on the creative process from a meditative point of view. And I like this observation of hers:

Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath. Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down.
Or just go sit.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The importance of attention

For lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day.

Evelyn Underhill

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why gift giving feels good

When you give something you feel good because at that time you feel at one with what you are giving.
— Shunryu Suzuki-roshi quoted in At Home with Dying by Merrill Collett

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Location: The Lake District, England

Music: The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Letting go

To live in this world
you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal,
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it,
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

- Mary Oliver

It's today, everybody

Friday, March 07, 2008

Friday cat blogging!

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

It's not fair!

I'll leave it to my loyal readers to reflect on how this video illustrates meditative principles! :-)

If you can't get the video to play, go to the YouTube page right here.

For the Helsinki Complaints Choir (much better musically than this one!) go to one of my other blogs, Child of Illusion.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Jeannie Dibble


In the ongoing classes this week, we explored wisdom as the opposite of the mind poison of delusion. Wisdom, in the meditative tradition, is really about seeing things as they are. The main aspect of reality that we need to see clearly is that we do not have independent existence but are rather all connected. Take a look at this passage on connections from Spirituality and Practice:
One definition of spirituality is "the art of making connections." There are certain givens: The one is made up of many. One thing always leads to another. Everything is related to everything else. You practice connections, then, by consciously tracing the links connecting you with other beings. Any point is a good starting place — your family line, your work, your back yard. Watch for the moments when the separations disappear. And don't be shy about naming mystical experiences as such when you experience them.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Three quotes on calmness

"The Sea Was Calm That Day"

Robert Louis Stevenson: Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.

A Zen Saying: Sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Norman Vincent Peale: Talk peaceful to be peaceful.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

This I believe

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Are you familiar with the "This I Believe" series on NPR? Today's essay by Laurie Granieri is entitled "Leaving Work to Watch the Sunset" and I really recommend that you click through and read it, or better yet, listen to the audio. Here's part of what it says:

I believe in leaving work at five o'clock.

In a nation that operates on a staunch Protestant work ethic, this belief could be considered radical. Working only 40 hours a week? I just don't know many people who punch out at five o'clock anymore. It seems downright quaint, like pocket watches and shoe-shines.
My dad once told me he was unable to just gaze at a sunset; he had to be doing something as he looked at it — writing, reading, playing chess. You could say he was a success: He was a published author, an accomplished musician, fluent in German and American Sign Language. That's an impressive list, but here's the thing: I want to gaze at sunsets. I don't want to meet a deadline during them or be writing a column at the same time, or glance at them over the top of a book.
I've lived in parts of the world where people don't live to work - they work to live. Long vacations are considered simply civilized and people know how to relax and enjoy life. We need to cultivate that attitude here in the United States.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Two meanings for "present"

From the Spirituality and Practice page on being present:
Being present in the spiritual life always has a double meaning. There's present, as in here, in attendance. And there's present, as in now, a moment of time. What is the spiritual practice of being present? Being here now.
There's much to be said about pondering on this double meaning. Many of us are trapped living in the past or in the future or in a fantasy world. The ability to stay in the moment is the most important antidote going for blame and anxiety.