Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Another mandala

This one hangs in our meditation hall. I think Cynthia Burgess took the picture.

Here are some thoughts that can direct you in your reflection on the mandala:
The 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.
Carl Jung said that a mandala symbolizes "a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness." It is "a synthesis of distinctive elements in a unified scheme representing the basic nature of existence." Jung used the mandala for his own personal growth and wrote about his experiences.
I found the above quotations on this page.

Mandalas are found in most if not all belief systems. In Christianity, common mandalas are rose windows (typically found at the liturgical west end of cathedrals and other churches) and labyrinths (often found on the floors of the medieval cathedrals).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mandala meditation gift

For Christmas, Marilyn Bedford gave me a set of circular cards with black and white mandalas on them along with some colored pencils. Included is a little plastic stand so that when I finish coloring a mandala I can prop it up and use it as a support for meditation!

I haven't colored one yet but I plan to soon. And I decided it was time for another mandala here on the blog. So. Here you go:

Image found here.

There are lots of places on the web that have black and white mandalas you can print out and color. One is the wonderful site called Wikimedia Commons. The page is right here.

This post also serves as your "Monday Meditative Picture" for today! :-)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The life skill that really counts

Vicky Spiegel sent me the following quotation. I really like it!

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.

-- unknown

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our real choices

All men and women are born, live suffer and die; what distinguishes us one from another is our dreams, whether they be dreams about worldly or unworldly things, and what we do to make them come about... We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time and conditions of our death. But within this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we live.

--Joseph Epstein

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday cat blogging!

About that "mind poison of delusion"

Some years ago I read a rather marvelous book called The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham. I was reminded of it today when I came across a posting on a blog called living on both ends - an exploration of best and worst. The blog author offers this excerpt from the book:
[T]he essential thing, the great spiritual teachers constantly remind, is to see oneself in the proper perspective. “Pay attention to yourself!”

This approach was imprinted irrevocably on the tradition of Evagrius Ponticus, one of the more influential of the Egyptian monks.. Evagrius…emphasized honest self-knowledge. He set himself the task of detailing the different traps and temptations that can distort understanding by imposing on the mind some false perspective. Evagrius called these traps logismos – thoughts that bewilder and befog the mind so that slowly, bit by bit, we drift into a world of self-destructive fantasy.

The problem, Evagrius took care to point out, lay not in “bad thoughts” but in a process of bad thinking that is really wrong vision- seeing things from the perspective of our fears and fantasies (unrealities) rather than seeing things truly…Logismos are the arch-enemies of the soul, the demons from within that destroy proper perspective on the world, and thus prevent us from concentrating on the actual reality of our life, leading us further and further from our actual condition, making us try to solve problems that have not yet arisen and need never arise.
Over and over we are taught in the meditative tradition not to judge our thoughts. I really like this distinction between "bad thoughts" and "bad thinking". The problem is our perspective. How very true.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Another way of expressing mindfulness

I like this poem. I like it very much:


Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling up the road.
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door.
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light.
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me.
See that I see. Talk to me till
I'm half as wide awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all.
Tell me the walking is superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I'm not too hard persuaded.

--Robert Francis

Monday, December 22, 2008

Monday meditative picture blogging

The Great Mystery

Frank Ford sent me the following meditative teaching today:

From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things-the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals-and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred, and were brought together by the same Great Mystery.

--Chief Luther Standing Bear (1868–1939)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Re-birth of the Sun

This is from the Religious Tolerance site:
"Solstice" is derived from two Latin words: "sol" meaning sun, and "sistere," to cause to stand still. The lowest elevation occurs about DEC-21 and is the winter solstice -- the first day of winter, when the night time hours are maximum.

In pre-historic times, winter was a very difficult time for Aboriginal people in the northern latitudes. The growing season had ended and the tribe had to live off of stored food and whatever animals they could catch. The people would be troubled as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky each noon. They feared that it would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. After the winter solstice, they would have reason to celebrate as they saw the sun rising and strengthening once more. Although many months of cold weather remained before spring, they took heart that the return of the warm season was inevitable. The concept of birth and or death/rebirth became associated with the winter solstice. The Aboriginal people had no elaborate instruments to detect the solstice. But they were able to notice a slight elevation of the sun's path within a few days after the solstice -- perhaps by DEC-25. Celebrations were often timed for about the 25th.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wonderful story. Just wonderful!

The lack of imagination is so sad:

I love the story of the little girl who showed her teacher a picture she painted of a tree. The tree was purple. The teacher said, "Sweetheart, I've never seen a purple tree, now have I?"

"Oh?" said the little girl. "That's too bad."

-- Marianne Williamson

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday cat blogging!

Free of the worldly bias towards friends and enemies

At the end of every meditation class or sitting we do something known as "sharing the benefit". This is a practice in which we wish happiness and freedom from suffering for everyone - not just our friends but our enemies as well. The following develops that principle:

Is it possible for the rose to say, 'I will give my fragrance to the good people who smell me, but I will withhold it from the bad?' Or is it possible for the lamp to say, 'I will give my light to the good people in this room, but I will withhold it from the evil people'? Or can a tree say, 'I'll give my shade to the good people who rest under me, but I will withhold it from the bad'? These are images of what love is about.

--Anthony De Mello

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Boundaries and holiday stress

Many people find themselves under a lot of stress over the holidays due to family tensions, disagreements, old dysfunctional patterns, etc. This is where the cultivation of healthy boundaries comes in. I found really an outstanding web page about that called "Setting Personal Boundaries - protecting self".

Here are a few snippets from the article:

Setting a boundary is not making a threat - it is communicating clearly what the consequences will be if the other person continues to treat us in an unacceptable manner. It is a consequence of the other persons behavior.

Setting a boundary is not an attempt to control the other person (although some of the people who you set boundaries with will certainly accuse you of that - just as some will interpret it as a threat) - it is a part of the process of defining ourselves and what is acceptable to us. It is a major step in taking what control we can of how we allow others to treat us. It is a vital step in taking responsibility for our self and our life.

Setting boundaries is not a more sophisticated way of manipulation - although some people will say they are setting boundaries, when in fact they are attempting to manipulate. The difference between setting a boundary in a healthy way and manipulating is: when we set a boundary we let go of the outcome.
I think you can see from the last paragraph that I posted above how all this relates to meditative practice. Letting go of outcomes is exactly what meditation trains us to do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is that so?

The following has long been one of my favorite Zen stories. Interestingly, the exact same story is found in the sayings of the Desert Fathers (early Christian hermit-monks of the 4th and 5th Centuries):
The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbours as one living a pure life.

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.

This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger the parent went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say.

After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbours and everything else he needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth - the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.

The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: "Is that so?"
Wouldn't it be incredibly freeing to be so unconcerned about what other people think of us?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday meditative picture blogging

We are truly connected to all things:
We can speak without voice to the trees and the clouds and the waves of the sea. Without words they respond through the rustling of leaves and the moving of clouds and the murmuring of the sea.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The journey itself is the point...

I've longed believed that my training and work as a musician prepared me better than anything else for serious meditative practice:

We could say that meditation doesn't have a reason or doesn't have a purpose. In this respect it's unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don't do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.

--Alan Watts

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday cat blogging!

The mind

I've long thought that this is one of the most important observations Milton ever made:

The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven.

-- John Milton

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Take a good look

How interesting that Sidney Lovett sees a objects of nature - non-human, non-animal, even - as evidence that we are not alone. We are all deeply connected - even with those parts of the universe we typically don't think of as being alive:

Every now and again take a good look at something not made with hands --a mountain, a star, the turn of a stream. There will come to you wisdom and patience and solace and, above all, the assurance that you are not alone in the world.

-- Sidney Lovett

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wednesday life form blogging

Ultimate relinquishment

Sadly many people believe that personal progress is all about acquisition. Here's another way of thinking about it that I favor:

Perfection, then, is finally achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The more we let go, the more we relinquish, the more mature we become and the more genuine happiness is real for us.

(And, by the way, the word "perfection" in the quotation above does not refer to perfectionism but rather to completion or wholeness.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Monday meditative picture blogging

The whole hoop of the world

How dearly I wish everyone realized this:

I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.

--Black Elk's Vision

Perhaps, if as many of us who read this aspire to keep the great hoop consistently in mind, we can form a critical mass.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


And Joy is Everywhere;
It is in the Earth's green covering of grass;

In the blue serenity of the Sky;
In the reckless exuberance of Spring;
In the severe abstinence of grey Winter;
In the Living flesh that animates our bodily frame;
In the perfect poise of the Human figure, noble and upright;
In Living;
In the exercise of all our powers;
In the acquisition of Knowledge;
in fighting evils...Joy is there

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, by the way.

Everything is connected

About a week ago, Frank Ford sent me this Elder's Meditation of the Day:

"Someone must speak for them. I do not see a delegation for the four footed. I see no seat for eagles. We forget and we consider ourselves superior, but we are after all a mere part of the Creation."

--Oren Lyons

Whenever we make decisions, we need to look around and see who would be affected by them. If we change the course of a river , who, what will be affected? If we put poison on the gardens, who, what will be affected? If we cut the trees and too many are cut, who, what will be affected? We need to become aware of the consequences of our actions. We need to pay attention to our thoughts. We are accountable to our children to leave the Earth in good shape.

It came from the website known as White Bison.

There is such a thing as the Law of Unintended Consequences. Our indigenous peoples were conscious of this. Most of us who are of European ancestry, sadly, are not.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Friday cat blogging!

The happiness contagion

Many people are often startled by my reply when they ask about the purpose of meditation. "It's to learn how to be happy," I typically respond. That sounds selfish to some people. But I have long contended that our own happiness has the effect of promoting happiness in others.

This morning I came across an article entitled "Study Finds Happiness Is Infectious" that says pretty much the same thing. Here's how it gets started:
Forget six degrees of separation. How about three degrees of happiness? Researchers from Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego have mapped the relationships of happy people and found that happiness is a collective phenomenon that spreads like a virus through social networks - affecting even strangers three times removed from each other.

The theory builds on the notion of emotional contagion, the process at work when a person smiles back at someone who smiles at him. Human emotions appear in clusters, behaving like stampeding animals, says study co-author Nicholas Christakis.

"You would never think to ask a particular buffalo in a herd, ‘Why are you running to the left?'" says the Harvard Medical School sociology professor. "The whole herd is running to the left."

Misery, on the other hand, does not love company as much as happiness does. "Unhappiness doesn't spread as intensely or as consistently as happiness," he says.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Discovering wisdom

You know, there really are no short cuts to inner work:

We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.

-- Marcel Proust

What really counts

From a meditative point of view, this observation is really about letting go of our attachment to ego-clinging, isn't it? I think it's both profound and moving:
Some people go through life trying to find out what the world holds for them only to find out too late that it's what they bring to the world that really counts.
From Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The nature of things

One of the most common forms of suffering is the tendency most of us have to get in contests with ourselves. This often occurs when a person really wants to do something but another part of that person actually doesn't want to do the same thing. So resistence kicks in. We also experience resistence when the way things are is not the way we want them to be. Here's something meditation teacher Pema Chödrön has said about this dynamic:

The way to dissolve our resistance to life is to meet it face to face. When we feel resentment because the room is too hot, we could meet the heat and feel its fieriness and its heaviness. When we feel resentment because the room is too cold, we could meet the cold and feel its iciness and its bite. When we want to complain about the rain, we could feel its wetness instead. When we worry because the wind is shaking our windows, we could meet the wind and hear its sound. Cutting our expectations for a cure is a gift we can give ourselves. There is no cure for hot and cold. They will go on forever. After we have died, the ebb and flow will still continue. Like the tides of the sea, like day and night - this is the nature of things.

~Pema Chödrön