Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Congruence

I'm reading an article right now entitled "Three Methods for Working with Chaos" by Pema Chödrön who has a rather wonderful history of "telling on herself", as it were, regarding her difficulties in living out what she teaches. Here's an example:
You may have noticed, however, that there is frequently an irritating, if not depressing, discrepancy between our ideas and good intentions and how we act when we are confronted with the nitty-gritty details of real life situations.

One afternoon I was riding a bus in San Francisco, reading a very touching article on human suffering and helping others. The idea of being generous and extending myself to those in need became so poignant that I started to cry. People were looking at me as the tears ran down my cheeks. I felt a great tenderness toward everyone, and a commitment to benefit others arose in me. As soon as I got home, feeling pretty exhausted after working all day, the phone rang, and it was someone asking if I could please help her out by taking her position as a meditation leader that night. I said, "No, sorry, I need to rest," and hung up.

It's not a matter of the right choice or the wrong choice, but simply that we are often presented with a dilemma about bringing together the inspiration of the teachings with what they mean to us on the spot. There is a perplexing tension between our aspirations and the reality of feeling tired, hungry, stressed-out, afraid, bored, angry, or whatever we experience in any given moment of our life.
I'm sure we can all come up with similar examples in our own lives.

I'm not saying we should scold ourselves for not measuring up. I am saying that true mindfulness means recognizing this incongruity and reflecting on how it comes about as well as its implications for our practice.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bowing to change

Recognizing the reality of impermanence is fundamental to cultivating a healthy and skillful attitude toward change. Here's an approach that adds reverence to the picture:

Most of all, I encourage people to go into their difficulties and to cope with the change that's taking place even as they are paying attention to it. Our life is nothing but change and it is to this change that I bow deeply. I bow to this change, I bow deeply to life itself.

--Ruth Denison

Monday meditative picture blogging

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A prayer of great compassion

I know I blogged this before some time ago but I happened to come across it again today on Beliefnet and decided it was worth repeating. I do think this is very inspiring and energizing:

May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.

--The 14th Dalai Lama

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Connections

Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.

--Margaret Wheatley

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wednesday life form blogging

This moment

Here is a powerful explanation of why staying in the moment is so very important:

The only time you ever have in which to learn anything or see anything or feel anything, or express any feeling or emotion, or respond to an event, or grow, or heal, is this moment, because this is the only moment any of us ever gets. You're only here now; you're only alive in this moment.

-- Jon Kabat-Zinn

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Meditation = radical acceptance

It is very common for meditators to become attached to a certain feeling or mind state during meditation and to believe that they're "doing it wrong" if such feelings do not arise. Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks to this most eloquently:
For meditation, and especially mindfulness meditation, is not the throwing of a switch and catapulting yourself anywhere, nor is it entertaining certain thoughts and getting rid of others. Nor is it making your mind blank or willing yourself to be peaceful or relaxed. It is really an inward gesture that inclines the heart and mind (seen as one seamless whole) toward a full-spectrum awareness of the present moment just as it is, accepting whatever is happening simply because it is already happening. This inner orientation is sometimes referred to in psychotherapy as “radical acceptance.” This is hard work, very hard work, especially when what is happening does not conform to our expectations, desires, and fantasies. And our expectations, desires, and fantasies are all-pervasive and seemingly endless. They can color everything, sometimes in very subtle ways that are not at all obvious, especially when they are about meditation practice and issues of “progress” and “attainment.”

Meditation is not about trying to get anywhere else. It is about allowing yourself to be exactly where you are and as you are, and for the world to be exactly as it is in this moment as well. This is not so easy, since there is always something that we can rightly find fault with if we stay inside our thinking. And so there tends to be great resistance on the part of the mind and body to settle into things just as they are, even for a moment. That resistance to what is may be even more compounded if we are meditating because we hope that by doing so, we can effect change, make things different, improve our own lives, and contribute to improving the lot of the world.
The above excerpt is from Kabat-Zinn's book entitled Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another way of looking at meditation

This is actually a very intriguing image:

We are sick with fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions and ideas. Meditation is therefore the art of suspending verbal and symbolic thinking for a time, somewhat as a courteous audience will stop talking when a concert is about to begin.

-- Alan Watts

Let's make a commitment to behave like a courteous audience with our own minds!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Freedom from the fear of death

I just came across this:

Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is. I am not. Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?

- Epicurus

Pretty good logic, huh?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday cat blogging!

Definition of mindfulness

We westerners have been conditioned to believe that greater complexity implies greater value. Not necessarily so:

Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn't more complicated that that. It is opening to or recieving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.

-- Sylvia Boorstein

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Accepting our meditation as it is

Many people fall prey to the misconception that if they feel all lovely and peaceful that they've had a "good meditation". Sharon Salzberg disagrees. And so do I:

In terms of mindfulness practice we often say that what comes up in meditation is much less important to how we relate to what comes up. If we can meet what’s happening with greater awareness and compassion then that’s considered very good meditation. Even if what’s coming up is sleepiness, restlessness, doubt or pain. Making that switch from thinking, “we’re only doing well if things that feel great are happening,” to understanding what the practice is actually about, is very important.

-- Sharon Salzberg

Please don't judge your meditation! Accept it as it is.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Hank Weaver

Letting go

We talked about what "letting go" means in the ongoing classes this week and most people really felt the following quotation was helpful:

Once we see that everything is impermanent and ungraspable and that we create a huge amount of suffering if we are attached to things staying the same, we realize that relaxing and letting go is a wiser way to live. Letting go does not mean not caring about things. It means caring about them in a flexible and wise way.

-- Jack Kornfield

I really love the principle of caring in "a flexible and wise way." That keeps our approach both responsible and normal.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday meditative picture blogging

Something to ask ourselves

If you haven't asked this of yourself lately, I recommend doing so:

“Tom . . . does everyone in the world . . . know he's alive?”
“Sure. Heck, yes!”
“I hope they do,” whispered Douglas. “Oh, I sure hope they know.”

Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The enormous value of hanging in there

Here's a wonderful description of what happens when you hang in there with meditation and don't throw in the towel because it's uncomfortable in some way:

But if you wait and endure restlessness, greed, hatred, doubt, despair, and sleepiness, if you observe these conditions as they cease and end, you will attain a kind of calm and mental clarity, which you never achieve if you’re always going after something else. This is the virtue of meditation. If you sit and patiently endure, you find your mind going into a state of calm. That calm occurs because there’s no more trying to become something or trying to get rid of something. There’s a kind of inner peace or relaxation of the mind in which you stop following the struggle to become, or to have sensory pleasure, or to get rid of some unpleasant conditions that you’re experiencing. So you are at ease with those conditions. You begin to learn to be at ease with pain, with restlessness, with mental anguish, and so forth. And then you find that the mind will be very clear, very bright, very calm.

-- Sumedho Ajahn

Saturday, September 13, 2008

About that mental "noise"

It's not unusual for people to quit meditating because they think it somehow makes their minds "worse". Not so! Here's what really happens:

For those who are not used to paying close attention to their minds, meditation can be a disturbing experience. It will be disturbing to hear the ‘noise’ in your mind, to which you have never previously opened your ears. In reality, meditation does not bring you any disturbance; it just makes noticeable what is already there.

-- Wimala Bhante

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday cat blogging!

School Prayer

In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.
This is by the wonderful poet, Diane Ackerman.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yearning for solitary voyage

Let us not let the conventional culture dictate what we care about or are committed to:

There is a need to find and sing our own song, to stretch our limbs and shake them in a dance so wild that nothing can roost there, that stirs the yearning for solitary voyage.

-- Barbara Lazear Ascher

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wednesday life form blogging

Anatolian Shepherd

This is not my Izzy, actually, but it looks just like her when she was younger and before her muzzle turned grey. Trust me, there is just no guard dog in the universe like an Anatolian!

Something about time

You know, this is not a bad approach to life. Not bad at all:

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. "Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?" he asked.

"Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end; then stop."

--Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Starting to listen

Here's a wonderful expression about paying attention and how it generates both contemplation and gratitude:

So I go down to the water's edge again, to listen for my neglected ancestors, whose voices sound in the trees and carry across the shore with the mewing of the gulls. There is a great, innovative music out there which we are sadly neglecting. The inner earth is a song I have only started to listen to.

— John Hay in A Beginner's Faith in Things Unseen

Monday, September 08, 2008

Monday meditative picture blogging

Meditation and politics

Today I had a conversation with someone about current US politics and we both realized how much tension is going to be in the country for the next two months. A lot of people have a huge amount of emotional investment in this election and so it's going to be hard for all of us to maintain our equanimity.

Just a minute ago I happened upon a quotation I actually found some time ago and saved. Today seems like the perfect day for sharing it:
The affairs of the world will go on forever. Do not delay the practice of meditation.

So, yes, let us give ourselves ever more diligently to meditation. We will alleviate our own suffering that way and also, by meditating, cultivate in ourselves the ability to alleviate the suffering of others as well.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Inner listening

When do we really, really need to give extra attention to our inner work? If we pay attention, we know:

Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, 'Something is out of tune.'

-- Carl Jung

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Awareness practice

I found this on the Gratefulness site:

With awareness practice we focus at first on sensations, feelings, thoughts. We feel as if we are observing our experience. This awareness is developed more and more as we practice. We see and sense more about our lives - how our mind and heart works. We gain access to our intuition and the processes of our conditioning.

But as we continue to develop this awareness we begin to see that as long as we are observing we are still somewhat separate from our experience. Eventually awareness of something becomes simply awareness. It converges with being itself, so there's no sense of someone there observing and something to be observed.

--Norman Fischer

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday cat blogging!

The real cure for burn-out

I had the great privilege to hear Br. David speak at an interfaith conference in Virginia back in the 70s. He's long been an inspiration to me in the contemplative life:

You are like Rilke's Swan in his awkward waddling across the ground; the swan doesn't cure his awkwardness by beating himself on the back, by moving faster, or by trying to organize himself better. He does it by moving toward the elemental water where he belongs. It is the simple contact with the water that gives him grace and presence. You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life, and it will transform everything.

-- Br. David Steindl-Rast

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I have found myself spending time with Simone Weil's thought today. Here are a couple of quotations that illuminate and reflect meditative principles:
If we are suffering illness, poverty, or misfortune, we think we shall be satisfied on the day it ceases. But there too, we know it is false; so soon as one has got used to not suffering one wants something else.
...
In struggling against anguish one never produces serenity; the struggle against anguish only produces new forms of anguish.
I know it seems counterintuitive at times but acceptance really is the way to go. Not passivity! Please don't think that. Obviously, if there is some reasonable action we can take to change things for the better, it's a good idea to make that effort. Also, let us not confuse acceptance with approval. They are not the same thing at all. But when we really cannot do anything to make a difficult situation better, we will suffer so much less through acceptance than we will if we fight against what we're experiencing.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Wednesday life form blogging

Direction

Oh my. I wasn't really sure whether to post this here or on my political blog. I think it applies in both places!

If we do not change our direction we are likely to end up where we are headed for.

-- Chinese Proverb

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tuesday meditative picture blogging

The importance of motivation

I remember when I was in graduate school and my oboe professor insisted that motivation was more important than either talent or intelligence. "If you make it as an oboe player, Ellie, it will be because you want to," he said.

Motivation is very important, and thus my simple religion is love, respect for others, honesty: teachings that cover not only religion but also the fields of politics, economics, business, science, law, medicine-everywhere. With proper motivation these can help humanity…

- The Dalai Lama

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day, 2008


Why justice for labor is a spiritual issue:

A Society that gives to one class all the opportunities for leisure and to another all the burdens of work condemns both classes to spiritual sterility.

Lewis Mumford