Thursday, December 31, 2009

Many people make resolutions for the New Year or, if they don't, at least find themself taking stock. Often that stock taking involves analysing what we think is wrong about ourselves and wishing - if not actually resolving - to be different. Here's another approach:

In over a dozen years as a stress consultant, one of the most pervasive and destructive mental tendencies I've seen is that of focusing on what we want instead of what we have. It doesn't seem to make any difference how much we have; we just keep expanding our list of desires, which guarantees we will remain dissatisfied. The mind-set that says "I'll be happy when this desire is fulfilled" is the same mind-set that will repeat itself once that desire is met.

-- Richard Carlson

So, if you're doing some stock-taking now as the New Year approaches, do look at what you like about yourself and your life as well as considering what you think needs to be changed. I imagine that will create a really helpful perspective. Remember, the primary meditative principles are those of acceptance and compassion. Accepting ourselves and having compassion on ourselves are essential to living out said principles.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging

Worth repeating

My goodness. I just realized today that I started this blog on November 27, 2004. So it's been chugging along for a little over five years now. Here's something from that very first post:

True quiet means keeping still when the time has come to keep still, and going forward when the time has come to go forward. In this way rest and movement are in agreement with the demands of the moment, and thus there is light in life.

- The I Ching

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Class cancellation

On the off chance that any Center particpants come here instead of to the Center website, we are cancelling both tonight's and tomorrow morning's classes due to the weather forecast.

Everybody stay safe! We'll be back to our usual schedule next week, weather permitting!

Many blessings to you all.

Short, profound

Just look at this:

Enlightenment means taking full responsibility for your life.

-- William Blake

And many people have a huge aversion to just that.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Monday meditative picture blogging


More about compassion

This is truly something to ponder:

Aligning our minds with the most compassionate words and thoughts we can muster can bring connection and a sense of peace. For some, it means giving up almost an entire way of life, but only this will allow glints of joy to shine through.

-- Laura Berman Fortgang

I'm really saddened by the assertion that "for some, it means giving up almost and entire way of life." I can only imagine how very difficult that must be even if someone is at all willing to attempt it. Maybe that can help us have compassion especially on those who seem to have none for others.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday art blogging

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh

Something to ponder

This is new to me. It's very simple. Very profound:

I am poor and naked, but I am the chief of the nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches. We want peace and love.

- Red Cloud

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Something to remember

An anonymous person said the following:
If you understand, things are just as they are;
if you do not understand, things are just as they are.
And, yet, the more we understand, the more we can let go of our attachments to things be other than they are.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The experience of feeling suddenly alive!

Was there ever a time when you felt suddenly alive? It was like the doors of the world opened for a minute and you could see directly into life. You were able to touch life directly and were not lost in your fears and worries. This experience may not have been during a big event like performing in a play or playing in a championship game; it may have been while walking in the woods or talking to a friend. All of a sudden you felt alive, awake. This quality of waking up, or penetrating into life, we could call mindfulness. Mindfulness simply means being aware, being present.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The season of celebration

Whatever you celebrate this time of year, let the following encourage you:

The clouds above us come together
and disperse; The breeze in the
courtyard departs and returns.
Life is like that, so why not relax?
Who can keep us from celebrating?

-- Lu-Yu

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging


"Just like me"

Well, dear people, we are getting thoroughly into the holidays now and many of us will have considerable challenges over the next few days as we interact with people with whom we may have a bit of difficulty in terms of getting along. I want to recommend the "Just like me" practice that I talked about in class at the Center a couple of years ago. Here's what you say to yourself:
* This person has a body and a mind, just like me.
* This person has feelings, emotions and thoughts, just like me.
* This person has at some point been sad, disappointed, angry, hurt or confused, just like me.
* This person has in his or her life, experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me.
* This person wishes to be free from pain and suffering, just like me.
* This person wishes to be safe, healthy and loved, just like me.
* This person wishes to be happy, just like me.
I found this particular version of the exercise in a Huffington Post article entitled "Cultivating Compassion: Meditation for Better Relationships". There are a few more exercises in the article which are quite wonderful.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Something about human nature

This is about everyone's need for affirmation, for belonging, for acknowledgment, and for a sense of connectedness.

You don't really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around - and why his parents will always wave back.

-- William Tammeus

Remembering this will help us hugely in our approach to spiritual generosity throughout this season and into the New Year.

I found it on the website "Inspiration Peak" .

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

An observation for the season

I really do like this:

As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December's bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation, and people to whom we are worth the same.

~ Donald E. Westlake

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday cat blogging!

Posture really does make a difference

The very well respected teacher of meditation, Sakyong Rinpoche, offers the following on this subject:
To get started, he suggests creating a favorable environment to make it easier to practice. There should be a sacredness about one’s place of meditation. Mindfulness meditation is best undertaken in a place of silence that is not too disturbing. Some people create special alcoves in the home with candles, plants, yoga mats and fountains, where they can be at peace to meditate each day. Others retreat to their gardens, an uplifting place of respite. Another group of people prefer the company of other like-minded individuals at a special meditation center.

In that comfortable place, one should begin mindfulness meditation with the proper posture. It seems that lying down would be the most comfortable position, but that is not how meditation works. A meditation teacher will instead instruct pupils to sit upright, with hands resting palm-down on the thighs and hips straight. Some people who meditate sit on a zafu or gomden cushion on the floor, with their legs crossed. Others prefer to sit upright in a chair, with their feet touching the ground. “The energy flows better when the body is erect,” explains Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, “and when it’s bent, the flow is changed and that directly affects your thought process.” This posture will help meditation pupils remain awake, even though they are very calm.

The above excerpt is from a little article entitled simply "Mindfulness Meditation: Let Go of Your Thoughts" .

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Once again, folks, it's all material!

Beliefnet published an article this morning all about the challenges many people face when spending time with their families over the holidays. Here's one of the tips that's very much in line with meditative principles:
Envision your family situation as an inspiring growth challenge. If one of your spiritual goals in life is to learn patience, compassion, forgiveness, or serenity, your difficult family members can give you some wonderful “feel the burn” workouts! It’s no sweat to be patient, compassionate, forgiving, or serene with people who aren't in your family, but if you can learn to do it with your most irritating blood relatives, then in looking back at your life you will definitely be able to say you’ve done some crucial inner work on your spiritual journey.
The article is entitled "Making Peace with Your Family" and you can read all of it starting right here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging

Young llama

Fulfillment in being ordinary

It was really breakthrough stuff for me when I let go of believing it was better to be special in some way and instead began to value the ordinary. I recommend exploring this principle:

And while it takes courage to achieve greatness, it takes more courage to find fulfillment in being ordinary. For the joys that last have little relationship to achievement, to standing one step higher on the victory platform. What is the adventure in being ordinary? It is daring to love just for the pleasure of giving it away. It is venturing to give new life and to nurture it to maturity. It is working hard for the pure joy of being tired at the end of the day. It is caring and sharing and giving and loving…

-- Marilyn Thomsen

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday meditative picture blogging


The "purpose" of meditation

Here are a few thoughts on meditation that I found, interestingly, on the BBC website:
The purpose of meditation is to stop the mind rushing about in an aimless (or even a purposeful) stream of thoughts. People often say that the aim of meditation is to still the mind.
If we are consumed by craving or aversion, we will experience the world very differently from the way we will experience it if we are overflowing with generosity and kindness.
Some classical meditation methods use the meditator's own breathing. They may just sit and concentrate on their breathing... not doing anything to alter the way they breathe, not worrying about whether they're doing it right or wrong, not even thinking about breathing; just 'following' the breathing and 'becoming one' with the breathing.

It is important not to think: "I am breathing". When a person does that they separate themselves from the breathing and start thinking of themselves as separate from what they are doing - the aim is just to be aware of breathing.
You can find the entire article right here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday art blogging

Artist: Georges Seurat
Image from Wikimedia Commons

About reality

I just discovered the website for The Institute for Applied Meditation based in Tucson. Here is something that I think is rich material for reflection:

The experience of reality breaks through as a surprise. You know it's reality because it's so much stronger than anything you could imagine, and it's not the way you thought it would be. If everything that happens to you is predictable, just as you thought it would be, you are probably imagining the way things are and blocking out what doesn't fit. The experience of continually learning is one of awe and wonder. Reality breaks through in your mind as a surprise, upsetting your model. The surprise is that you had assumed your perceptions and beliefs were already based on reality, and yet here is an event, a challenge, or an idea that cannot be accommodated. One of two things happens next: either you expand your model of reality, or you deny the new event and freeze your model. The first path leads to insight.

-- Puran Bair

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A review of meditation benefits

I've brought you this information before from time to time but I think it's a good idea for us to remind ourselves of the following on a regular basis:

Meditation has the following physiological health benefits:

* Meditation leads to a decrease in the metabolic rate and also lowers the heart rate. This indicates a state of deep rest and good regeneration. * Meditation can reduce stress which is indicated by lowered levels of stress-hormones like cortisol.
* Meditation also reduces high blood pressure, and the benefits of these are known to all.
* Meditation can help asthma patients and make them breathe easier.
* Meditation appears to slow down the aging process of the brain and also thicken the grey matter of the brain, which only leads to an increase in the size of the brain.

Meditation has the following psychological health benefits, and these are proven by many numerous studies:

* Meditation leads to an increase in the coherence of brain wave patterns in the brain, which goes to suggest that it improves creativity and learning and alters the way the brain works.
* Meditation helps in decreasing anxiety and depression and also irritability and moodiness.
* Meditation leads to an improved memory.
* Meditation increases the euphoric feelings of joy and happiness and contentment.
* Meditation leads to an increase in emotional stability.
The above is from a little article entitled Meditation Class for Your Well Being from a website called Carrie and Danielle.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Appropriate and necessary confidence


I want to assert here today that a lack of appropriate confidence comes from low self-esteem and low self-esteem comes from believing stuff (mainly about ourselves) that simply isn't true. The meditative process helps here by teaching us to confront the mind poison of delusion and to see things as they really are.

I really like the following quotations. May they truly give you material for reflection today:

"I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time."

-Anna Freud

"Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they're yours."

-Richard Bach

"Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong."

-Peter T. Mcintyre

I especially want to call your attention to that last one. So many people I talk to truly believe that the way to happiness and success in life is to make sure they never make mistakes. Needless to say, the stress such people experience is enormous. Even if it were possible not to make mistakes (and it's not) such a condition would make us very stagnant.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Icon meditation

We do something very similar to this in Session 4 of the Foundations class:
First of all, find a picture or painting that brings you pleasure. Next, find a place to sit where you can be comfortable and won’t be disturbed. Position your picture in front of you where you get a good view without straining your neck or your eyes. Now close your eyes. Focus on your breathing. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Be aware of your body as the air moves in and out of your lungs. Establish a tempo to your breathing. After a few minutes, your body will start to relax.

Now open your eyes and gaze at your picture. Take note of the colors, the background, and any unusual and interesting details. Try to memorize it, then shut your eyes again. Now try to recreate the picture in your mind and visualize yourself becoming part of it. Actually put yourself in the picture. Wander around inside it and see what the various components look like up close.
This can also be done with children as a game. It will help them with both focus and emotional regulation.

I found it right here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging

Worth pondering

And there's a lot in this to ponder, I do think:

Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.

- Chinese proverb

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A benefit from loving-kindness meditation

I think this is quite wonderful:
The purpose of loving-kindness meditation is to develop the mental habit of altruistic love for the self and others. It is said to "sweeten the mind."
Isn't it encouraging to think that we can actually make our minds sweeter? This can bring us great consolation if we let it. And it can also be a strong motivation for remembering to practice loving-kindness meditation regularly.

I found it on this page.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Monday meditative picture blogging

This was sent to me yesterday by my photographer friend, Walter P. Calahan, who lives in Maryland. You can find Walt's website right here.

Thinking about language as metaphor

I was looking up something else by Nietzsche today and came across this:

We believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things — metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities.

-- Friedrich Nietzsche

It reminded me of a story I once read about two Tibetan lamas who are simply sitting outside together in companionable silence. Suddenly one of them starts laughing as he points away from himself. "They call that a tree!" he exclaims to the other.

It also reminds me of the great Jewish existentialist philospher, Martin Buber. In his ground breaking book, I and Thou, is a chapter that begins with these words: "I consider a tree." Recommended.

Extra: I just found a wonderful sermon about Buber and the I-Thou relationship called "My Favorite Philosopher". Do read it. It's very good!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday art blogging

Wall painting in a Berlin apartment

More motivation

Here's a way of looking at perseverence in meditation that I hadn't thought of before:
Meditation will only be of limited benefit to you if you practice it on-and-off. The key to success in meditation is the commitment to meditate once or twice every day. Like embarking on a new career with a new employer: if you turn up for work only when you feel like it, you are unlikely to go very far in your career!
It makes so much sense, doesn't it?

I found this on a page entitled "Advanced Guide to Meditation".

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Trusting our meditation

It occurs to me that when we experience meditation as a struggle it is simply because we have forgotten that we can trust it. I think the following advice, therefore, is very helpful:

Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream. Have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you.

- Sheng-yen

Thursday, December 03, 2009

When things get worse before they get better

Many people who are fairly new to meditation are convinced that something must be wrong when meditative practices seem to make their minds worse in the early stages. Not so, really! Here's why:

You may meditate because you want peace. All sorts of expectations can arise in your mind. It is possible that you may experience peace, but most of the time you will not. Why? It's not a problem with the meditator. At the beginning there may be a sense of calm and peace. But after a while your mind will seem even worse than before. Even though your mind may seem worse, actually it is better.
The reason why your mind seems worse after meditating for a while is that your emotional problems are coming to the surface. It's important to let what needs to come out, come out. Try not to judge your thoughts. And do not chase after them or hold onto them. If you follow this instruction, meditation becomes very easy. When these emotions come up, hold on strongly to your mental focus. If your mind is calm, your focus can be more relaxed. All meditators experience emotional upset and crying when they practice. Let this be and afterwards there will be peace.

-- Lama Gursam Rinpoche

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging

A transformed attitude

Universal responsibility does not mean we are required to fix everything in the universe. It means, rather, that no sentient being is outside the realm of our compassion, outside the realm of our ability and willingness to respond:

If you can maintain mindfulness of universal responsibility, everything you do — walking, sitting, sleeping, working, talking, eating, whatever actions you engage in — will be transformed by this positive attitude. Every action of your body, speech and mind will immediately become service for other sentient beings.When you sleep, you sleep for others; when you eat, you eat for others; when you work, you work for others; when you talk, you are talking to benefit others, to bring them happiness. The moment your attitude changes in this way, whatever you do becomes an action that benefits others.

- Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A very thoughtful observation

And one very much worth remembering:

If our lives demonstrate that we are peaceful, humble and trusted, this is recognized by others. If our lives demonstrate something else, that will be noticed too.

- Rosa Parks

Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday meditative picture blogging

Something about waiting

Waiting is very, very hard for many people in western culture because we've been conditioned to expect instant results about so many of our efforts. Here's something to ponder in that regard:
Through this [meditative] process, we begin to learn how to wait, in emptiness, for the emergence of our true life. We discover genuine intimacy with our fellow practitioners and, eventually, with all sentient beings, and experience the birth of true compassion. We find ourselves increasingly able to remain in the profundity and intensity of our true lives, even in our most mundane, day-to-day activities.
This is from an article describing how a thirty-one day intensive meditation retreat unfolded called "Waiting. Waiting. For What?" by Reginald Ray. I do recommend that you click through and read the whole piece if you have time.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Charter for Compassion

Just in case the Charter for Compassion has not come to your attention, I offer it to you below. It is the brainchild of the marvelous Karen Armstrong and has been affirmed by the likes of Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama:
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
Now go on over and sign it yourself! You can do that right here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday cat blogging!


For another wonderful photograph of Simon (AKA "Kitty-boy") today, go right here.

Ah, this time of year

Well, folks, we're headed into the crazy season and a lot of people will find it difficult not to let the stress involved reach dangerous levels:
While there is nothing inherently wrong with busyness, those of us who over-commit or over-extend ourselves potentially face exhaustion and burnout. When you feel overwhelmed by your commitments, examining your motivation for taking on so many obligations can help you understand why you feel compelled to do so much. You may discover that you are being driven by fear that no one else will do the job or guilt that you aren’t doing enough. To regain your equilibrium and clear the clutter from your calendar, simplify your life by establishing limits regarding what you will and will not do based on your personal priorities.
The above is taken from a short essay entitled "The Time You Find: Simplifying Your Schedule" and I found it on the Daily Om site.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Somehing about gratitude in honor of the day

I really thing this is the most important aspect of gratitude we can ever cultivate:
The key to success is learning to just observe whatever comes up during meditation. Be grateful for seeing the truth, even if it is unpleasant. You do not have to react in any way. Definitely do not judge yourself or others. If you wallow in your thoughts or insights, it will keep them around. It is best to view all thoughts, emotions and insights as you would view clouds in the sky. Let them come and let them go.
"Be grateful for seeing the truth, even it it is unpleasant." Yes, that's it. It's hard, I know. Nevertheless, this particular form of gratitude will revolutionize our lives.

I found the above quotation right here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging

One minute out of the hour

Here's something that the Theravadan teacher Bhante Guneratana recommends:
When you’re at work or when you are unable to sit for a longer period in a quiet place, you can also enjoy a few moments of mindfulness. I recommend that everyone take one minute every hour during the day to do this. Work hard for 59 minutes, then take a one-minute break, and totally focus your mind on your breathing. Close your eyes, if you can. Or if you’re at your desk in a busy office, keep your eyes open at a point in front of you. Quietly, peacefully, count out 15 breaths—that’s about a minute. Don’t think about the future, don’t think about anything during that one minute. Just keep your mind totally free from all those things. When that minute is over, you have added some clarity to your mind. You have added some strength to continue on for the other 59 minutes in the hour. Then, vow to yourself that when another hour has passed you’ll give yourself another one-minute mindfulness break.

You can do this at your kitchen table or office desk. You can do this after you’ve parked your car and turned off the engine. You can do this during a restroom break. If you do this kind of one-minute meditation the whole day, at the end of an eight-hour work period you’ll have spent eight minutes in meditation. You’ll be less nervous, less tense and less exhausted at the end of the day. Plus, you’ll have a more productive and healthier day, both psychologically and physically.
I think it's a wonderful plan and I recommend it to everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Something for us all to try

Let's think about this one:

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.

- Charles Dickens

I really don't know anyone who can't do this.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday meditative picture blogging


It's all material - really

Rob Nairn, my major meditation teacher, used to say quite regularly, "It's all material; we can work with it." Over the years I have discovered that to be so, so true.

Today I found something by the wonderful teacher, Pema Chödrön, on that very subject - particularly as it relates to the truly unattractive mind state of self-pity. Here she is commenting on the slogan, "Don't wallow in self-pity", found in the traditional Seven Points of Mind Training text:
[S]elf-pity takes a lot of maintenance. You have to talk to yourself quite a bit to keep it up. the slogan is saying to get to know what self-pity feels like underneath the story line. That's how the training develops a genuine, openhearted, intelligent relationship with the whole variety of human experience.
It's all raw material for waking up. you can use numbness, mushiness, and self-pity even - it doesn't matter what it is - as long as you can go deeper, underneath the story line. That's where you connect with what it is to be human, and that's where the joy and the well-being come from - from the sense of being real and seeing realness in others.
Here's where I want to say don't judge your feelings but don't justify them either. Use them for greater awareness.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday art blogging

Artist: Eduard Tomek
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Our addiction to feeling good

Listen, I like to feel good as much as the next person. But feeling good is not what meditation is all about. And if we don't feel good (for whatever reason) that doesn't mean our meditation is "not working".

Here's something about mindfulness I found that speaks to this:
Mindfulness is an impartial watchfulness. It does not take sides. It does not get hung up in what is perceived. It just perceives. Mind­fulness does not get infatuated with the good mental states. It does not try to sidestep the bad mental states. There is no clinging to the pleasant, no fleeing from the unpleasant. Mindfulness treats all expe­riences equally, all thoughts equally, all feelings equally. Nothing is suppressed. Nothing is repressed. Mindfulness does not play favorites.
I would say, then, that a fundamental aspect of mindfulness has to do with the cultivation of distress tolerance. That's very different from the attachment to making distress go away.

The above paragraph is quoted from an article called "Mindfulness" by Bhante Gunaratana.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday cat blogging!

The importance of staying in the "now"

Cynthia (the Center's administrative assistance and my good friend) sent me the following this morning:

The shift in consciousness happens the moment you say 'yes' to what is, because the entire structure of the egoic mind-made self lives on resistance and opposition and on making the now into an enemy. The beautiful thing is that we can step out of thousands of years of collective conditioning, without needing more time to step out of it.

-- Eckhart Tolle

How very true. So many times (when we lose mindfulness, that is) we just want the present moment to be over or we want to escape from it. Let's all work on learning to be utterly present to what simply is - right in this present moment.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tolerance and mutual understanding

St. John's Center is self-consciously interfaith. We come together (regardless of our faith tradition - or none) to meditate, to learn to keep silence, because the teachings that help us do this are, in fact, universal. I've long believed that learning tolerance and appreciation for those of other faith traditions is the great task of our times. Here's something about that:

In every great faith and tradition one can find the values of tolerance and mutual understanding. The Qur’an, for example, tells us that "We created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other." Confucius urged his followers: "when the good way prevails in the state, speak boldly and act boldly. When the state has lost the way, act boldly and speak softly." In the Jewish tradition, the injunction to "love thy neighbour as thyself," is considered to be the very essence of the Torah.

This thought is reflected in the Christian Gospel, which also teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who wish to persecute us. Hindus are taught that "truth is one, the sages give it various names." And in the Buddhist tradition, individuals are urged to act with compassion in every facet of life.

Each of us has the right to take pride in our particular faith or heritage. But the notion that what is ours is necessarily in conflict with what is theirs is both false and dangerous. It has resulted in endless enmity and conflict, leading men to commit the greatest of crimes in the name of a higher power.

It need not be so. People of different religions and cultures live side by side in almost every part of the world, and most of us have overlapping identities which unite us with very different groups. We can love what we are, without hating what — and who — we are not. We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings.

-- Kofi Annan

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging

Powerfully expressed

Oh, my. Look at this:
Without mindfulness there is no meditation practice. With mindfulness whatever we do is meditation.
I found these two sentences in the middle of a talk by the same lama I quoted yesterday, Lama Gursam Rinpoche. They are so powerful I wanted them to stand alone. But you can read the rest of his talk right here. It is entitled "Loving Oneself and Others".

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Calm abiding

I have always loved the two words "calm abiding" put together as they are used with regard to meditation. Here's a little bit about what that expression is meant to convey:
Calm abiding meditation has different levels and techniques. It is important to sit comfortably and in silence. Try to be calm in body, speech, and mind. Calmness of the body means that everything the body wants is given up for a time. So you need to be patient with that.
Calming the speech means not speaking. Calmness of the mind means relaxing. The mind will not remain calm, so it requires some technique, such as watching the breath go in and out. Our inner energy has a strong connection with the breath. So how do we know if the mind is calm? During our meditation, suddenly thoughts will arise. When you truly recognize this happening, that is a beginning of calm abiding. When they go unrecognized, that is not calm abiding. But still thoughts will arise again and again. We chase after all the thoughts that arise. So that happens when we start calm abiding, but that is not a problem. Just keep at it and do not chase after or judge the thoughts. Just be aware and bring the focus back to your natural breathing. That will bring back your natural calm.
This is by Lama Gursam Rinpoche and you can find his website right here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday art blogging

Artist: August Macke

Intentionally paying attention

I love finding new definitions or descriptions of meditative practice that really seem to convey what it's all about. Here's one I just found today:
Meditation refers to the activity of intentionally paying attention, to a particular object for a particular purpose. Spiritual practitioners and members of many faith traditions have developed meditation practices over countless years of human experience. There are literally thousands of ways to practice meditation. As it has been developed in diverse faith traditions, the purpose of all meditation practice is to awaken us. Meditation is intended to bring about transformation and change, through understanding, compassion, and clarity of seeing.
It's from the UCSD Center for Mindfulness website.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The problem with attachment to plans

Letting go of attachment to outcome is undoubtedly THE major enterprise of a life dedicated to meditative principles:

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

-- Joseph Campbell

I discoverd Joseph Campbell when I was quite young, maybe even an undergraduate, when I read his wonderful book, Myths to Live By. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The finest gift

Compassion and loving-kindness are fundamental principles of applying meditative practice to our lives. But they can also seem a bit abstract sometimes. It helps to have some specific suggestions. Here you go:

The finest gift you can give anyone is encouragement. Yet, almost no one gets the encouragement they need to grow to their full potential. If everyone received the encouragement they need to grow, the genius in most everyone would blossom and the world would produce abundance beyond our wildest dreams.

-- Sidney Madwed

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day, 2009




Our dear friend-of-the-Center, Paul Rogers, sent me this!

(Click photo to enlarge.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A profound little couplet

Just for the heck of it this morning, I did a GoodSearch on "happiness" and then clicked on the Wikiquote link that was listed. Here's something I found:

Happiness depends, as Nature shows,
Less on exterior things than most suppose.

-- William Cowper

Very true. Oh, so true.
By the way, folks, please use GoodSearch as your search engine at least part of the time. You will help the Center thereby. Be sure to put our full name (St. John's Center for Spiritual Formation) down as your charity. Also, if you download their toolbar, using GoodSearch becomes incredibly easy. Also, if you like to order things online, do use GoodShop to access those sites. The Center gets a percentage of the sale that way. Thanks so much!!!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Monday meditative picture blogging


Meditation and breathing

I've often noticed in the meditation hall that some people manipulate their breathing unnecessarily during meditation. They will either breathe too slowly (and often put themselves to sleep that way) or they will force the outbreath, thereby creating unnecessary tension. Here are some tips from a little article I found today:
1. As you breathe, let your abdomen expand and contract, rather than moving your shoulders up and down. This deeper breathing is more natural and similar to how babies breathe. It gives you increased lung capacity, whereas the ‘shallow breathing’ adults usually utilize doesn’t allow as much oxygenation of the blood.

2. Don't breathe too quickly or too slowly; just breathe at a natural rate, but more deeply.

3. If you find your thoughts drifting a lot at first, don't worry that you're doing it 'wrong'. Noticing that you've drifted and refocusing to your breathing is part of the practice, and something you're doing 'right'!

What You Need:

* A quiet place
* A few minutes
* A willing mind
Remember that "deep" as it's used here refers to a deeper part of the body - not to taking an unnaturally excessive amount of air on the inbreath.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sunday art blogging


Medieval miniature

Learning to be happy

This morning, Beliefnet has a little slide show entitled "21 Simple Ways to be Happy". Here are a couple of the suggestions:
Pencil in Quite Time: Each and every day sit awhile, without television, without magazines, without the Internet. Just be!
Accept What You Cannot Change:
Don't waste your precious time, energy, or thoughts on something that is beyond your control. Let it go.
Meditate, Pray, and Chant:
Research shows that people who are spiritual tend to be happier and healthier than those who are not.
You can take a look at all the suggestions right here.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Here and now meditation

Today I came across a page on the internet entitled "Here and now Meditation". Below is one paragraph from it:
In order to meditate and make our mind quiet, it is important for us to accept our life as it exists in the present moment. No matter how boring, banal, stressful , sad or colorless our present life is; at any given moment, it is all that we have with us. So accept your life as it is and remind yourself that you exists in the present moment. The aim of this step is to focus your whole attention on the present moment. This initial step act as a launching pad for the 'here and now' meditation as the entire attention of the meditator get focused on the present moment. So: Just be aware of the fact that you exist here and now !
I recommend that you click through and read the rest of the article. Here's one sentence I particularly like: "The main aim of this meditation is to break the habit of a mechanical life which most of us are living." Any practice that can help us stay in the present moment is all to the good.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday cat blogging!

Sitting with the world

Here is a very profound meditation instruction:

Take a seat ...and just sit. .... Relax. Don't try to do anything at all. Don't try to make anything come, don't try to make anything go leave. Let everything do its own work, chart its own course. As you sit, just sit with the world, with whatever is there, all of the arisings and passings away in your mind, body, and environment. As you notice sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, memories and anticipations, relax into them. Relax your mind and body. Actively do nothing. Make no efforts. Just sit, just be, at least for now.
The mentality is this. There is nowhere that you need to go, nothing that you need to achieve, no one that you need to be....

-- Jundo Cohen

This is a very powerful antidote to the all too frequent obsession with "getting it right" in meditation.

I found it right here.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The best kind of knowing

I found this somewhere yesterday:

At the center of your being
you have the answer;
you know who you are
and you know what you want.

-- Lao Tzu

Of course, the question then is how to "find" that center of our being. You know what I'm going to say! We need to meditate consistently and also patiently. And never give up. Never, never give up!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging

Something about distractions

Just came across this in a simple meditation instruction and I really like it!

If you become lost in thoughts, the moment you realize you have been lost in thoughts, you are no longer lost.

-- Kim Eng

That's a very good point, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Remembering the Departed

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Today is All Saints Day in the Christian liturgical calendar and tomorrow will be All Souls. Together they are the dates for the "Day of the Dead" celebrations in Mexico - a celebration that is now spreading all over the word. And it is a truly healthy observance, to my mind.

Whatever your religious or non-religious convictions, it is important to make friends with the reality of death because it is something that happens to all of us.

It seems appropriate, therefore, to share with you this wonderful poem - a classic:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labour, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played
At wrestling in a ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

-- Emily Dickinson

May you remember your blessed dead today with joy and reverence.

By the way, I had the enormous privilege many years ago of attending The Belle of Amherst (a one woman play about Emily Dickinson) at the Kennedy Center starring the amazing Julie Harris. Just the memory of that performance stands my hair on end.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What we emphasize

The following quotation is actually a very intriguing assertion. I never thought of our approach to our experience quite this way before:

The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.

-- Carlos Castaneda

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging

Yes, posture matters

Take a look:
Research has confirmed what meditators have known for millennia — that body posture affects mental states.

Researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture concerning whether they were qualified for a job.

On the other hand, those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept these written-down feelings about their own qualifications.

The results show how our body posture can affect not only what others think about us, but also how we think about ourselves...
You can read the rest of it right here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A spiritual revolution

Yesterday, I found the passage copied below and was very struck by it as I had never come across this statement by the Dalai Lama before.

In my work with individuals, I observe so much selfishness - and apparently unconscious selfishness at that - that I think we do indeed need such a revolution:

My call for a spiritual revolution is not a call for a religious revolution. Nor is it a reference to a way of life that is somehow otherworldly, still less to something magical or mysterious. Rather it is a call for a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self. It is a call to turn toward the wider community of beings with whom we are connected, and for conduct which recognizes others' interests alongside our own.

-- The 14th Dalai Lama

I don't think people are meaning to be selfish - really. I think, however, that the prevailing culture imprints the idea upon people that they're actually supposed to be more concerned about getting their own way than anything else.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday meditative picture blogging

Find a way to laugh today

I saved this quotation quite some time ago and just came across it again:

Laughter is the jam on the toast of life. It adds flavor, keeps it from being too dry, and makes it easier to swallow.

— Diane Johnson quoted in Zen Soup by Laurence G. Boldt

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Meditation and health

I want to share an article with you called Swine Flu: Is Meditation the Best Medication? that I found this morning. It takes issue with a purely material and mechanistic view of health and disease and also discusses the place of meditation in an overall approach to one's health. Here's a little bit:
Are people who meditate more healthy? I am not aware of any scientific studies, but based on my own experience with many different types of meditation which includes association with various groups, schools, and teachers of meditation, I would have to say they appear to be. Or at least they worry less about their physical health, take illness more in stride, and are able to recover faster when it occurs.

One thing is sure: long-term practice of meditation on a daily basis seems to raise the energy level of the body. This makes a difference because the body is like an energy-filled vessel. If this energy leaks through negative emotions, unnecessary physical tension, and the constant churning of the mind, the body will suffer a general state of depletion, which is bound to make it more susceptible to disease. It also makes a difference if one avoids much of the jarring imagery churned out by the mass media through violent and disturbing films, TV programming, video games, etc.

These health-related factors which have been understood by traditional societies for millennia are also starting to be realized by millions of ordinary people in every walk of life.
Sounds like a fairly balanced approach to me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The wrong key

Sometimes I tell my meditation classes that one aspect of taking refuge involves embracing "reality as reality works". Often we are attached to a fantasy of how we believe reality should work. Here's the remedy:

The meaning of life is not dependent on a particular way of life, but on the conformity of one’s way to the present possibilities. Similarly, a door key is not useful in itself, but in relation to a lock that it opens because it matches it. The key to happiness therefore consists in having our desires match our reality. We are locked out of happiness when we refuse to do this and fiddle in vain with the wrong key – that is, the key to misery.

- Laurent Grenier

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The key?

Oh, I like this!

If you're looking for the key to the Universe I've got some good news and some bad news. The bad news: There is no key to the Universe. The good news: It was never locked.

-- author unknown

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging

So true. So true.

I don't know if I've shared this one with you yet or not. Nothing like an appeal to reality!

The affairs of the world will go on forever. Do not delay the practice of meditation.

~ Milarepa

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Something to ponder

Live your life so that the fear of death can never enter your heart. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light. Give thanks for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. And if perchance you see no reason for giving thanks, rest assured the fault is in yourself.

-- Chief Tecumseh, Shawnee Indian Chief

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday meditative picture blogging

Being right here, right now

Now here is what it truly means to be utterly in the present moment:

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

-- Martin Luther

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday art blogging

Artist: Paul Gauguin
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Magnificent solitude

Ah! Another reason I could wish I knew German -- so that I could read Rilke in the original:

It must be immense, this silence, in which sounds and movements have room, and if one thinks that along with all this the presence of the distant sea also resounds, perhaps as the innermost note in this prehistoric harmony, then one can only wish that you are trustingly and patiently letting the magnificent solitude work upon you, this solitude which can no longer be erased from your life; which, in everything that is in store for you to experience and to do, will act as an anonymous influence, continuously and gently decisive, rather as the blood of our ancestors incessantly moves in us and combines with our own to form the unique, unrepeatable being that we are at every turning of our life.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Consuming and suffering

I found a very short article this morning that is a report on a talk given by the wonderful teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. Here's something he said:
We try to cover up the suffering in us by way of consuming. We turn on the television, we talk on the phone. We get on the internet. We read the pages of a novel... Many of the items we consume every day are highly toxic because they are filled with "anger, violence, and despair."

To consume in order to cover up our suffering does not work. We need a spiritual practice to go deep into our suffering.
And here's a little basic exercise he recommends:
You say to yourself: "Breathing in, I know this is my in-breath. Breathing out, I know this is my out-breath."
What a simple, focused way of cultivating awareness!