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!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday cat blogging!

Oh, that old ego!

This can be very reassuring if we let it be:

Don't be afraid. Fear has tortured us throughout our lives. It's just the Ego talking, making up stories.

Nawang Gehlek

Thursday, October 15, 2009


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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging

Something about coexistence

Meditative practice will really help with the following because it teaches us how to let go of judgment and be with reality exactly the way it is:

In a world marked by the coexistence of multiple faiths ... the horizontal relations between faiths require as much attention as the vertical dimension of each.

- William Connolly, from his book Pluralism

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Radical acceptance

The following passage from After the Fall is truly profound. If each of us would do this there would be so much greater happiness and alleviation of suffering in the world:

I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept onto my lap again, clutched at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible . . . but I kissed it. I think one must finally take one’s life in one’s arms.

-- Arthur Miller, from After the Fall

Utter acceptance of who and what we are and what we have experienced is the only way forward on the path to enlightenment - of that I'm very certain.

(I am indebted to Fr. Clyde Glandon for calling the above quotation to my attention.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday meditative picture blogging

Something about happiness

On an impulse this morning, I did a goodsearch* on "happiness". The very first result was (surprise, surpise) a Wikipedia article. Here's a little excerpt:
Some researchers have found that about 50% of one's happiness depends on one's genes, based on studying identical twins, whose happiness is 50% correlated even when growing up in different houses. About 10% to 15% is a result of various measurable life circumstances variables, such as socioeconomic status, marital status, health, income, and others. The remaining 40% is a combination of unknown factors and the results of actions that individuals deliberately engage in for the purpose of becoming happier. These actions may vary between persons; extroverts, for example, may benefit from placing themselves in situations involving large amounts of human interaction. Also, exercise has been shown to increase one's level of momentary subjective well-being significantly.
Okay, folks. Looks like 40% is up to us. That's quite a lot, actually. And that's where meditative practice comes in. It's startlingly simple:

- A lot of unhappiness comes from suffering.
- Suffering is caused by excessive attachment, craving.
- The remedy is letting go.
- And we learn to let go through meditation.

So get those bottoms on those cushions, people!

(* If you use GoodSearch for your search engine at least part of the time and type in St. John's Center for Spiritual Formation as your charity of choice, the Center will benefit. Please help us in this easy way that costs you absolutely nothing!)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday art blogging

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh

Yesterday, we had our annual fundraising garage sale for the Center. Someone sold a print of the painting above and I bought it. I absolutely love the colors!

And now, for your reflection today:

Flowers grow out of dark moments.

-- Corita Kent

And this one:

Flowers. . . are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rest and mindfulness

Learning how to allow the mind to rest is one of the fundamental benefits of meditative practice:

When we come to a point of rest in our own being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest, and then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud becomes a revelation, and each person we meet a cosmos whose riches we can only glimpse.

Dag Hammarskjöld

Friday, October 09, 2009

Meditation and pain

Another good reason to practice!

People who practice Zen meditation have been shown to be far less sensitive to pain than nonmeditators, and they are better at coping with it. Meditating really isn't that much harder than medicating. The goal isn't to suppress emotions, but to identify how they arise and how they influence you.
Meditation may help in a few ways: It may distract your mind so you react less to that idiot who almost cut you off or other hot buttons. It also may help you tolerate pain by helping you bypass a blame-and-stress cycle in your brain. This bypass helps decrease stress hormones and increase pain-squelching ones.
It's from a little article entitled "Use your mind to turn down pain".

(Don't worry about whether or not your meditation is technically "Zen" or not. The method described in the article is just basic tranquility/mindfulness.)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Something about smiling

Please don't consider the following a platitude. It's not. This is very, very true:

What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. These are but trifles, to be sure; but, scattered along life's pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.

-- Joseph Addison

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Wednesday life form blogging

I recommend that you click through to Cynthia's blog. She has another great picture of the elk posted over there. I love it when Cynthia gets back from vacation. (She was visiting her cousin for about a week in Colorado.) She returns with such great pictures!

Experiencing a change in heart

I just started reading a rather wonderful and insightful book entitled Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. Here's a brief quotation from it about making a helpful and convincing apology:
Now, an apology isn't really an apology unless you experience a change in heart. To offer a sincere apology, your motives have to change. You have to give up saving face, being right, or winning in order to focus on what you really want. You have to sacrifice a bit of your ego by admitting your error. But like many sacrifices, when you give up something you value, you're rewarded with something even more valuable - healthy dialogue and better results.
I was intrigued by the instruction to focus on what we really want. That reminds me one of the great reflection questions that we first learn about in Foundations in Meditative Practice Class here at the Center: "What do I really want?" Spending time with that question can go a long way toward making our lives happier and more meaningful.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Monday meditative picture blogging

Change and the importance of acceptance

Many people believe that if they accept the way things are - the way they are - then they will be stuck, that they will not have the motivation to change. Actually the opposite is true. It is lack of acceptance that keeps us stuck. Here's a good little explanation of how that works:
Desiring to change is okay, but longing for change actually hinders our growth. An important aspect of developing acceptance is learning to avoid craving. Craving is when we long for something, and unfortunately craving can make us very unhappy. One common form of craving is to crave experiencing something different from our current experience. This longing actually creates an unhealthy form of dissatisfaction with what we’re currently experiencing since the flip-side of craving is aversion. Craving and aversion are polar twins. When we crave to be experiencing something different then we reject our current experience.

Mindfulness involves an attitude of acceptance, which is the opposite of either pushing an experience away or longing for an experience. With mindfulness we’re prepared to take on board how we actually are. This doesn’t mean that we want to stay the way we are at the moment. On the contrary we almost certainly will wish to move on from there, but the first step in moving on is to recognize fully where we are, and to accept it.
It's from a short article called "Tools for learning acceptance" on the Wildmind site.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Seeing (and valuing) what is not

Have you ever thought of noticing and appreciating what is absent? I just found a little article on this principle and here's an illustration offered:
Many of the things we use are examples of the value of nothing. Claw hammers remove nails with little effort using a simple tool, a split in the metal. The opening -- where nothing is -- creates the function of this part. Without the space, it's a dull chisel.
Here's another short excerpt:

Between every event, every moment, every action and every reaction, there is a place to pause and think. Sometimes the pause is very brief, even just a moment. But a moment is a moment.

Look for the moments when there is no sound, no movement. Look at the still walls, the still ceiling, the stable trees or placid grass.

I really like the idea of looking for what is not there - not seeing that as deprivation but, rather, seeing the basic value of the absence of some things.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

A different kind of walking meditation

Meditation and anger

In the Saturday morning class at the Center we're in a series on anger. I happened to find a little article on line called "Basic Goodness, Anger, and Meditation" that I like very much. Here are a couple of the important points:
One of the ways meditation helps with anger is by uncovering our natural positive qualities. Meditation isn’t about creating some ideal state; rather it is a process of letting go, of shedding our superficial confusion, so that our true nature can come forth.
Often people think meditation is about stopping our thoughts, or emptying the mind, which are misconceptions. Anyway it’s impossible to stop our thoughts, since the mind is an ongoing phenomenal display with much vividness and power. The idea of meditation is that we can be present with our thoughts in a simple way.
I really like that very last sentence. It's so easy to be present with our thoughts in a complicated way and that tends to create suffering.

Friday, October 02, 2009

What wise people do

I saved this quotation a long time ago and just found it again:

As irrigators lead water where they want, as archers make their arrows straight, as carpenters carve wood, the wise shape their minds.

-- The Buddha

I particularly like this because it points to the very practical nature of training the mind. Meditative practice is not all pie-in-the-sky, airy-fairy, "ethereal" stuff. It is very down to earth, helpful material that will truly make our lives better.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Simply speaking

I found two quotations today that really distill the meditative approach down to the basics. Here's the first one:

In the final analysis, the hope of every person is simply peace of mind.

-- The Dalai Lama

And this is the other one:

There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.

-- Aldous Huxley

Those observations can help us let go of unnecessary complications if we let them.