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.