Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday cat blogging!

Her little self's name is Tona.

The problem with comparisons

For years now, I've been reminding people of that old slogan, "Comparisons are odious." Here's something that speaks to this issue:

Resist the temptation to compare yourself to others in a negative fashion. . . . If you are in the midst of making such comparisons--stop! It is human nature to do some comparing, and when we are in a good spot and feeling pretty good about ourselves, it can even be positive, as it may inspire us to emulate someone else. But when we are wrestling with self-acceptance, comparing ourselves to others is one of the worst things we can do. It is tantamount to scolding a child who falls off his or her bike for lacking the skills of a professional bicyclist. We wouldn't think of doing that, but when we compare ourselves to others, with us on the bottom and virtually everyone else above us and better than us, we are hurting ourselves just as heartlessly.

-- Gary Egeberg

Comparisons, of course, are dependent on the faculty of judgment. In meditative practice, we learn how to accept without judgment. This is a critical skill that will help us hugely in avoiding the comparison trap.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Something about listening

My friend, Larry Hochhaus, offers the following today:
Listening is such an art. Listening may be more difficult than talking. So often when I'm listening I am missing part of what's being said because I'm focused on what I'm going to say when it's my turn to speak. Being focused on what is being said rather than my response to it is difficult, but part of being supportive. Perhaps the person sharing a problem with me doesn't want advice. Possibly they just want to talk and reach their own conclusions on what to do about it. Nevertheless, listening is how I show respect. I must be very careful about giving advice, even when it is asked for. Better than giving advice, I might simply share what I think the person's options might be but letting them make the final choice.
I do agree with this even though sometimes I inadvertently violate this principle myself. That's okay. It's just that when we catch ourselves doing too much of the talking or when someone points that out to us, we need to reflect on how we lost mindfulness in that situation and make a sincere effort to tune in rather than to broadcast so much.

Meditation will help with this enterprise. When we meditate, we make the intentional decision to settle, to keep silence and to listen, if you will, to our own thoughts. It's the best practice ever for learning to listen to others.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Something about "right speech"

Sometimes I am very dismayed when people insist that "honesty" is the value that trumps every other value. I've heard the most egregious acts of unkindness justified in that way. Here's something that speaks to this issue:

If it is not truthful and not helpful, don't say it.
If it is truthful and not helpful, don't say it.
If it is not truthful and helpful, don't say it.
If it is truthful and helpful, wait for the right time.

- The Buddha

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday art blogging

Artist: Kasimir Malevich

The great value of being ordinary

It took me many years to make sense of this principle:

When an ordinary person attains knowledge, that person is a sage;
when a sage attains understanding, that person is an ordinary person.

-- Zen saying

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A seasonal observation

I think before the month is out I ought to offer this delightful verse by that master of humorous poetry, Ogden Nash:

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true –
I love April, I love you.

This really describes April in Oklahoma! :-)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday cat blogging!


Please consider adopting a black cat, dear people. Animal welfare organizations tell us that a disproportionate number of them have to be euthanized because people are superstitious and don't want them. That's just too sad for words.

Oh, and, yes, I do have one myself. He is my precious Leroy who has been featured right here on Fridays many times!

Kinda funny; kinda helpful all the same!

Here's a video that's produced in something of a silly, humorous way. However, the advice is good and these suggestions have been well documented to work.

Just because you aren't in a situation, by the way, in which you can do all of these doesn't mean you can't do one or two of them. For example, you can fall back on a mantra you have chosen to use when you're agitated in just about any situation. No one needs to know. I have two that work: "serenity" and "accept without judgment" . The trick is remembering to use them. But don't give up if you forget once in a while. Aim for "progress - not perfection" (as the 12 Step folks say).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lovingkindness meditation

It's been a while since I've encouraged on this blog something called metta practice. Metta simply means lovingkindness and it is the sincere wish - toward ourselves and toward others - for happiness and wellbeing.

Here's the form I typically use:
May I be happy.
May I be well.
May everything be well in my life.
Then you repeat that using the pronouns he, she or they as appropriate.

I happened to find another form (this one by Jeff Brantley) that I've mentioned before on this blog (but not for several years now):
May I be happy.
May I be healed and healthy.
May I be filled with peace and ease.
May I be safe.
It's a little more specific than the first one and can really be helpful in times of anxiety or confusion.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wednesday life form blogging


An excellent instruction:

Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke

Of course, it does take courage to do this. And perseverence.

Worth it, all the same.

Really. Trust me on this one.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to be on the safe side

There is so much stinginess and condemnation of others in this world. Here's something to ponder that will cure us of that fundamental selfishness if we'll let it:

All my experience of the world teaches me that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the safe side and the just side of a question is the generous side and the merciful side.

-- Anna Brownell Jameson

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday meditative picture blogging

Life flows

Today I give you an observation that can transform our lives if we'll let it:

There is never a frozen moment.
Life flows and so must we.

-- Stephen C. Paul

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A wonderful description of walking meditation

This is from a short New York Times article entitled "Outer Beauty and Inner Peace":
One of the practices taught on retreats is mindful walking meditation, with the intention to feel stillness in movement and the movement in stillness. Outside in the morning when it’s cool, you can see deer, wild turkeys and many other birds. You can spend 40 minutes moving 50 feet, yet you feel as if you’re traveling into rich surroundings that invite exploration. And that feeling endures as you move inside to the meditation hall and gaze out through the huge windows that overlook the land. In that hall, the feeling of what is “inside” can merge with what is “outside.”
The writer is referring to a retreat center called "Spirit Rock Meditation Center".

I would say that the sense of "inside" merging with "outside" can happen in any meditation hall and that walking meditation certainly helps facilitate that awareness.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday cat blogging!


Becoming a seeker

Our society is hugely focused on and attached to goals - so much so that many people feel like failures if they either don't have goals or if the goals they have do not come to fruition. Needless to say, a lot of unhappiness results. I have considerable appeciation, therefore, for the following:

The more I focused on lack and on what I couldn’t have, the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the more I focused on lack. My soul whispered that what I really yearned for was not financial security but financial serenity. I was still—quiet enough to listen. At that moment I acknowledged the deep longing in my heart. What I hungered for was an inner peace that the world could not take away. I asked for help and committed to following wheresoever Spirit would lead me. For the first time in my life I discarded my five-year goals and became a seeker, a pilgrim, a sojourner.

-- Sarah Ban Breathnach

I think it would be rich material for reflection to ponder the distinction between security and serenity.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The sun will come out....!

Every day I get an email from Etsy that lists a variety of offerings that usually are associated with a specific theme. That's how I discovered the shop of a jewlery maker who lists the above necklace for sale.

You can find this cloud-sun jewelry piece right here. I think it has a wonderful message in keeping with meditative principles and is a good prompt for reflection.

It's fun to explore this artist's entire shop. She has 129 items listed and they're all very delightful.

Etsy (if you don't already know this) is an online site for listing either handmade products or vintage items for sale. It's a bit more specialized than Ebay. There are really incredibly intriguing finds there!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Interconnectedness and flowers


"When we look deeply into the heart of a flower, we see clouds, sunshine, minerals, time, the earth, and everything else in the cosmos in it. Without clouds there could be no rain, and without rain there would be no flower."

"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us."

I so agree with both of these. Go out and buy a couple of stems of fresh flowers. Or just pick a dandelion from your yard and put it in a tiny vase. Use it as a meditative support. Relish its existence.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The importance of perseverance

Undoubtedly, one of the most important principles I was taught as part of my monastic formation is that of perseverence. Without it, most other virtues are really quite impossible:

There are but two roads that lead to an important goal and to the doing of great things: strength and perseverance. Strength is the lot of but a few privileged people; but austere perseverance, harsh and continuous, may be employed by the least of us and rarely fails of its purpose, for its silent power grows irresistibly greater with time.

-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I don't think perseverence necessarily needs to be particularly harsh or austere. But it does need to be continous. And perhaps Goethe is saying that harshness and austerity are, somehow, analogous to strength and that we don't need to be privileged at all to access those very powerful tools.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


This elicited from me something of a cross between a chuckle and a snort:

When I hear somebody sigh, 'Life is hard,' I am always tempted to ask, 'Compared to what?'

-- Sidney J. Harris

And, of course, it's actually a very good question.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Friday cat blogging!


What it means to proceed

I really like this:

It is important to expect nothing,
To take every experience,
Including the negative ones,
As merely steps on the path,
And to proceed.

-- Ram Dass

We need to keep on keeping on - no matter what. And Ram Dass has certainly paid his dues in that department so he definitely has the right to speak.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Something about happiness

Hmmm. Over on Oprah's website there's a little slideshow type article by Gabrielle LeBlanc entitled 5 Things Happy People Do. Here's something the writer said about the last one of those five things:
5. They allow themselves to be happy. As much as we all think we want it, many of us are convinced, deep down, that it's wrong to be happy (or too happy). Whether the belief comes from religion, culture, or the family you were raised in, it usually leaves you feeling guilty if you're having fun.
I so get it! My own mother used to say to me very sternly, "I don't want you to be happy; I want you to be useful." She also was fond of quoting Mark Twain who said one time, "Happiness is for pigs."*


(Ha! Don't worry, folks. I've paid my dues in the therapy department!)

I'm really very serious here. If you find yourself uncomfortable with the idea of happiness, it might be a good plan to do some inner detective work and find out what that resistence is all about. It's also probably a good plan to get some help with the process of that detective work - especially if the discomfort persists. And remember: it's an act of true compassion to learn how to be happy and then to let it show. Being happy helps us to help other people to be happy. (On some level, it's catching!) And think about it: do you really like to be around unhappy people?
UPDATE: Here's something I just found:

Happiness is a thing to be practiced, like the violin.

-- John Lubbock

I definitely agree.

* (That saying has also been attributed to both Einstein and Aristotle.)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Wednesday life form blogging


And the moral of the story is this: when you play with something smaller than you, it's nice to be extra specially gentle!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

That marquee on the corner

Well, the Church of the Nazarene at the end of my street has done it again. The marquee today reads as follows:
There is no free tuition in the school of experience.
Ain't that the truth???

Now, here's the deal. If we're going to benefit from those lessons presented to us through experience, we need some context, some basic principles, for interpreting what's actually going on in a way that's consistent with reality. You already know I'm going to remind you that the meditative tradition gives us that context and those principles.

So keep meditating. And keep paying attention to the transmissions of the authentic teachers out there.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Simple, sane, inspiring advice

This is worth taping to the bathroom mirror, I think:

Live purely. Be quiet.
Do your work with mastery.
Like the moon, come out
from behind the clouds!

-- The Buddha

What a wonderful instruction for living. Truly a promotion of happiness, I would assert!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Friday cat blogging!


This seems appropriate for today:

In the end these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you love?
How deeply did you learn to let go?

-- The Buddha

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Antidote for rumination

In the ongoing classes this week at the Center, we have talked about how the mind can get caught up in rumination and how this seductively draws us away from being and staying in the moment.

This morning I found a short article that addresses this and also offers some remedies.

Here's one very sensible excerpt:
When you are down and feel low have you noticed how much time you spend revisiting the past, replaying the story of what happened and saying to yourself "if only I had"...or thinking "what if...."? Your emotions are powerful and the way you think, what you think and how you think can enhance or destroy your sense of inner peace and calm.

Learning to release attachment from your story, your pain or sadness takes practice, courage, confidence and skill. As a human, you are programmed to care and worry, so naturally, if a friend is upset, or your partner falls ill, your natural tendency is to empathise with their pain and to feel sad for them. The trick, or test, is to be able to empathise with someone else's sorrow and pain yet, somehow not to get stressed out and totally worried; otherwise it becomes harder for you to offer support, encouragement and compassionate advice.
And here is one of the suggested exercises:
Sit on the floor or on a chair with a lighted candle in front of you. Gaze at the flame through half-closed eyes, then close your eyes and visualise the warm glow from the candle behind your eyelids. Stay focused on this image. If you lose the image, gently open your eyes and gaze at the flame, then close your eyes and repeat. Continue with this practice for 5 - 10 minutes.
When I was studying at the Tibetan Center in Cape Town we did candle meditation in one of the classes. Each person (and it was a large class!) had his or her own personal candle. Needless to say, this was very powerful done in a large group like that. But it's also truly effective when done all on one's own.

Here's the link for the article: "Three Types of Meditation For Instant Stress Relief From Emotional Pain ". The author is Ntathu Allen. You might like to click through on her name and see all the other articles she's written. Looks like there's a wealth there!