Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Just breathe

Marilyn Bedford called my attention to an article from Sunday's Tulsa World entitled, "Just Breathe." It describes another demonstration of the positive benefits of the meditative process. Here's an excerpt:

Awareness, or meditative awareness, is being conscious of your inner world of thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions and reactions to these things. Relaxation is "the release factor," or act of letting go - "probably the most powerful key to this work," [breath-work teacher] Brulé said.

The third component is conscious breathing, at the end of which people are "more alive, alert, awake, relaxed, peaceful and energized."

In some ways, the breathing is a "trick," Brulé said. "most of our suffering is caused by things we are doing consciously or unconsciously, by habit, or as reactions. Conscious breathing pulls our attention and energy away from the habits of thinking, feeling, behaving and, in that space, something new is possible.

"When we are breathing consciously, we are not doing whatever we would normally do from habit."

If you want to have the benefits of conscious breathing, use the breath as a support for meditation. Either rest your consciousness on breath at the nostrils, or breath at the abdomen, or do breath counting (one to four assigning a number to each out breath - then starting over.) Then as you go about your business during the day, you can just remind yourself to "breathe" and you will interrupt habitual tendency thereby making it possible to choose something new.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Want to live longer? Meditate!

I've blogged articles before about studies showing that meditation lowers blood pressure, increases the thickness in certain parts of the brain and helps reduce arthritis pain. Now here's one that says meditators actually live longer. I'm linking you to an article entitled, "Om, sweet om" that was published in The Times-Picayune back in June of last year. Here's the excerpt I want you to see:
In moments of stillness and quiet focus, Mayra Scheurmann and Teresa Leyva Martin find relief from the stresses of the day.

The two sisters, both lawyers in New Orleans, meditate daily, dedicating as much as a half-hour in the evenings to the ancient mind-body practice.

"I find that it just helps me to feel centered," said Martin, who began learning meditation six years ago, about the same time as her sister.

"There's a sense of calm and focus," Scheurmann said.

A tradition that spans denominational and secular lines, meditation is a practiced mindfulness that has been shown to have measurable health benefits, especially by promoting relaxation and reducing the stress that can wear down bodies and minds.

Science is showing that meditation can lower blood pressure and lower heart rates, help control pain, anxiety and depression.

A study published this spring in the American Journal of Cardiology even suggests longer life spans for people who practice mental relaxation techniques such as Transcendental Meditation, the technique thrust into the spotlight in the 1960s when the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced it to the Beatles and other celebrities.

These days, said local meditation teacher Jim Welsh, "Everyday people are taking a different look at meditation."

Welsh instructs a small class in Zen meditation, one of the myriad styles of meditation, Tuesday mornings at Elmwood Fitness Center. In a recent class, he prefaced a five-minute meditation exercise by reminding the members of the class, who were seated in a circle of chairs in a softly lighted room, that having thoughts arise during meditation is normal. The idea is not to cling to them, but rather to simply let them drift by, like clouds in the sky.

Try the cloud visualization meditation. Simply visualize the sky and watch with your mind's eye as clouds drift by. When thoughts arise, accept them without judgment and gently bring your mind back to the clouds. This is a very soothing, peaceful meditation method.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Blogging break

I will be away over the weekend and will not have internet access so no more blogging until Monday afternoon or evening. If you need to get your meditation blogging fix (!) may I suggest that you go into archives and read some of the postings from last year that you may have forgotten about. I actually like to do that myself, sometimes. See you Monday!

Friday cat blogging!

This is an old picture of Henry taken before his ear surgery. Definitely the best of his wonderful face.
Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Joy in the midst of suffering

The practice of mudita - sympathetic joy - can truly help us transcend whatever suffering besets us through difficult circumstances. I want to share with you an article from Yoga Journal entitled, "The Wellspring of Joy". Here's part of what it says:

After a session of mudita practice, I find I naturally have a heightened ability to find joy everywhere. Walking to the park with my son, I am more likely to savor the warm touch of his hand in mine and the deep purple of the morning glories twining over a neighbor's gate, and less likely to fret about whether I'm going to be late for our play date because my little boy is dawdling to drop pebbles down the drainage grate. Pushing a shopping cart through the supermarket, I'm more likely to appreciate the jewel-like piles of crimson beets and yellow sunburst squash, and less likely to get irritated by a new cashier who's taking too long to locate the price of cherry tomatoes.

Mudita practice is not about denying darkness and sorrow. Rather, it works hand in hand with the practice of karuna, or "compassion," in which we focus on opening our hearts to pain and suffering. Our joy is made all the brighter when we truly let ourselves feel how fleeting life is—how filled with loss and grief and terror. And that awareness of sorrow and impermanence helps sensitize us not only to our own joys but to the joys of others.

Through the practice of mudita, I have been able to celebrate the bright moments of joy that punctuate even the darkest days. In the long, bleak months after my baby daughter passed away, I found small refuges of peace and joy—a quail family rustling through the tall grass, the scent of a lavender bush. And these moments of happiness—a garden planted at the edge of the chasm of death—are what helped mend my heart.

The practice of mudita shifts us into a deeper experience of our own lives, so we stand in the center of the actual, simple joys that are unfolding for us moment by moment rather than comparing our experiences with the imagined ecstasies of others. And as we become more appreciative of our own blessings, the joys of other people, instead of being a threat, naturally start to feed our hearts as well.

Now there's another excerpt that I really want you to see as well because it lets us know we really can cultivate this quality:
The mind can be systematically trained to generate joyful states. In a New York Times article published early last year, Daniel Goleman reported that people who were taught mindfulness meditation and did it regularly became dramatically happier, more energized, and less anxious than subjects in a control group—a change that was reflected in distinctive patterns of brain activity that were detected through MRIs and EEGs. Each of us seems to have what Goleman calls an emotional "set point"—a distinctive pattern of brain activity (and a corresponding mood) that we chronically tend toward and that is not affected much by external circumstances. Fortunately, science now confirms, regular contemplative practice can shift this emotional set point.

So let us go to work on that set point. Consciously, deliberately, cultivating sympathetic joy - the ability to take pleasure in other people's good fortune and well-being (and that of animals too!) - develops the habitual tendency in us to experience joy. Just thinking about mudita makes me happy. I commend this practice to you!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Working with resistance

I've noticed over the years that many people believe something is wrong if they experience resistance to meditation in themselves. Then just conclude that they're "not cut out for it" and give up. Actually everyone has times when it is difficult to meditate. Jeffrey Brantley speaks to this in his marvelous book, Calming Your Anxious Mind:
Expect to meet resistance. Your mind doesn't want to be trained. There will be doubt, boredom, irritation, desire for other things, restlessness, and sleepiness. Please notice your reaction to any of these or anything else. Make the reaction or the resistance the object of mindfulness just like anything else. Just keep practicing being present as best you can. Recognizing and staying present with whatever resistance you feel builds real power and gives you freedom from the unconscious patterns of reactivity that drive daily life.
And remember. Whatever form of resistance you have can be treated as a thought that you notice, accept without judgment, and let go before returning to the meditation support - breath, mantra, sound or whatever. Let resistance be something you have - not that has you! In other words, don't let the resistance hold you hostage.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

More on mudita

Yesterday I linked to an article by Charolotte Bell at the end of my posting but I didn't give you an exerpt. Today I want to call your attention to what I believe is a truly important point that she made:
The tendency of human beings to judge others according to our own preferences is a quality that hinders our ability to generate mudita. Again, this is a way of defining others in reference to ourselves. When a person makes a choice that we would not make and it brings them happiness, how do we react? Do you have a friend who has chosen to live an austere lifestyle, while you enjoy living lavishly? Maybe someone you know enjoys the glitz of Las Vegas, while you would rather spend time in the silence of the Escalante. Maybe you have a friend who has chosen to have children, while you have chosen to remain childless. Or maybe someone you know loves a type of music, film or art you can’t stand.

There is a tendency to discount someone’s happiness when it is derived from an activity or lifestyle choice that is not our preference. Do others’ choices really threaten the validity of our own? Or are their unique tastes and choices simply a complementary color that makes the fabric of humanity even more magnificent? When we begin to see others without self-referential judgment, we can learn to celebrate their happiness and respect their choices—as long as those choices are not causing harm—without judging them. Our negative judgments of others do not elevate us. Instead, they serve only to create unhappiness for ourselves and those around us.
Remember: Mudita is "sympathetic joy" - that is, the ability to experience delight in someone else's happiness, success or good fortune. It is definitely a quality worthy of cultivation.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Do you appreciate appreciation? Have you ever thought about it? I want to share with you a practice called "mudita" which is the Pali word for appreciation of the joy and success of others. Mudita is also translated "sympathetic joy".

The instruction is found in Kevin Griffin's One Breath at a Time:

Very slowly move through these phrases in your mind, contemplating their meaning and letting their meaning penetrate beyond the idea to the actual feeling itself.
"May I be appreciative and grateful."
"May I be aware of beauty and joy [in others]."
"May I be open to beauty and joy."
"May I respond to beauty and joy with appreciation and gratitude."

Think of those who are dear to you and offer them the same wishes. Say their names to yourself as you repeat the phrases, "May ___ be appreciative and grateful." Envision them experiencing mudita.
"May___ be aware of beauty and joy."
"May___ be open to beauty and joy."
"May___ respond to beauty and joy with appreciation and gratitude."

After wishing those who are dear to you mudita, move out to people more neutral: neighbors, colleagues, people you see in your daily routine. Instead of using names, you can visualize them and say, "May you be aware of beauty and joy." You can see many faces as you repeat the phrases.

Finally, wish mudita for those who are difficult, people you resent or fear, or someone who has harmed you.

Then radiate mudita outward to all beings nearby, and gradually out to the whole planet, and finally the entire universe.

Here is a link to an article on mudita you might like to read. And here's another. Both articles bring joy just by reading them.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Limitations and meditation

Outwardly one's life may suffer every kind of limitation, from bodily paralysis to miserable surroundings, but inwardly it is free in meditation to reach out to a sphere of light, beauty, truth, love, and power.

-- Paul Brunton, Meditations for People in Crisis

Mindfulness and work stress

I just came upon an article about meditation in the workplace that is quite interesting. It's entitled, "Meditation goes to work: Squeeze in some mindfulness to relieve a day of stress" and was published by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Here's how it gets started:

MINNEAPOLIS -- Robert Zeglovitch, an employment attorney at Leonard, Street and Deinard in Minneapolis, has been practicing Zen meditation for more than 10 years. When he offered to teach a Buddhism-based but secular form of meditation called "mindfulness" within the law firm in 2004, the demand was so great that he expanded from one to three classes.

He describes mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in each moment, and without judgment.

"It is simply experiencing what is happening in the present moment, as much as possible, without the usual mental commentary that we make: 'That's good,' 'That's bad,' 'I wish I could change this,' or 'I want more of that,' " Zeglovitch said. "It sounds easy, but it requires daily practice."

Zeglovitch is among a growing number of workers in the United States who are employing Eastern philosophies and practices to handle the stresses of daily work and living.

Increasingly, employers are making such alternative treatments available to their workers. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., found that 33 percent now make acupuncture available, up from 18 percent five years ago, for example.

As more U.S. workers incorporate new ideas into their life and work, their employers are increasingly open to them, too, said Jen Jorgensen, an association spokesperson.

There is also a proliferation of organizations across the country that now sell Eastern-based leadership, ethics and stress-reduction programs, including the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, Spirit in Business and Awake at Work.

Later in the article, this observation is reported:

Mindfulness meditation trains people to penetrate the clutter of their minds and surroundings, Zeglovitch said, and it's just as applicable in a courtroom as a Tibetan monastery.

"Certainly in a courtroom, you need to be adept at picking up clues, both verbal and nonverbal, so you can react to what's happening," he said.

I really like the definition of mindfulness Zeglovitch uses: "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in each moment, and without judgment." What would happen if we encouraged ourselves to practice in that way all the time - and not just during formal meditation sittings? No doubt our lives would be transformed.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Springing that trap

I've been browsing in an oldie-but-goodie - Life 101 by Peter McWilliams. It has a wonderful subtitle: "Everything We Wish We Had Learned About In School - But Didn't". Anyway, I came across this marvelous quote:

I don't want the cheese; I just want to get out of the trap.

--Spanish Proverb

That's what meditation does. It gets us out of the trap. That's liberation. And it give us something better than cheese. It gives us happiness. Now that's an assurance that will really give us motivation if we let it.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Saturday cat blogging!

I'm simply amazed that Ethel let me get this picture. Here she is actually relaxing in her little house. Usually she runs away if I get close but she seemed to be in a really mellow mood when I took this picture and a few others like it:

Image hosting by Photobucket
Photo by Ellie Finlay

Benefits of meditation

Today I came across an article on meditation on the website DailyIndia.com. It's entitled, "About Meditation - how to meditate to reduce stress and improve mental abilities". Some benefits of meditation are listed:

1. Meditation will give you rest and recreation.
2. You learn to relax.
3. You learn to concentrate better on problem solving.
4. Meditation often has a good effect upon the blood pressure.
5. Meditation has beneficial effects upon inner body processes, like circulation, respiration and digestion.
6. Regular meditation will have a psychotherapeutic effect.
7. Regular meditation will facilitate the immune system.
8. Meditation is usually pleasant.

Hypnosis may have some of the same relaxing and psychotherapeutic effects as meditation. However, when you meditate you are in control yourself; by hypnosis you let some other person or some mechanical device control you. Also hypnosis will not have a training effect upon the ability to concentrate.

Basically, I agree with the instructions in the article with one exception. I recommend using the principle of letting go of thoughts rather than stopping thoughts. But other than that caveat, I think it's a pretty good little article.

Friday, February 17, 2006

On perseverence

I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Lovingkindness practice

Remember "metta" or lovingkindness practice? The method I use is to say, "May I be happy, may I be well, may everything be well in my life". The next step is to extend that to another: "May he/she be happy, may he/she be well, may everything be well in his/her life." Do that with friends, neutral people and then difficult people. Then extend the wish to all beings everywhere.

Metta practice is discussed by Kevin Griffin in One Breath at a Time:

Of course, it's one thing to be compassionate to strangers, and once we get in the habit, it's not that hard. But what about those we love? With them it's more difficult to disidentify with our feelings. And this points to one of the paradoxes of metta practice. Typically we think of love as a very personal, intimate expression of human emotion. But with metta practice, we move to a different level of love, to the impersonal, unconditional level, the level that's not responding to the other person or being but rather drawing from our own, inherent quality of heartfelt caring and openness. While our intimate relationships are typically reciprocal arrangements, in which we cosupport each other, with metta, there is no expectation of a return for what we give. In fact, with metta, we discover that the giving itself is the return; it is the reward.
Metta, lovingkindness, is a rich and layered practice. Exploring its boundaries - expanding the boundaries of our own self-imposed limitations - is an ongoing practice. I include metta in virtually every period of meditation I do. I practice metta for myself, for my family and friends, my teachers, politicians, the hungry, sick and dying, for animals, bugs, fish, birds, for the earth itself, and for the entire universe. The universe is a great sponge of metta, absorbing all the love we can give and giving it right back to us.

What I want to assure you of here is how metta can actually help you feel better. If you are feeling down in any way, or irritable or resentful, try doing metta. You will feel better very quickly - I promise!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Just being

Today I happened upon another book I had forgotten I have. It's called Developing Intuition: Practical Guidance for Daily Life by Shakti Gawain. Here's a passage I really agree with:
Our culture conditions us to believe that we must always be doing something outwardly productive. Many of us are extremely driven and feel that we must be accomplishing something at every moment. We have lost the value of being - taking time to rest, relax, contemplate, explore the inner realm, and generally replenish ourselves. We are terribly out of balance in this respect. I believe this is one reason why so many people develop chronic fatigue syndrome and other related illnesses. Sometimes our bodies have to force us to stop driving ourselves.
I'm convinced that this is also why many people throw in the towel on meditation before they even give themselves a chance to experience its benefits. They think they're not accomplishing anything when they meditate so they lose the motivation to do it.

I recommend that you question that value, that conditioning that says you must be accomplishing something all the time. Look at little children and animals that are content just to be. Learn from them. Let it be okay just to sit and be with yourself in a state of loving attention. When you think of it, that's one good definition of meditation!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tuesday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Shaping our minds

I apologize for there being no posting yesterday. Once more, the Blogger program was on the blink. It wouldn't let me create a new document. For now, here's something that is illuminating, I think:

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

--The Buddha

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The value of silence

The other day I pulled a book off my shelves that I hadn't looked at for a good long while. It's entitled, You Already Know What To Do: 10 Invitations to the Intuitive Life by Sharon Franquemont. A passage on silence caught my attention:
Silence is a listening post for intuitive knowledge, including the knowledge of when to do nothing. Silence, therefore, has a direct impact on your ability to live a more efficient, productive, and stress-free life. Another potential outcome of cultivating silence is tapping the intuition necessary for creative breakthroughs.

In 1926, the psychologist G. Wallas, recognizing how vital silence was to the creative process, named the second step of his four-step creativity model "incubation." This term refers to the moment in the creative process when you let go of all conscious thinking or working toward a creative goal and, instead, send it into the womb of your silence. There it incubates or gestates. Eventually, intuition delivers an illumination or an "Ah Ha!" flash, the third step in the creative process. This is because intuition and creativity are so entwined that one does not succeed without the other. Intuition without creativity lies dormant as unlived potential; creativity without intuition lacks the spirit necessary to make a lasting difference. The hinge pin between the two is silence.

It's hard to find silence in our noisy world and many people are afraid of it. The meditation process, if nothing else, teaches us to be comfortable with silence and to cultivate it deliberately.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Saturday cat blogging!

Sorry for not having Friday cat blogging. The Blogger program was down so I wasn't able to post. Hope this makes up for it. Here's Edgar and Ethel in their little house:

Image hosting by Photobucket
Photo by Ellie Finlay

Radical Acceptance

First of all, I apologize for not posting yesterday. The Blogger program was on the blink again and so I was unable to update the blog. Now for today's post:

The spring issue of Tricycle magazine arrived at the Center recently and I spent some time with it this morning. I want to quote an article called "Getting Along: Loving the other without losing yourself" by Christopher Germer:
Mindfulness practice - a profound method for engaging life's unpleasant moments - is a powerful tool for removing obstacles and rediscovering happiness in relationships. Mindfulness involves both awareness and acceptance of present experience. Some psychologists, among them Tara Brach and Marsha Linehan, talk about radical acceptance - radical meaning "root" - to emphasize our deep, innate capacity to embrace both negative and positive emotions. Acceptance in this context does not mean tolerating or condoning abusive behavior. Rather, acceptance often means fully acknowledging just how much pain we may be feeling at a given moment, which inevitably leads to greater empowerment and creative change.

One of the trickiest challenges for a psychotherapist, and for a mindfulness-oriented therapist in particular, is to impress on clients the need to turn toward their emotional discomfort and address it directly instead of looking for ways to avoid it. If we move into pain mindfully and compassionately, the pain will shift naturally.

How very true. Remember the slogan, "what we resist, persists". Move toward the pain rather than away from it. Accept it without judgment. Don't intensify it by condemning it or fighting it. That way we do not add the suffering of non-acceptance to the pain.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Letting go is not denial

It is important to remember that choosing to let go does not mean we invalidate our experience or our feelings. This point is wonderfully made by Patrick Kearney in his article on vipassana or insight meditation:
Vipassana means seeing separately, distinctly, penetratingly; seeing with discrimination. Wisdom involves learning to discriminate regarding our experience. The meditator learns to recognise a thought as just a thought; an emotion as just an emotion; pain as just pain, pleasure as just pleasure. Normally we are not satisfied with experiencing things as they simply are. An experience arises, and we project onto it. Anger arises, and we think of some situation which made us angry. We think of how we were victimised or abused, and this feeds the emotion of anger; the emotion of anger then feeds the drama in our heads, the story-line, in which we are the abused victims and what we did or should have done about this. Drama feeds emotion, and emotion feeds drama. The drama - the days of my life - is endlessly fascinating for me, because it stars the person I love most in the world: me!

It is important to realise here that we are not denying our story: we are not, for example, pretending we have never been victimised. What we are doing is denying are a victim. That is, we are not denying our experience, but we are refusing to identify with our experience. This is a subtle but fundamental point. When we investigate the body and mind we experience it as a process. When we experience ourselves and our world as pure process, we do not stop anywhere in this process, freeze this process, and call this frozen point: me; mine; you; yours.

So, I have the thought but the thought is not me. This is revolutionary. Try it. Try letting go of the idea that the thought or emotion is who you are and recognize it as something you have - and that it will pass. You've never before had an emotion that was permanent and so this is not the one! You have the emotion; but the emotion is not you. You are fundamentally a fully enlightened being although you may not be awake to that yet. But everything we do to illuminate our minds helps us wake up to who and what we really are.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Cynthia Burgess has entitled her photo, "Chaos in birdland"!

Benefits of mindfulness

Well, I found an interesting website that has an Introduction to Insight Meditation by a teacher named Venerable Sujiva. Here's an excerpt that is about the benefits of mindfulness:
Sometimes, people say, there is a thin line between sanity and insanity. The mad genius, for example, is not far from being a maniac. That’s why Frankenstein was invented, and so was the Terminator. In any case, bombs of all sorts are bad. But no matter how thin a line it is, it is still a line and even if it is really thick, if you are confused, you will still miss it.

Mindfulness actually is the line. When you are unmindful, such as when you are in a rage, you are indeed not different from a madman. It is only a matter of degree. When you have zero mindfulness over an extended period, then you can safely conclude that you are crazy. So, if you don’t want to go mad then hang on to your dear mindfulness, for on the other side, that is, at the bottom, is living hell. Sanity is indeed a thin line. It really does not need much, so to speak, to break a person. Lock him up without contact for a few days or weeks and there you are, someone fit for the mental ward.

If you are a meditator, you’ll have a fighting chance and maybe even end up saner than anyone else. But they may still call you mad because you are different. I remember how some people considered a friend mad because he was not his usual excitable and irritable self after a retreat. They were satisfied only when they managed to infuriate him. Can you imagine how this can be so, when they themselves are supposed to be regular meditators? Who then is mad? But if you’re really mindful then you know for yourself, without doubt, that your mind is clear and thinking rationally. It is they who are confused.

If it goes without saying that with mindfulness the mind is pure of defilements such as greed, anger and delusion, then it will also mean that it draws the line between genuine happiness and suffering. We can understand why anger and delusion are suffering but not greed, especially when it comes with joy. That is because joy tends to muffle the real state of mind. Take away the joy and what do you have left? There will be a really restless state of craving and tenacious clinging. It is like someone who is hungry. Therefore, if you will have real happiness, then look for peace of mind that is born of purity and mindfulness.

It is a kind of happiness that is truly satisfying, strengthened by noble purpose. No sensual pleasure can be equal to it. Besides, it can be freely obtained (as long as you practice), and you don’t have to pay anything to acquire it.

That's the universal motivation isn't it? The wish to be happy. And I want the real thing - not something that is dependent on craving or grasping. Keeping the reality of that happiness ever before us is the truly reliable motivation for being faithful to our meditative practice.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Inner exaltation

There is within each of us a modulation, an inner exaltation, which lifts us above the buffetings with which events assail us. Likewise, it lifts us above dependence upon the gifts of events for our joy.

-- Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Tuesday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Appreciating the ordinary

Here's another excerpt from Five Good Minutes by Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine:
Our everyday routines can get drab. If you watch enough television, it can appear as though everyone is having the time of their lives, a lifetime full of one adventure after another. This exercise is about finding the miraculous in daily life, searching for the unique in the mundane, or imagining the unimaginable. Today, take five minutes to observe the less noticeable things in the morning:

* the sound of baby birds chirping just outside your window
* the wind rustling through the trees
* the smile on a baby's face

Find fascination in something that others might shrug off. Look at the world with new eyes. Take notice of the little things. Life is brimming over with wondrous and spectacular happenings right under your nose. You simply need to open yourself to the precious moments that can provide insight and perspective throughout the rest of your day.

You might try identifying one thing or one category of things that you reliably appreciate when you notice it and then train yourself to notice that thing regularly. I know that my animals serve that function with me. I appreciate them no matter what - every single day. Opening my eyes to their reality helps me open my eyes to other ordinary aspects of my life.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Photo blogging problem

Well, friends, the Blogger program won't let me post pictures today. So to all those who look forward to Monday Meditative Picture Blogging, I do apologize. For some reason, the code REFUSES to paste onto a Blogger document. I tried typing it out by hand and that didn't work either. I have no idea how long it will take to fix the problem so be patient. Now we get to apply the meditative principle of letting go of any attachment to blog pictures. Let's make do with text and hope for the best!

The natural mind

Leave the mind in its natural, undisturbed state. Don't follow thoughts of "This is a problem, that is a problem!" Without labeling difficulties as problems, leave your mind in its natural state. In this way, you will stop seeing miserable conditions as problems.

-Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Transforming Problems Into Happiness

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Another motivation for meditation

An emergency is not the time to learn a meditative practice. Or to put it another way, we are not helping ourselves when we neglect meditation on the grounds that, at the moment, we don't feel we "need it". That approach doesn't work because then when we do need it we won't have the backlog of practice that will enable meditation to do us any good. This point is made on the Interlude website in an article called, "Finding the Still Place":
Gaining access to the still place can seem like finding the way through a maze in the dark. To find it quickly, when we need it, we must become familiar with the way ahead of time. If we had to find a dark place in a maze quickly, we would want to practice going there over and over, until it became second nature. It is the same with finding our quiet mind. We need to go there repeatedly so that we know the way and it becomes easier to make the trip when we might need to.

Practice your meditation when you don't need it. Then when you do need it, it will be accessible to you.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Image hosting by Photobucket
Photo by Ellie Finlay

Meditation and the brain

I want to share with you an article I found on the University of Wisconsin website and I really urge you to click through and read all of it. It's entitled, "Meditation produces positive changes in the brain". Here's how it gets started:
The findings suggest that meditation, long promoted as a technique to reduce anxiety and stress, might produce important biological effects that improve a person's resiliency.

Richard Davidson, Vilas Professor of psychology and psychiatry at UW-Madison, led he research team. The study, conducted at the biotechnology company Promega near Madison, will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

"Mindfulness meditation," often recommended as an antidote to the stress and pain of chronic disease, is a practice designed to focus one's attention intensely on the moment, noting thoughts and feelings as they occur but refraining from judging or acting on those thoughts and feelings. The intent is to deepen awareness of the present, develop skills of focused attention, and cultivate positive emotions such as compassion.

The study was then described and then this conclusion was reported:

The findings confirmed the researchers' hypothesis: the meditation group showed an increase of activation in the left-side part of the frontal region. This suggests that the meditation itself produced more activity in this region of the brain. This activity is associated with lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state.

The research team also tested whether the meditation group had better immune function than the control group did. All the study participants got a flu vaccine at the end of the eight-week meditation group. Then, at four and eight weeks after vaccine administration, both groups had blood tests to measure the level of antibodies they had produced against the flu vaccine. While both groups (as expected) had developed increased antibodies, the meditation group had a significantly larger increase than the controls, at both four and eight weeks after receiving the vaccine.

I've actually reported on this research before here on the meditation blog but I came across it again today and wanted to share it with you. Anything that helps motivate us to practice is all to the good.

The value of the reflection process

The way to wholeness and liberation is to accept ourselves utterly - and to know what we're accepting. One of the ways we get to know ourselves is through the reflection process in which we drop a question into our consciousness and write down whatever bubbles up - without judging or censoring. At St. John's Center, we work with a reflection question during every ongoing class. The insights and awarenesses from this process add up over the months and years and slowly, but ever so surely, we let go of the need to hide from ourselves.

Nancy Napier talks about the importance of accepting the disowned parts of ourselves in her discussion of the shadow in her book, Sacred Practices for Conscious Living. Here's an excerpt:
And, so, we begin our journey home by deepening our awareness of the most hidden aspects of ourselves that comprise our shadow. For each of us, the shadow consists of disowned aspects of our personalities - positive as well as negative - that had to be hidden when we were young: those elements of our natural self-expression that were disapproved of, punished, humiliated, or otherwise judged as unacceptable by the important people in our lives.

Disowning parts of the self is an unconscious, self-protective mechanism that allows us to fit in as we grow up. The shadow doesn't exist only for people who come from troubled families or for individuals with particular kinds of psychological problems. The psychological dynamics that create the shadow provide a necessary adaptation to our interpersonal world. We all participate in creating shadow selves that contain whatever qualities we were not allowed to express openly.

When we don't acknowledge our own wholeness - when we continue to push away parts of ourselves that are a source of shame, fear, or anger - these parts erupt unexpectedly and create all manner of difficulty. For example, we may unconsciously make enemies of those who act as the representatives of the very characteristics we can't tolerate in ourselves. We create a world of "us versus them," in which we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get other people to change. In fact, if we would only stop and look in a mirror, we would discover the source of much of our discomfort and displeasure staring back at us.

It can be very scary to look in the mirror if we're afraid we'll be overwhelmed by what we see. That's why the meditative process is so very helpful. If we are meditators, we know what to do with thoughts so that they will not be overwhelming. We can notice them, accept them without judgment, let them go, and return to the meditative support or, if we're not engaged in formal sitting, to whatever we're doing in the present moment.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Transforming work

Even if you have a lot of work to do, if you think of it as wonderful, and if you feel it as wonderful, it will transform into the energy of joy and fire, instead of becoming a burden.

-- Tulku Thondup Rinpoche

Conscious living

I just stumbled upon a website called Conscious Living with Nancy Napier. I'm a real admirer of Nancy Napier. One of her books is called Getting Through the Day and we used that as a springboard for ongoing class here at the Center some years ago. Here's something she said as an introduction to walking meditation:
There is tremendous benefit in learning to be comfortable with your own internal world, so an important question is how to begin to develop that comfort. This takes me to one of the things I care most about sharing with people: the power of awareness. When we are able to be more conscious of our ongoing thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and urges, we learn that awareness of what's going on inside us generates the possibility of choice. With an increased capacity to choose how we want to be and respond in each moment, we have an opportunity to move through the world with a greater sense of mastery, empowerment and safety.

Most importantly, when we are able to be in touch with what's going on inside us, we can discover that there is nothing there that can really hurt us. What we discover are thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations that arise in the present moment, along with all of our various urges and impulses. In and of themselves, these "contents of consciousness" can't do anything to us. We may have thoughts that frighten us, feelings that seem to be overwhelming, or urges that may be self-destructive, and it's important to learn strategies to deal with these. But, awareness in and of itself is only awareness. Nothing more, nothing less.

It's been my experience that many people avoid inner work because they're afraid they will be overwhelmed. But if we learn to meditate, we learn that we can treat any experience or feeling as a thought --- and we know what to do with thoughts! We can notice them, accept them without judgment, let them go and then bring the mind back to the meditative support or, if we're not in formal meditation, whatever we're doing at the moment. The thought does not have to have power. This is Nancy Napier's point when she says that awareness is simply awareness.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Here is Cynthia's dog-nephew, Chico. Isn't he adorable!

Image hosting by Photobucket
Photo by Cynthia Burgess


I'm really enjoying exploring the Interlude Retreat website that I found yesterday. And it's interesting to note that the person who wrote the page I came across today is also an admirer of psychologist Marsha Linehan. Here's a passage from an essay entitled simply Acceptance:
Suffering and pain are not the same. Pain is a signal. It is an action of our nervous system that makes us aware of problems. Suffering is the pain plus our negative emotional response to it. When we reject the pain, when we can’t accept it, we get suffering.

Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. is a psychologist who helps people learn to manage their painful emotions more effectively. She teaches that suffering is pain without acceptance, and the work of getting through suffering is “Radical Acceptance.” That is complete and total acceptance of reality. She defines reality simply as “what is.” Further, she observes that everything has a cause.

When we accept that everything has a cause we no longer wonder “Why me?” We no longer live with the phrase, “This shouldn’t be.” When we enact radical acceptance, we can remove the suffering from pain. If we get ill, we can spend a lot of energy crying about it, rejecting the reality that we are ill, wishing that it weren’t so and railing against God for allowing this catastrophe. Or we can accept that the illness has a cause. Perhaps we have a genetic predisposition to it, or we smoke, or we eat foods that contribute to the condition, or we have a lot of stress, or we live in a world that exposes us to unhealthful conditions. The illness didn’t befall us because life is unfair or because God is angry with us. Something real happened and certain conditions existed that enabled it to happen.

That is not to say that the illness or any other loss or disappointment is desirable, or that we shouldn’t do what we can to get better, but we are not going to get better by staying in our denial of reality and holding ourselves in our destructive emotions. We overcome suffering by accepting reality and finding ways to make the best of it.

I often say that suffering is pain plus non-acceptance. But I like the definition above: suffering is pain plus our negative response to it. We can't always do anything about the pain but we can always do something about our response.