Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Sweet Iris
Photo by Sally Lloyd

Great teachings on compassion

I want to share with you some more from Marcus Borg's book, Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings. First I want to give you the introduction by Borg to his chapter on Compassion. Then I'll give you a sample of the sayings.

Most striking of all the parallels between Jesus and Buddha are those dealing with love. Both teachers invoked the Golden Rule of treating others as you want them to treat you. Many of Jesus' most famous sayings - turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, and the idea that one who lives by the sword will die by it - are mirrored in the words of the Buddha.

"The moral teaching of Buddha," Oxford scholar Burnett Hillman Streeter noted, "has a remarkable resemblance to the Sermon on the Mount." A further similarity lies in the fact that Jesus' words from the Mount represent his most important teachings, just as the Dhammapda, which closely parallels the Sermon, is the central book in Buddhism. It was reputedly compiled in the Pali language from an oral tradition that began with Buddha's initiates just as the Sermon on the Mount and other parts of the four Gospels are attributed to the early followers of Jesus.

Now here are a couple of samples of parallel sayings:

Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

-- Jesus (Luke 6.31)

Consider others as yourself.

-- The Buddha (Dhammapada 10.1)

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

-- Jesus (John 15. 12-13)

Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world.

-- The Buddha (Sutta Nipat 149-150)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The diamond meditation

Here's another sample from 1,001 Meditations by Mike George:
Like a diamond, the spirit has many facets which radiate light into the world. Each facet is an essential quality - for example, love, peace, compassion, acceptance and patience. During the course of a week choose one essential quality each morning and meditate upon it, allowing it to shape your consciousness. Each evening reflect on how that facet of your spirit expressed itself during the day.

The above meditation can be enhanced by doing a written reflection process on each of the qualities named. For example, we could have a question like this: How can I cultivate the quality of compassion in my life today? Work with the question in a spacious way on paper. Reflect on the other qualities in the same manner. Then at the end of the week, examine all the reflection papers together and see what you've learned about yourself.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

The benefits of being joyfully poor

I want to bring you another couple of passages from Marcus Borg's book, Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, about the benefits of voluntary poverty or simplicity:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

-- Jesus (Luke 6.20)

Let us live most happily, possessing nothing; let us feed on joy, like the radiant gods.

-- The Buddha (Dhammapada 15.4)

How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

-- Jesus (Mark 10. 23 & 25)

Riches make most people greedy, and so are like caravans lurching down the road to perdition. Any possession that increases the sin of selfishness or does nothing to confirm one's wish to renounce what one has is nothing but a drawback in disguise.

-- The Buddha (Jatakamala 5.5 & 15)

I think what all this is saying is to make sure you have your possessions and that your possessions don't have you.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Understanding suffering

I had the wonderful opportunity today to attend a seminar by meditation teacher and psychotherapist Shelly Young. Here's something she said that we would all do well to remember:
"It doesn't matter what arises; it's how you relate to it."
Of course, at that point she was talking about what arises in one's meditation. But we could also say that it doesn't matter what happens in life; what matters is how we relate to what happens. And that is very good news. Because we cannot always choose what happens but we can indeed always choose how we relate to what happens. All it takes is training and practice. And that's what mindfulness meditation is all about.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

"to let it go"

Ah, here's another Mary Oliver poem. Enjoy:

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
nameless now.

Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river
of loss
whose other side
is salvation,

whose meaning
none of
us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do
three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your
bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Isn't that a perfect last line? That's what we are about: learning to let it go, whatever "it" is.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Teaching and learning gratefulness

I found myself perusing the website today and I came across Br. David Steindl-Rast's answer to the question of whether it is possible to teach gratefulness. The questioner thought a person is either grateful or not grateful. Here's Br. David's answer:
Well, it is true that some people may seem less gifted with regard to being grateful. The reasons could be that they’re just generally less alert to life around them; or they may feel a strong need for independence; or they may be emotionally scarred.

It takes a certain level of alertness to recognize the gift character of any situation, person, or thing. Recognizing isn’t even enough. We must acknowledge our interdependence with others before we can genuinely enjoy the give-and-take which sparks gratefulness. We must also be emotionally ready. If we have been made to feel rejected and left out, it may be difficult to truly celebrate gift giving and receiving.

But there is good news: Yes, it is indeed possible to teach and learn gratefulness. A good starting point is surprise. We can cultivate surprise at waking up to another day, surprise at whatever the weather happens to be that day, surprise that there is anything rather than nothing! How come? And how come we don’t think to ask “how come” more often?

Children have a natural ability to marvel. They are little philosophers in this respect, for, as Plato said, all philosophizing starts with wonderment. It is easy to encourage children to look at the world with amazed eyes. For teaching and learning gratefulness, a magnifying glass can be an invaluable tool. Another teaching aide is a simple soap bubble blower, which contains several thousand incentives for wonderment.

Of course, in order to be taught, it is necessary to want to learn. But who would not want to learn, once they see that the smallest act of gratefulness triggers immediate feedback.

Gratefulness unlocks joy. Nothing that we take for granted gives us joy. Yet the smallest surprise, received gratefully, yields a harvest of delight. As a teacher, you can look for moments of wonder, multiply moments of wonder, to share with your students -- children or adults -- so that even the crustiest and most hardened among them suddenly catches on to the fact that whatever there is, is pure gift.

In Daniel 12:3, we read, “Those who show many the way to life will shine forever like the stars in the firmament.” What better way to a fuller life than teaching gratitude? I can just see the eyes of children light up like stars as gratitude takes hold of their hearts. And to think that this multitude of stars will sparkle forever!

I like the idea of being surprised by ordinary things and framing that as a positive - as something for which to be grateful. Try being grateful also for your meditative practice. Give thanks at the very beginning of your daily sitting that you are about to meditate and for the training in meditation that you have received. This is a wonderful routine to establish and we will find that we are more easily made grateful by all sorts of little things.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


Well this is certainly worth pondering:

You seek too much information and not enough transformation.

-- Shirdi Sai Baba (1856-1918)

Maybe the reason is spiritual laziness. Collecting information is easy; transformation involves hard work.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

This picture of Apollo was sent to me by Sally Lloyd.
Look at the tip of his tail!

Secret histories

The meditative tradition encourages us to view our enemies as "precious teachers" because without them we would never learn tolerance and patience. Here's a way of thinking about our enemies that is very skillful and consoling too:

If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each person's life sorrow and suffering eneough to disarm all hostility.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We just don't know. We just don't know what they've been through. And if we had the same genetic make up as our enemy and the same upbringing, would we not behave as he or she does? It's really helpful to ponder this.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

One more on gratitude

I think this is very true:

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.

-- Johannes A. Gaertner

The importance of words

Linda Cole sent me the following passage from the works of Henri Nouwen:
Words are important. Without them our actions lose meaning. And without meaning we cannot live. Words can offer perspective, insight, understanding, and vision. Words can bring consolation, comfort, encouragement and hope. Words can take away fear, isolation, shame, and guilt. Words can reconcile, unite, forgive, and heal. Words can bring peace and joy, inner freedom and deep gratitude. Words, in short, can carry love on their wings. A word of love can be the greatest act of love. That is because when our words become flesh in our own lives and the lives of others, we can change the world.

I love that sentence saying that words "can carry love on their wings." What a beautiful image. Let us also have words of love for ourselves. The words we use in self-talk are very important and can bring happiness or inner conflict. Let us choose happiness.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Our real treasure

I want to bring you another sample from Marcus Borg's book, Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings. This teaching has to do with our values and the recognition of that which cannot be taken away from us:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

-- Jesus (Matthew 6.19-20)

Let the wise man do righteousness: A treasure that others can not share, which no thief can steal; a treasure which does not pass away.

-- The Buddha (Khuddakapatha 8.9)

I used that first quote in one of my handouts for the Foundations in Meditative Practice course. It's intended to encourage us in our practice so that we don't pour all our energy into material things that don't last all the while neglecting our spirit. Let us all value our true treasure!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Oh, this is wonderful!

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

-- The Talmud

Two great teachers

Some months ago I got a book edited by Marcus Borg, one of my favorite theologians writing today. It's called Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings. The Detroit Free Press called it "An eloquent overview of the similarities between Christianity and Buddhism."

Here is a sample that includes what I think is the central koan of the Christian religion:
Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

-- Jesus (Mark 8.30)

With the relinquishing of all thought and egotism, the enlightened one is liberated through not clinging.

-- The Buddha (Majjhima Nikaya 72.15)

Both of these teachings are about the imperative of letting go if we want to be whole and free.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Grow a life here

Sally Lloyd sent me the following poem which is truly an exercise in contemplation:


Grow a life here.

At the ruins of the Seven Churches Inishmore

Pick a crevice,
a homey gap
between stones
and make it
your own.

Grow a life here
from wind
and the memories of ancients
embedded in limestone.

The bees will use you
for their sweet honey.
The rock will soften under
your touch.
You will draw moisture from fog
and hold it.
Your presence
will build soil.

This is all we have
in this life
all we own:
a flowering
an opening
a gap between stones
for tiny tender roots.

By Linda Buckmaster
Spring 2006 2.15.06

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The heart has it's reasons...

"The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing," said Pascal. So do you take time to communicate with your heart? Here's something Jack Kornfield said that speaks to this:
If you want to love, take the time to listen to your heart. In most ancient and wise cultures it is a regular practice for people to talk to their heart. There are rituals, stories, and meditative skills in every spiritual tradition that awaken the voice of the heart. To live wisely, this practice is essential, because our heart is the source of our connection to and intimacy with all of life. And life is love. This mysterious quality of love is all around us, as real as gravity. Yet how often we forget about love.

I want to encourage you to learn to meditate for extended periods of time - that is, at least 30 to 45 minutes. When I'm not in a hurry, when I take time to let my mind really settle, my heart speaks. Learning to sit and be still without rushing teaches us how to listen.

Mind you, it's better - far better - to meditate five minutes a day than not at all. But the longer period will help the mind relax and reach an equilibrium and your heart will thank you.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The illusion of separateness

A human being is part of the whole, called by us "universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, has thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest-- a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

My dear friend, Sally Lloyd, sent me some pictures of the cats she had when she lived in California. Above is Sweet Iris. Isn't she beautiful?

The problem with grasping or clinging

I want to bring you a passage from an essay entitled "The roots of mindfulness" by Andrew Olendzki found in Mindfulness and Psychotherapy edited by Germer, Siegel and Fulton:
Much of our ordinary daily experience is colored by clinging. However, it is as dangerous as it is common, for a number of reasons. First there is the quality of compulsion, or being driven into action lacking in conscious choice. Without the mental ease to choose to act otherwise, we are in a cycle of conditioned responses, responding little differently than an animal or a machine might. We lose our humanity, our ability to act freely and with awareness.

Also, the pressing need to gratify the desire, whether it is in the pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain, may lead us to overlook the needs and rights of others when they conflict with our own.

I don't want to be taken hostage by my impulses or compulsions. This is why mindfulness is so important. It helps me observe my own mind and make choices about what I want to do rather than have them made for me by my conditioning. Mindfulness will also help me experience more compassion for myself and others and act within and through that compassion rather than out of selfishness.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mindful parenting

Trudy A. Goodman has written an essay entitled "Working with Children" that is published in Mindfulness and Psychotherapy edited by Germer, Siegel and Fulton. Here's a passage that emphasizes the importance of mindfulness:
Equally important are the perspective and the patience that mindfulness brings. Many parents report that they have great difficulty responding to their children's misbehavior in ways they think are best rather than just reacting instinctively. The parent who is thwarted by a 2-year-old in the supermarket, or who is defeated in an argument with a teenager, may react with anger - even though he or she knows that this willl be counterproductive. Even parents who would never come to the attention of the child protection system frequently commit these small "parenting crimes." Mindfulness practice can help parents to deal with conflict and set approprate limits more skillfully.

When parents are attentive to the daily changes in their children, they develop a keenly felt sense of impermanence, in childhood and in life itself. Observing impermanence with mindful awareness can enable parents to tolerate the loss of connection they face when setting a difficult limit. The losses experienced in observing impermanence can give more ballast to parents, more courage to be with challenging experience.
Of course what is important to remember is that not only is the behavior of the child impermanent but so is the feeling response of the parent. Parents are less likely to respond unskillfully if they remember that their feelings of anger or frustration will pass if those feelings are just not given energy.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Bold, fearless, and powerful

Here's a passage from Five Good Minutes by Brantley and Millstine to help us get in touch with our inner courage:
True acts of bravery are much easier to notice in others than in yourself. Each of us, though, has at least done one or two things in life that proved to be real acts of courage. A woman who has given birth is very brave. It takes bravery to find the strength to ask for help when you really need it. It takes a courageous person to quit his or her job and find a better one. Take the next five minutes to recall the times in your life, however brief or small, when you faced something challenging and found the power to overcome it.

1. Think of a time that you acted bravely.
2. What was hard about it?
3. How did it feel to be brave?
4. What can you do to commit to an act of bravery today?

The times that you have triumphed over adversity are living proof that you are a person who is capable of being bold, fearless, and powerful.
What comes to mind instantly for me is the times I've moved. For me, moving is enormously stressful and often has entailed real risk. I can certainly affirm myself for the bravery in going for it - even when the process of moving seemed overwhelmingly difficult.

Ponder what takes courage for you. Don't worry about whether anyone else would consider that it would take bravery or not. What matters in this exercise is your own experience.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Get unglued

I want to bring you a passage today from Five Good Minutes by Brantley and Millstine that offers really wonderful questions for the reflection process that I've discussed before on this blog. Remember, when you work with a reflection question you drop the question into your consciousness as if you were dropping a pebble into a pool of still water. Then you write down whatever bubbles up - without censoring. The idea is to bypass the critical, judging ego and allow a deeper, more spacious part of your consciousness to communicate with you.

Here's an exercise that can help you when you feel stuck:
Everyone has experienced feeling trapped - stuck in a job you hate, trapped in an unhealthy relationship, or confined to a life-style that has you up to your ears in unwanted debt. These are times when you almost feel like you've been permanently glued to something that you can't escape. Take the next five minutes to work on getting unstuck from these pressures. Even if there are no simple solutions to your immediate situation, imagine that there are alternatives just around the corner ifyou are patient and open to receiving them. Contemplate the prospect that you may be happy under a different arrangement. Ask yourself the following questions to get a sense of choices and options:

* "Why do I feel stuck or trapped?"

* "Do I really need these things in order to be happy?"

* "Could I find fulfillment in other ways, given the opportunity?"

* "What small changes could I make now that might slowly give me the space that I need to find more contentment in my life?"

Actually, I recommend spending at least five minutes on each of these questions - then reviewing your responses and interpreting them. If you really want to shift some energy where you're stuck, work with the same questions every day for a week. I have used that approach to my very great benefit.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

When it's right to say "no"

Many people are afraid of the word "asceticism" believing it to be a body-hating approach of extreme self-denial. But the word really just means "discipline" and it's about the ability to say "no" to ourselves in a way that is truly beneficial. Here's a passage by Rowan Williams that explains:
Every search for truth involves some kind of "fleeing," some kind of asceticism. Every act of imaginative creation, in science as well as art, needs silence, a wariness about what looks easy. And at a time when politics is increasingly dominated by people's worries about appearance and presentation, about "how it will play"; when the culture of celebrity is a daily trading in illusory images; when show business reaches out tentacles in all directions, we need to know when and how to flee. And we need to bear in mind that it is not other people's folly we are running from so much as our own deep-rooted propensity to be drawn into these games. Remember Macarius's blunt summary, that the world is a place where they make you do stupid things.
There is a simple asceticism to the practice of meditation. We say no to our body's desire to fidget, we say no to the part of us that thinks we should be doing something "useful" instead, we say no to the mind's desire to chase after distractions. Don't be afraid to "flee" - that is to turn away from - that which would take us hostage and take away our inner freedom.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The holy thing inside you

I'm very fond of Anne Lamott. Mind you, my theology is probably somewhat different from hers. She's a bit more conservative than I am, I think. But our approaches to the inner life and to personal healing are very compatible. Here's something she said in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith that I found today:
From the wise old pinnacle of my years, I can tell you that what you’re looking for is already inside you. The holy thing inside you really is that which causes you to seek it. You can’t buy it, lease it, rent it, date it, or apply for it. The best job in the world can’t give it to you. Neither can success, or fame, or financial security. You can close your eyes and feel the divine spark concentrated in you, like a little Dr. Seuss firefly. In the Christian tradition, they say that the soul rejoices in hearing what it already knows. And so you pay attention when that Dr. Seuss creature inside you sits up and strains to hear.
That reality inside all of us is our true nature and we acknowledge, get in touch with, celebrate our true nature by having a rich and committed meditative practice.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The voyage that matters

What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separate us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.

Celebrating June

Here's a really wonderful poem that brings us to mindfulness about the season:

Honey Locust

Who can tell how lovely in June is the
honey locust tree, or why
a tree should be so sweet and live
in this world? Each white blossom
on a dangle of white flowers holds one green seed—
a new life. Also each blossom on a dangle of flowers
holds a flask
of fragrance called Heaven, which is never sealed.
The bees circle the tree and dive into it. They are crazy
with gratitude. They are working like farmers. They are as
happy as saints. After awhile the flowers begin to
wilt and drop down into the grass. Welcome
shines in the grass.

Every year I gather
handfuls of blossoms and eat of their mealiness; the honey
melts in my mouth, the seeds make me strong,
both when they are crisp and ripe, and even at the end
when their petals have turned dull yellow.

So it is
if the heart has devoted itself to love, there is
not a single inch of emptiness. Gladness gleams
all the way to the grave.

From New and Selected Poems, Volume Two by Mary Oliver

"Gladness gleams/all the way to the grave." Isn't that wonderful? This truly is the payoff for having a disciplined meditative practice. We learn to live in gladness all of our life - until the very moment of death.

The above poem represents a contemplation exercise. Through meditative and contemplative practices we learn to notice our surroundings in both a deep and detailed way. Mary Oliver models this for us. What a delight she is!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

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Photo by Ellie Finlay

The importance of dreams

One practice we can incorporate into our meditative experience is paying attention to our dreams. A passage from The Inner Art of Vegetarianism Workbook: Spiritual Practices for Body and Soul by Carol J. Adams describes a way to get started:
Every night our unconscious comes knocking at the door. Will we open it? This is the gift of dreamwork. A poet once said that poetry tells it "slant." Dreams are revelation with a slant. They are the language of the heart. The problem for most of us is that we do not speak the heart's language. My basic approach to dreams is that they are not teaching me something I already know, but something I need to know but have not acknowledged.

To work with dreams we need to remember them. This is much simpler than people think, because dreams want to be known. Recalling your dreams begins when you decide you want to recall them. As you go to sleep, imagine yourself waking and writing down your dream. When you wake up, write down in your journal whatever is in your mind. Even if you recall only one image, write it down; recall it as a photograph. If you recall nothing, write down what you feel. Each day as you do this, your dreams will become less wispy and fragmented. You can also lie back in bed in the position you were when you awoke and see if the dream appears to you.

By working with a dream fragment, you bear witness to your dreaming self that you want to know what you're dreaming. That act will call forth more dreams. As you write down your dream or dream fragment, tell youself how important this dream is so that you can defeat any restlessness in the mind that questions why you're bothering. You're giving an answer: "Because it is important."

This is the process of making friends with your dreams, of bringing them into your waking life. If you allow your dreams to speak to you throughout the day, you will remember more of them.

If you share your dreams with other people, remember that only the dreamer can say whether the meaning offered for a dream is resonant and true. No one can really tell you what the dream truly means; that's up to you. If you feel an "aha!" in response to someone's comments or through your own dreamwork, that may be a sign that this interpretation of the dream is valuable.

Often a dream will seem meaningless to me before I write it down and as I'm actually writing it out, the interpretation will come to me. It's also a good idea to talk about a dream with someone who is skilled at interpretation. What's really valuable is the two of you working it out together.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mindful breakfast

I haven't brought you a passage from Five Good Minutes by Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine for a while. This morning I found a description of mindful breakfast:
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It's your jet fuel to get your day started and to keep your energy up to par. So before you skip breakfast again or wolf down some empty carbohydrates in a mad dash for work, take a few moments to respect what you put into your body. When you make time for a healthy, sit-down meal in the morning, you allow your body to properly digest, relax, and reduce stress. This morning, before you eat breakfast, slow down for five minutes. Here are some ways to eat mindfully.

* Pick out something delicious and nutritious for your breakfast, such as a piece of fruit, yogurt, or almond butter on toast.

* Clear away space at the table to be present with your meal. Remove interruptions. Turn off the news. Put away your book.

* Take a good, long look at your food. Take in the smell, the taste, and the various colors.

* Take notice of your hunger, your mouth, your belly, and the sensations in your body.

* Imagine that each bite of food is filling your whole being with energy. Picture every mineral and vitamin being absorbed into your body.

Of course, these are good suggestions for eating mindfully at any meal - not just breakfast. But they are particularly good for those of us who tend to be in a rush first thing in the morning. What would happen if we got up just a little bit earlier and gave ourselves this tranquil time of mindfulness? Sounds like a good way to start the day to me!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

What is a life-time?

A life-time is not what's between,
The moments of birth and death.
A life-time is one moment,
Between my two little breaths.

The present, the here, the now,
That's all the life I get,
I live each moment in full,
In kindness, in peace, without regret.

- Chade Meng, One Moment

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

More on mindfulness

I want to bring you another list from the appendix of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy edited by Germer, Siegel and Fulton. This one is entitled, "The Four Foundations of Mindfulness":
1. Mindfulness of body. Beginning with sitting in a quiet place with legs crossed and back straight, mindfulness practice commences with deliberate awareness of breathing, of the tranquilization of body and mind, and with attention to the bodily sensations arising in conjunction with bodily postures, movements, and activities.

2. Mindfulness of feelings. The practice progresses by focusing present moment, nonconceptual awareness upon the the feeling tone running through all arising and passing experience. Whether each moment is accompanied by a pleasant, an unpleasant, or a neutral feeling, the practitioner seeks to know with great precision the feeling tone of the experience.

3. Mindfulness of mind. Shifting attention from bodily sensations and feelings to the purely mental sphere, the meditator is directed to bring awareness to the quality of mind as it arises and passes away moment by moment. This is done by noticing whether any of the three unwholesome roots (greed, hatred, and delusion) are present, or whether they are absent.

4. Mindfulness of mental objects. An even more detailed and nuanced investigation of mental events involves noticing the presence, absence, and changing dynamic of a number of other factors...: hindrances, aggregates, sense spheres, factors of awakening [see yesterday's post], and noble truths. It is not a discursive analysis of these factors, but rather an experiential and intuitive exploration of the texture of the phenomenal landscape.

The idea is to cultivate mindfulness in formal sitting so that we experience it throughout the day, every day. This mindfulness then re-forms our habitual tendencies so that we are more skillful in our dealings and interactions with other people and with life. To use a Twelve-step expression, we learn to take "life on life's terms" instead of demanding that it be other than it is.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Seven Factors of Awakening

There's a wonderful appendix in the back of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy edited by Germer, Siegel and Fulton. What I want to share with you today is a list called "The Seven Factors of Awakening". This is how we develop wisdom and maturity:

1. Mindfulness. This is the practice of being fully aware in the present moment, without self-judgment or other forms of linguistic and conceptual overlay, of the the arising and passing away of phenomena in the field of direct experience.

2. Investigation. This is willingness and ability to bring interest, enthusiasm, and an attitude of detailed exploration to experience. The states investigated are the arising and passing of the awareness of sensory objects, mental objects, and whatever else may be unfolding in the moment.

3. Energy. When mental effort is brought to a situation, there is the application of energy. It is not the counterproductive striving or straining to attain a goal, but involves the diligent and consistent application of awareness to the present moment.

4. Joy. Often the mind and body can become exuberant and appear to bubble over with happiness, contentment, or thrill. Though many people are more familiar with this experience when it is induced in unwholesome ways, the positive and transformative value of wholesome joy is an important quality of mind... and is to be cultivated.

5. Tranquility. Of equal value is the deep serenity that can emerge in the mind and body when there is an absence of conflict, distress, or suffering. This tranquility is not the opposite of joy, for the two can easily coexist. Rather than a tranquility that reduces energy, it is described more as a quality of mental luminescence that emerges as the mind becomes unified, stable, and focused.

6. Concentration. ... [C]oncentration involves a one-pointed attentiveness over time to a particular sensation or object to the exclusion of others.

7. Equanimity. ...[E]quanimity is the quality of mental equipoise in which the mind is neither attracted to a pleasant object nor averse to an unpleasant object.

If we keep these seven factors in mind and intentionally cultivate them, we will certain reduce our suffering and support our personal growth.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Contemplative Living in Ordinary Time

Today I came across a collection of essays called The Lay Contemplative: Testimonies, Perspectives, Resources edited by Virginia Manss and Mary Frohlich. I want to share with you an excerpt from one of the essays called "Contemplative Living in Ordinary Time" by Barbara E. Scott:
Our home--a log house in the woods on a lake--is a dream fulfilled. The woods are a home to a multitude of forest dwellers....

In the morning light I have watched kingfishers diving and blue heron stalking the shoreline for breakfast. I have watched red-winged black birds guard their nests among the cattails, seen turtles of all sizes crawl out of the lake onto rocks and logs to sun themselves, witnessed loons teach their young to dive for fish....

I know where to find the bright yellow march marigolds covering swampy ground. I know where to discover blood root, trillium, Indian pipe and every kind of wildflower that grows in these woods. I have found blueberries and raspberries and know how to pick my share, leaving the rest for the forest dwellers.

Night is special any time of year. I have counted falling stars, traced the Milky Way, been surprised by a bolide, heard a meteor sizzle overhead and stared at dancing Northern Lights until I thought my neck would break from looking up so long.

These woods call me, again and again, to take my shoes off, for here, too, I am on sacred ground. Nature is my daily contemplative guide revealing to me the splendor hidden within my ordinary time.
Ms. Scott is blessed to live in an environment which lends itself to contemplation. But we don't have to live in a log cabin in the woods to lead the contemplative life. All we have to do is notice - really notice - whatever is around us.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Apple meditation

Image from

Here's an exercise you can do with children but it works well with grownups too! I found it in Mindfulness and Psychotherapy edited by Germer, Siegel and Fulton:

Every child is given an apple. First, the children reflect on the apple as part of the interconnected web of kinship with all life.

"Where did it come from? The store? How did it get to the store? Where was it before? Where did the apple tree come from? A blossom? A tree? A seed? What nourished its growth? Rain? Earth? Sunlight? How many people, what kinds of work, helped bring this apple from the tree into your hand?

Then the children are taught an eating meditation.

"Before eating the apple, take a close look at it. What colors shape, size do you see? Smell it. What does it smell like? How does it feel in your hand? Don't bite it yet! Get to know the apple, and notice: Are you in a hurry to take a bite? Slowly, take a bite, but don't swallow it yet! Discover what your tongue does while you chew. Chew in slow motion and see if you can feel your tongue moving the apple around and pushing it toward your teeth. What else happens? Is there a burst of tastes? What does it taste like? Is it sweet? Does it make you want more? Do you want to quickly take another bite before you swallow this one? What happens if you do that?"

The children learn how to slow down and be mindful of their sense impressions and impulses. They see the connection between pleasurable sensation, wanting, and being in a hurry to get more.

This is a wonderful exercise in contemplation. Try it with yourself. Then if you have a child in your life you might try it as a game with the child. Any experience in mindfulness is all to the good.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

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This beautiful kitty, sadly now deceased, belonged to Cynthia's friend, Sandy.
Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Overcoming fear

Here's a brief but inspiring passage from 1,001 Meditations by Mike George:
As the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky wrote, "Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most." If you find yourself in this position, quailing on the threshold of something new, take heart, for you are not alone in your fear. Be inspired by the knowledge that others have conquered fears before you. Venture bravely into the unknown.

If we are trained meditators, we know that we can treat fear as a thought - that is, we can notice it, accept it without judgment, let it go and then bring our mind back to the present moment. The fear might not instantly dissolve but it becomes manageable because now there is more to our consciousness than just the fear. There is also the part of us observing the fear and so our consciousness is now larger than the fear. This realization is very soothing and empowering.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Creating conditions conducive to practice

How would you like to have a room set aside for meditation in your home. Apparently that's something of a fad - well specialty rooms that is. The article I'm bringing you this morning is called "Domestic 'Insperiences' Are on the Rise" and here are a couple of passages:
What do you get when you cross inspiration and experiences? Insperiences--one of the hottest new marketing trends.

For the past few years we have seen a consumer society dominated by experiences. In fact, a recent Unity Marketing survey found that consumers' spending on experiences nearly doubled in 2005. What's new, however, is that experiences, which have been traditionally viewed as unique and fulfilling activities in which individuals participate outside the home, are now being brought into the domestic environment.
Another sign of the insperience trend is the growth of in-home retreats. Whether feeling stressed out from a tech-filled culture that keeps people plugged in 24/7/365, or seeking comfort and security post-September 11, 2001, people are looking for ways to soothe the psyche, promote togetherness, and build sanity into their everyday lives. They are finding these qualities in what Dawn Ritchie calls the emotional house. In a recent article Ritchie wrote, "Everyone is stressed and needs a place to escape and regroup."

Toll Brothers, the luxury homebuilder, is responding to this need by offering new homes complete with "calming rooms" designed for meditation, yoga, or massage. Those not looking to build a new house are turning underused space into personal specialty rooms like wine cellars and tasting rooms, meditation and yoga rooms, and in-home spas.

I really recommend that you set aside at least a corner of one room for meditation where you build a little shrine or altar and where you have a chair or cushion appropriate for your meditation practice. Then when you have a few minutes to meditate you can just sit and do it - you won't have to make a production of it.