Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

This is Char Stone's exotic cat, E.T.

The importance of silence

I am aware of an increased intolerance for silence in the society at large. Have you noticed that hospitals and doctor's offices now have televisions in waiting rooms? I don't mind waiting if there's peace and quiet but to be subjected to the intrusiveness of a TV blaring forth is really painful. What's so terrible about sitting quietly with a magazine? Apparently that is too difficult for most people so they are accomodated with the entertainment of television. Here's an observation about the importance of silence:

Silence is a great help to a seeker after truth. In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth, and the soul requires inward restfulness to attain its full height.

~Mohandas K Gandhi

Don't buy in to what the culture says about silence - that it's somehow intolerable. Give yourself that space that can only come through turning off the radio and TV and just being with yourself. It's important for everyone's spiritual growth and well being.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Here's a little article called, "Meditation Techniques for Anywhere". The writer suggests the following:

Meditation as a personal stress-reduction technique can be practiced in solitude or in the midst of a crowd. Sitting at a desk at school or work, as well as on the meditation cushion at home can serve as a time-capsule of refreshment in the midst of 'busy-ness'. The silence within that is gained in moments of calm thought and even breathing carry over into ideas and events that follow meditation time.

Here are 4 meditation and centering techniques to privately use in public when feeling stressed:

1. Slowly count to 50. Just putting attention on this simple task calms. As my mind relaxes my body begins to relax; I feel better physically, mentally, emotionally.

2. Concentrate on breathing in an even pattern without holding the breath at any point. Counts 1, 2, inhale; counts 3, 4, exhale; continuing this pattern. I do this until I calm down.

3. While walking, take even strides and let arms swing in opposition to legs. This means that when stepping forward on the right foot the left arm swings forward. Besides calming this energizes me.

4. Sitting in a chair mentally relax each part of the body in progression beginning at the feet, moving up the legs to the trunk, arms, hands, chin, head, neck. Hold this physical relaxation for a few moments noticing tension drain away.

After one of the above stress-reduction meditations I feel more energy with the task at hand; the time-out is worth the minutes spent away from other tasks.

I always like tips for bringing meditation practice into all situations. A big part of making that work is simply wanting to.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthis Burgess

The way to happiness

This covers all the bases, doesn't it?

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

~The 14th Dalai Lama

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Complete peace

Do everything with a mind that lets go. Don't accept praise or gain or anything else. If you let go a little you will have a little peace; if you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely you will have complete peace.

~Ajahn Chah

Meditation and ADHD

As a sufferer of ADD/ADHD myself I know that meditation helps. And now there's research to prove it. An article publicizing a speech on the subject entitled "Doctor to speak on new approach to treating ADHD" has this to say:
Dr. James Grant will speak about new research that shows meditation, twice a day for just a few minutes, is an effective treatment for ADHD. The presentation will include a video with ADHD kids speaking for themselves about their experiences.

According to Grant, improvements in behavior include better attention and impulse control, improved academic performance, enhanced problem solving skills and reduced stress, anxiety and anger.

Grant is western director for Consciousness-Based Education and an ADHD researcher.
Lots of adults have ADD too. And even if you don't have it, meditation can improve an already normal ability with regard to attention and make it even better!

Monday, March 27, 2006

An amazing lady

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

A few days ago I posted a quote from someone known simply as Peace Pilgrim. I didn't know anything about her and so looked her up. Here's what a website dedicated to her memory says:
From 1953 to 1981 a silver haired woman calling herself only "Peace Pilgrim" walked more than 25,000 miles on a personal pilgrimage for peace. She vowed to "remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food." In the course of her 28 year pilgrimage she touched the hearts, minds, and lives of thousands of individuals all across North America. Her message was both simple and profound. It continues to inspire people all over the world.
I thought I'd share something she said that is particularly sobering:
There are those who know and do not do. This is very sad. I remember one day as I walked along the highway a very nice car stopped and the man said to me, "How wonderful that you are following your calling!" I replied, "I certainly think that everyone should be doing what feels right to do." He then began telling me what he felt motivated toward, and it was a good thing that needed doing. I got quite enthusiastic about it and took for granted that he was doing it. I said, "That's wonderful! How are you getting on with it?" And he answered, "Oh, I'm not doing it. That kind of work doesn't pay anything." And I shall never forget how desperately unhappy that man was. But you see, in this materialistic age we have such a false criterion by which to measure success. We measure it in terms of dollars, in terms of material things. But happiness and inner peace do not lie in that direction. If you know but do not do, you are a very unhappy person indeed.
If we are meditating regularly and correctly then we have lots of practice in letting go. This will make it possible for us to make peace with ourselves and not be taken hostage by the part of us that grasps and clings like the man Peace Pilgrim describes above. There is truly nothing more wonderful than doing what honestly makes us happy. I wish that with all my heart for everyone reading these words.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Wisdom for all

Live in the present. Do the things that need to be done. Do all the good you can each day. The future will unfold.

-- Peace Pilgrim

The difference between a feeling and an intention

Today I want to bring you another paragraph from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy edited by Germer, Siegel and Fulton. It makes the important point that you don't have to like a person to wish that person well and you don't have to feel kindly toward someone to have the intention of kindness:
While lovingkindness is often taught as a unique practice, it is merely the expansion of the ordinary human capacity for friendliness. Its basis is the recognition that, just like us, others wish for happiness and well-being. More an attitude than a feeling, lovingkindness is naturally expressed as compassion toward another's suffering and empathic joy for another's happiness. It does not necessarily lead to being "nice," nor need one feel any special affection for another person to practice it. Lovingkindness is an intention. It is an ideal that gives direction to our endeavors, not an opportunity to evaluate our value or merit. Merely the intention to be kind is a practice in and of itself.
This is about willingness, isn't it? And if you find it very, very difficult to be willing to intend kindness toward someone, try the 12-step practice of being willing to be willing! We can all do that. Then, slowly, a true willingness to intend lovingkindness will emerge in our consciousness and we will experience the beginning of transformation.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Ethel and Edgar luxuriating in their pet igloo!
Photo by Ellie Finlay


I thought it would be illuminating to take a look at the word "contemplation" today since that is one aspect of the meditative tradition.

Here's what the American Heritage Dictionary says about it:
1.The act or state of contemplating.
2.Thoughtful observation or study.
3.Meditation on spiritual matters, especially as a form of devotion.
4.Intention or expectation: sought further information in contemplation of a career change.

And here's part of what Wikipedia says:

Contemplation comes from the latin root templus, and means to enter an open or consecrated place. In a religious sense it is type of prayer or meditation. Within Christianity it is related to mysticism, and portrayed by the works of authors such as Teresa of Avila, Margery Kempe, Augustine Baker and Thomas Merton. Many religions share the concept of contemplation. Naropa University, for example, offers a Master's program in contemplative education in the context of Buddhism.
In a non-religious sense, contemplation can also mean:

*an act of considering with attention
*the act of regarding steadily.

Try a contemplation exercise today. Select an object - perhaps a shell or a leaf. Give it relaxed but thoughtful attention. Study every detail. Ponder any symbolic meanings that come to mind. Notice the issues of your own life that the contemplative exercise causes to bubble up. Notice all the associations you have with the object and gently, non-judgmentally consider them. If you want to write some of these reflections down in your journal, that's fine. Or you can just let the awarenesses be part of your ongoing consciousness.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Metaphor for compassion

Today I want to share with you a passage from the book Mindfulness and Psychotherapy edited by Germer, Siegel and Fulton. When you have trouble feeling compassion for someone, think of the situation this way:
The following metaphor may help generate compassion for the difficult [person] in our lives. Imagine walking in the forest and coming across a small dog. You reach out your hand to pet the dog, and the dog responds by snarling and biting you. Your first reaction to the dog may be uncharitable at best. Imagine instead that on coming across the dog you discovered that its leg is caught in a trap buried beneath a pile of leaves. Your reaction to its ill temper is quite different; you are likely to harbor only compassion toward the dog. You understand that it is aggressive because its leg is in a trap. It is helpful to remember that anyone who is hostile to others also has a leg in some trap; a person who is not in pain has no need to strike out. When we recognize that others' harmful actions are a reflection of their own suffering, it becomes easier to extend compassion to them.
I also find it helpful to remind myself that everyone wants to be happy and that we do what we do because on some level we believe it will make us happy. We may be very mistaken and unskillful but that's what each of us ultimately wants.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Gratitude for the gift of peace

Photo by Bill Miller

Yesterday, I brought you a passage from John Dear's book, Living Peace, on silence. Today I want to share with you something he has to say about mindfulness:
The sun is setting and a fog bank rolls in over the ocean as I write these words in a hermitage on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island. The sky blends with the ocean and fog to create an atmosphere of peaceful beauty. I am surrounded by pine trees and woods inhabited by birds, several deer, one magnificent quail (who keeps watch over the hermitage at sunset each evening), a pond, and directly before me, down a cliff, the awesome Atlantic. All is peace. The silence of this solitude is soothing. I breathe in, with gratitude for the gift of peace. I breathe out, sharing the spirit of peace. I breathe in the spirit of life. I breathe out, sharing that spirit with all humanity.
As I practice mindfulness, I am not undertaking my own private spirituality. I am not forsaking the world or turning my back on action for justice and peace. On the contrary, I am helping the nonviolent transformation of the world led by the spirit of peace.
In this passage, John Dear is recognizing that we're all connected. When we meditate in solitude that is, interestingly enough, not really a merely private act because it benefits others through our connectedness. As we cultivate peace within, we are able to have an affect outside ourselves as well.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Living Peace

Just yesterday I received as a gift the book Living Peace by the Jesuit priest John Dear. Here's a passage about the importance of silence:
We fill our lives with noise, from television to radio to stereo and compact disc. Our culture says noise is necessary. We prefer noise because it dulls our innate loneliness. We are uncomfortable with silence. Yet only by cultivating silence daily do we begin to accept its many gifts.

We need silence to express our true selves. Silence is countercultural and more; it leads us beyond culture, beyond illusion, beyond word, to the truth of peace. In silence, we can no longer deny our basic humanity, our powerlessness, our helplessness, Silence unveils our vulnerable selves. As the distractions of the culture and our own mind leave us, we feel an approaching peace.
The meditative process helps us accept and embrace silence. We resist silence because our thoughts overwhelm us but, with the meditative process, we know what to do with thoughts: we notice them, accept them without judgment, let them go and then bring the mind back to our meditative support (if we're in formal meditation) or to whatever we're doing in the present moment. Being able to let go of thoughts simply and gently enables us to make friends with silence.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

The role of pain in mindfulness work

It's normal to avoid pain but not always skillful. Sometimes it's essential that we experience pain in order to know what's really going on interiorly. This point is made with a wonderful illustration I found the book Mindfulness and Acceptance edited by Hayes, Follette and Linehan:
If you went to a dentist with a bad tooth, and the dentist looked around in your mouth, poked, prodded, and scraped, but only touched teeth that were healthy, the appointment would be painless but not particularly useful. Although the dentist may have kept you comfortable, if you paid the dentist for that appointment, your money was stolen, and you walk away with the same troublesome tooth. We use metaphors such as this to illustrate to clients the point that pain can be inherent in addressing problems.
If you work with someone like a therapist or spiritual director to help you with your inner work, this illustration is definitely worth remembering. Pain is not necessarily terrible. In fact, the willingness to accept pain is actually an important part of alleviating our suffering. The pain is temporary, after all, but the benefit is lasting.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

This is your mind on meditation

Here's an excerpt from a webpage entitled, "Looking Inward: Observations on the Art of Meditation" by Upasika Kee Nanayon:
After you've worked at this a good while, you'll come to see how important the ways of the mind are. The mind may be hard to train, but if you keep training it -- if you have the time, you can practice at home, at night or early in the morning, keeping watch on your mind -- you'll gain the understanding that comes from mindfulness and discernment. Those who don't train the mind like this go through life -- birth, aging, illness, and death -- not knowing a thing about the mind at all.

When you know your own mind, then when any really heavy illness comes along, the fact that you know your mind will make the pain less and less. But this is something you have to work at doing correctly. It's not easy, yet once the mind is well trained there's no match for it. It can do away with pain and suffering, and doesn't get restless and agitated. It grows still and cool -- refreshed and blooming right there within itself. So try to experience this still, quiet mind...

This is a really important skill to develop, because it will make craving, defilement, and attachment grow weaker and weaker. All of us have defilements, you know. Greed, anger, and delusion cloud all of our hearts. If we haven't trained ourselves in meditation, our hearts are constantly burning with suffering and stress. Even the pleasure we feel over external things is pleasure only in half-measures, because there's suffering and stress in the delusion that thinks it's pleasure. As for the pleasure that comes from the practice, it's a cool pleasure that lets go of everything, really free from any sense of "me" or "mine."
I like the distinction between "cool pleasure" and the pleasure that comes from defilements. "Cool pleasure" is non-judging and non-attached. And it's so much more reliable that the apparent pleasure that comes from self-indulgence and grasping.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Gentleness, kindness

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of one who gives and kindles joy in the heart of one who receives.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A beautiful thought

We cannot hold a torch to light another person's path without brightening our own.

Friday cat blogging!

Simon Burgess
Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Why meditate?

Today I found a website called with an online book entitled, Mindfulness in Plain English. It's quite lengthy but worth taking a look at. Here's one paragraph I particularly liked:
You can't make radical changes in the pattern of your life until you begin to see yourself exactly as you are now. As soon as you do that, changes flow naturally. You don't have to force or struggle or obey rules dictated to you by some authority. You just change. It is automatic. But arriving at the initial insight is quite a task. You've got to see who you are and how you are, without illusion, judgement or resistance of any kind. You've got to see your own place in society and your function as a social being. You've got to see your duties and obligations to your fellow human beings, and above all, your responsibility to yourself as an individual living with other individuals. And you've got to see all of that clearly and as a unit, a single gestalt of interrelationship. It sounds complex, but it often occurs in a single instant. Mental culture through meditation is without rival in helping you achieve this sort of understanding and serene happiness.

Remember, we all want to be happy and meditation is the way actually to accomplish this.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Look within

I'm bringing you some brief quotes from a classic today. The classic is An Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki with a foreword by Carl Jung. Here's one passage:
Look into your own being and seek it not through others. Your own mind is above all forms; it is free and quiet and sufficient...
The word "zen", by the way, simply means "meditation". It comes from the Sanskrit word for meditation which is "dhyana". That was transliterated by the Chinese as "ch'an", which then became the Japanese word, "zen".

Another passage Suzuki's book goes like this:
The basic idea of Zen is to come in touch with the inner workings of our being, and to do this in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external or superadded.
And here's still another:
Personal experience, therefore, is everything in Zen. No ideas are intelligible to those who have no backing of experience.
So this is where we remind ourselves to practice, practice, practice! Experience comes through experiencing - not through analyzing concepts. So, just sit. Let your mind be what it is without judgment. Let it be okay that you experience what you experience and then give yourself permission to let go.

Now here's the great paradox: It's important not to be attached to benefits of meditation and yet, if we meditate, the benefits will come. Don't try to solve this paradox. Just appreciate it and then practice! Through the sitting itself (and by accepting what happens when you sit) you will gain the insight that you need.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess
Recently someone returned a book that I'd forgotten about. It's called Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson. Your "gremlin", according to Carson, is that part of you that gets in your own way. Interestingly, the methods he recommends for gaining freedom from self-defeating behaviors and beliefs are actually mindfulness exercises. Here's one entitled, "Now I Am Aware":
Another method of centering yourself is to play a simple game called "Now I Am Aware." Going slowly, simply focus your awareness on one aspect after another of your here and now experience. Take the time to really notice whatever you bring into your field of awareness, be it a sound, a sight, a smell, something you touch, or something you taste. Go slowly. As you gain relaxed control of your spotlight of awareness, experiment with relocating it from your body - to the world around you - to the world of mind, staying a few seconds in each place. As thoughts come into your awareness, simply notice them and let them go. Gently direct your awareness back inside the boundary defined by your skin, or outside of it, beginning phrases with "Now I am aware of..."

As for me:

"Now I am aware of the sound of the pencil lead on the paper;
Now I hear music in the background;
Now I am aware of the breeze on my skin;
Now I am aware of thinking about what to write;
Now I am aware of a tightness around my eyes."

It strikes me that this is a good exercise to practice when we're out and about our daily business. You can do this any time - standing in line at the bank, waiting for the red light to change, taking a break between tasks. It's really very illuminating because it gives us information about how we're so often not aware. Try it and see how your overall mindfulness improves.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tuesday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Sharing the benefit

Here at the Center, we end every class and every meditation sitting with something called "sharing the benefit". This is a way of dedicating the practice we have just done to the benefit of all beings everywhere. We wish for them to be happy and free from suffering. Why is it important that we do this? Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks to this in his book, Coming to Our Senses:
In the end, whether we are talking about individual people who are problematic for us, or the entire universe, what is most important is that we incline our own heart toward inclusion rather than toward separation. In the end, whatever the consequences for others or for the planet or the universe, or any levels in between, the willingness to extend ourselves in this way, literally and metaphorically, to extend the reach of our own heart, has profound consequences for our own life, and for our own capacity to live in the world in ways that embody wisdom and compassion, lovingkindness and equanimity, and ultimately, that express the joy inherent in being alive, and the boundless joy inherent in freeing ourselves from all our conditioning of mind and heart and the suffering that that conditioning engenders.

In other words, we help ourselves by being willing to help others. Sharing the benefit does something very positive to our own heart. I like Kabat-Zinn's emphasis on "the joy inherent in being alive". We create interior conditions conducive to experiencing this joy when we willingly share with others.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Our wants

My friend, Brad Griffith, who's a former member of the Center board, recommended a wonderful book called Why Buddhism? edited by Vicki Mackenzie. Phillip Glass, composer of the movie Kundun (about the Dalai Lama) wrote a chapter and has this to say:
One of the precepts in the Seven Point Mind Training [a teaching said to be the ultimate instruction in cherishing others more than oneself] is 'to want very little'. If you want very little then you'll always be happy. Of course it's an obvious thing to say, isn't it, but the fact is that [the Tibetan people] live by it. If you take that idea and you actually practice it, then it turns out to be true; or at least it seems to be. I have no personal experience of it, I can only go by what I've seen and what I've heard expressed. What impresses me about Tibetan Buddhists is the unfailing practice of putting the teachings into their life - so that the tenets are not merely theoretical. The way they live and their practice come out of the teachings. There is no separation. The teaching and the practice are identical.
That's the way forward, isn't it? For there to be no separation between the meditative principles and how we actually live. I know this is counter-cultural for Westerners. That's why we need each other. That's why we come to class and to the daily sittings and check into this blog regularly. We are availing ourselves of the support we need to integrate the teachings with our everyday lives.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Truly our duty

There are moments when I feel like giving up or giving in, but I soon rally again and do my duty as I see it: to keep the spark of life inside me ablaze.
--Etty Hillesum

Simply being human

I'm so glad I discovered Sakyong Mipham. His teachings are very forthright and clear. Here's an excerpt from an article of his entitled How to Meditate:
It's easy to associate meditation with spirituality because when we experience a moment of peacefully abiding, it seems so far-out. Our mind is no longer drifting, thinking about a million things. The sun comes up or a beautiful breeze comes along--and all of a sudden we feel the breeze and we are completely in tune. We think, "That's a very spiritual experience! It's a religious experience! At least worth a poem, or a letter home." Yet all that's happening is that for a moment we are in tune with our mind. Our mind is present and harmonious. Before, we were so busy and bewildered that we didn't even notice the breeze. Our mind couldn't even stay put long enough to watch the sun come up, which takes two-and-a-half minutes. Now we can keep it in one place long enough to acknowledge and appreciate our surroundings. Now we are really here. This is has nothing to do with religion or a spiritual path. It has everything to do with simply being human.

His emphasis on "simply being human" reminds me of his teaching that we need to remember basis goodness (that I mentioned yesterday). Both are about recognizing who and what we actually are - and then coming home to that.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Remembering basic goodness

I've just come across information about a Tibetan teacher named Sakyong Mipham. He wrote a book entitled Ruling Your World. Here's an excerpt:
Basic goodness, the shimmering brilliance of our being, is as clear as a mountain lake. But we're not certain about our own goodness. We begin to stray from it as soon as we wake up in the morning, because our mind is unstable and bewildered. Our thoughts drag us around by a ring in our nose, as if we were cows in the Indian market. This is how we lose control of our lives. We don't understand that the origin of happiness is right here in our mind. We might experience happiness at times, but we're not sure how we got it, how to get it again, or how long it's going to last when it comes. We live life in an anxious, haphazard state, always looking for happiness to arrive.

When we are confused about the source of happiness, we start to blame the world for our dissatisfaction, expecting it to make us happy. Then we act in ways that bring more confusion and chaos into our life. When our mind is busy and discursive, thinking uncontrollably, we are engaging in a bad habit. We are stirring up the mud of jealousy, anger, and pride. Then the mind has no choice but to become familiar with the language of negativity and develop it further.

There's a Sanscrit word for what he's describing. It's samsara. Sakyong Mipham talks about samsara some more in this passage:
Being fooled into trying to make things work out for "me" is called samsara. This is a Sanskrit word that describes an endless dark age in which we are completely distracted by the agitation that comes from trying to make "me" happy. Our mind is constantly volleying between irritation and desire, jealousy and pride. We are unhappy with who we are, and we are trying to destroy our own suffering, which reflects our basic discontent. As we indulge in this negativity, our mind becomes thick with contamination. This contamination manifests as stress--lack of peace. It is fueled by fear--fear of not knowing what will happen to "me." With the ambition to get what we want and to avoid what we don't, our mind becomes very speedy. We act in ways that hurt others and ourselves. Bewilderment rules our days and nights. We keep imagining that a love affair, a new job, a thinner body, or a vacation is going to lead to happiness. When we get what we want, we feel good, and we become attached. Then the situation changes, and we feel angry. Or somebody else's relationship, job, or body looks better than ours, and we feel jealous.

That pretty much describes what goes on, doesn't it? Remembering our basic goodness will rescue us from the delusions of samsara. That will help us rest in the knowledge that true happiness comes from within.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Here's Edgar enjoying today's sunshine!
Photos by Ellie Finlay

Thoughts on mindfulness

Here are some wonderful observations on the value of mindfulness found on the Shambhala website:
What we're doing is taming our mind. We're trying to overcome all sorts of anxieties and agitation, all sorts of habitual thought patterns, so we are able to sit with ourselves. Life is difficult, we may have tremendous responsibilities, but the odd thing, the twisted logic, is that the way we relate to the basic flow of our life is to sit completely still. It might seem more logical to speed up, but here we are reducing everything to a very basic level.

How we tame the mind is by using the technique of mindfulness. Quite simply, mindfulness is compete attention to detail. We are completely absorbed in the fabric of life, the fabric of the moment. We realize that our life is made of these moments and that we cannot deal with more than one moment at a time. Even though we have memories of the past and ideas about the future, it is the present situation that we are experiencing.

Thus we are able to experience our life fully. We might feel that thinking about the past or the future makes our life richer, but by not paying attention to the immediate situation we are actually missing our life. There's nothing we can do about the past, we can only go over it again and again, and the future is completely unknown.

So the practice of mindfulness is the practice of being alive. When we talk about the techniques of meditation, we're talking about techniques of life. We're not talking about something that is separate from us. When we're talking about being mindful and living in a mindful way, we're talking about the practice of spontaneity.

We truly cannot experience more than one moment at a time. If we finally take that on board, we will be truly liberated. Being obsessed with either the past or the future causes ongoing suffering. Learning to stay in the present moment - even during times of genuine pain - alleviates that suffering.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Thursday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Seeking calmness

Here's a description about how being in nature can help us settle our minds. It's another excerpt from Coming to our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

No wonder when we seek calmness, so many of us find it in nature. The natural world has no artifice. The tree outside the window, and the birds in it, stand only in the now, remnants of what was once pristine wilderness, which was and is, where it is still protected, timeless on the scale of the human. The natural world always defines now. We instinctively feel a part of nature because our forebears were born of it and into it, and the natural world was the only world, all there was, It offered a multiplicity of experiential dimensions for its inhabitants, all of which needed to be understood to survive, including what they sometimes called the spirit world, or the world of the gods, worlds that could be sensed even though they were usually invisible.

Changing seasons, wind and weather, light and night, mountains, rivers, trees, oceans and ocean currents, fields, plants and animals, wilderness and the wild speak to us even now. They invite us and carry us back into the present that they define and are always in (and we too, except that we forget). They help us to focus and to attend to what is important, remind us, in Mary Oliver's elegantly turned phrase, of "our place in the family of things."

May the arrival of spring help us all remember "our place in the family of things." Last week I saw my first robin and the peach tree in front of my little house is in bloom. Such things are reference points for us as the year turns and progresses. May each of these reference points in nature bring us to true calmness.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Now this is something to think about

I found this in Coming to our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

"People say life is too short when it's actually too long. These places [coffeeshops, stores] prove it. They exist solely to drain off excess time."

So why is Mr. Seinfeld doing this [struggling to develop a stand-up comedy routine] to himself? Why doesn't he just take his mega-millions and go to St. Bart's for a few years?

"I do think about that a lot. The reason is, I guess, is that I really do love it. I love doing stand-up. It's fun and it uses everything you have as a human being. And it all happens right here and now. The degree to which you achieve anything is immediately reflected right back to you in that moment."

-- Jerry Seinfeld in the New York Times Sunday Magazine

When you think of it, everything happens right here and now. We don't need to be stand-up comics to experience that.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

How we relate to our difficulties

I spent a little time exploring the website I told you about yesterday: the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice. On one page in the "Writings on mindfulness" section, I found a letter written by someone who had embarked upon a mindfulness program. Here is something she said:
Learning to sit with it all, including what is hard, is what we are starting to practice. It seems mundane – how can being with this ache or pain or difficulty help me BE who I am. But the ache is not the issue – the way we relate to it IS. The stories we weave - the disasters we fantasise – the exaggerations and anxieties we anticipate – the judgements we attack with – the pressure we impose. All the ways that we make things worse…. [Mindfulness] enables us to learn about the patterns and habits we get wired to (the REACTIONS) – by noticing the thoughts and emotions that take us away.

Ah. "But the ache is not the issue - the way we relate to it IS." How truly profound. Don't suppose that meditation means we will have no more difficulties or distressing feelings. We will, of course, because that's life. But we will learn how to relate to those difficulties with equanimity and skill.

Something to think about

A spiritual person tries less to be godly than to be deeply human.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Bill has his own photography blog now. (See yesterday's post.)

About mindfulness

Well, here's a UK website I just found courtesy of my friend, Larry. It's called, "Centre For Mindfulness Research And Practice". Here's what they have to say about mindfulness:

What is ‘mindfulness’ and how can it help?

Mindfulness is the development of the ability to pay deliberate attention to our experience from moment to moment, to what is going on in our mind, body and day to day life and doing this without judgement.

Becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings and sensations may not sound like an obviously helpful thing to do, however learning to do this in a way that suspends judgement and self criticism can have surprising results. Many people report finding inner strengths and resources that help them make wise decisions about their health and life in general.

Most of us frequently find ourselves being ‘swept away’ by the current of thoughts and feelings, worries, pressures, responsibilities and just wanting things to be different from how they are right now. This can be particularly powerful when we are faced with pain, difficulties and illness that defy all our attempts to find a solution or to feel better. Feeling stuck in this way can be draining. Mindfulness can help us to work directly with the struggle we sometimes have in relating to life’s experience and in doing so can dramatically improve the quality of our life.

I really like the "pay deliberate attention" part of the definition of mindfulness. That's exactly what we learn to do when we meditate. In fact, that is the function of the meditative support (i.e. breath, mantra, sound) - to give us something toward which to direct our "deliberate attention" so that we will have a reference point for what our mind is up to at any given moment. And I also really like the final point - that mindfulness allows us to work directly with our struggle no matter what that's about. It's true and the benefits we experience as a result are real and powerful. This is how to get liberated and stay liberated in a truly reliable way.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

For those who love pictures

Photo by Bill Miller

You will remember that my friend, Bill Miller, has given me permission to post his photographs in the Monday Meditative Picture offerings. Well, I'm pleased to announce that he's got his own blog for displaying his truly marvelous pictures.

The address is Be sure to visit and leave a comment so that he'll know you stopped by!


Thomas Merton said the the monastery is a "school for happiness". The Dalai Lama says that all beings want to be happy and that this is the purpose of spiritual practice. Here's an interesting quote about the universality of the quest for happiness:

Happiness cannot be bought or sold, nor can you give it to a person who has not got it. Happiness is your own being, your own self, that self that is the most precious thing in life. All religions, all philosophical systems, have in different forms taught man how to find it by the religious path or the mystical way; and all the wise ones have in some form or another given a method by which the individual can find that happiness for which the soul is seeking.
Hazrat Inayat Khan

I know that deep acceptance is the answer to my own quest for happiness. And it is meditation that has taught me how to accept.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Worth pondering

By accepting one's own shadow one gives unconditional love to all beings.

-- Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

Cultivating altruism

A big part of the meditative tradition is the emphasis on cultivating loving-kindness and compassion. It's helpful to know that we have an apparently inborn basis for behaving with altruism and that we can build on this. Here's an ABC article entitled, "Toddlers Try to Help out Adults, Study Shows" that offers some very interesting information:
WASHINGTON Mar 2, 2006 (AP)— Oops, the scientist dropped his clothespin. Not to worry a wobbly toddler raced to help, eagerly handing it back. The simple experiment shows the capacity for altruism emerges as early as 18 months of age.

Toddlers' endearing desire to help out actually signals fairly sophisticated brain development, and is a trait of interest to anthropologists trying to tease out the evolutionary roots of altruism and cooperation.

Psychology researcher Felix Warneken performed a series of ordinary tasks in front of toddlers, such as hanging towels with clothespins or stacking books. Sometimes he "struggled" with the tasks; sometimes he deliberately messed up.

Over and over, whether Warneken dropped clothespins or knocked over his books, each of 24 toddlers offered help within seconds but only if he appeared to need it. Video shows how one overall-clad baby glanced between Warneken's face and the dropped clothespin before quickly crawling over, grabbing the object, pushing up to his feet and eagerly handing back the pin. Warneken never asked for the help and didn't even say "thank you," so as not to taint the research by training youngsters to expect praise if they helped. After all, altruism means helping with no expectation of anything in return.

And this is key: the toddlers didn't bother to offer help when he deliberately pulled a book off the stack or threw a pin to the floor, Warneken, of Germany's Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, reports Thursday in the journal Science.

To be altruistic, babies must have the cognitive ability to understand other people's goals plus possess what Warneken calls "pro-social motivation," a desire to be part of their community.

"When those two things come together they obviously do so at 18 months of age and maybe earlier they are able to help," Warneken explained.
I once knew a toddler who would stop whatever he was doing and comfort his mother when she cried. She got me to test this one time. I pretended to cry and, sure enough, the little fellow came over to me with great concern on his face. It was very sad, of course, that this woman was so unhappy that she cried often enough to elicit this response from her child. But it was amazing to see such empathy in one so young.

Reach into your depths of spirit. The altruism and empathy are there. They only need to be affirmed and brought forth.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Photo by Ellie Finlay

Meditation and trauma therapy

Whatever is troubling you, meditation can help. Here's an article making that very point entitled, "Troubled First Nation looks to meditation":

Residents of a Manitoba reserve plagued with solvent abuse and suicide hope East Indian meditation techniques will help them tackle their problems.

The Pauingassi First Nation has invited a group based in India to teach residents its specific brand of breathing exercises.

Ruchi Sud, a teacher with "The Art of Living," believes practising the techniques will help people become calmer, which will allow the community to deal with its problems.

"This program is used for trauma relief all over the world, like after the hurricane and after the tsunami," she said.

"In Southeast Asia, fishermen couldn't even look at the water, let alone go back into the water, so … after they did the breathing, they were so relieved, they said, 'OK, now we can go back to our normal lives.'"

Any information about meditation that helps maintain motivation is all to the good.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


I haven't quoted from The Three Minutes Meditator by David Harp for a while. Here's a passage on impermanence that is insightful:
It's a cliché, once again, but true: Nothing is permanent except for the fact that everything changes. Everything that you think you know about yourself, your body, your job, your loved ones, your country will alter with the passage of time.

Much of the pain that we experience in our lives comes from the desire to hold on to what must inevitably change. We hurt when our parents grow old and die, and we hurt when our children grow up and move away. We hurt when we lose the strength or beauty of our youth, or the prestige that our work brings us.

If our desire for protection from pain supersedes our desire to face what is true, we are doomed to live lives that attempt to limit or ignore change. And that's sure to hurt. Lots. Of course, facing change will bring pain also. But each meditative step that we take will lessen the amount of pain that we must experience when we face and accept change andimpermanencee.

I like the point that we need to value truth more than protection from pain. In the long run, we'll actually have less pain that way. Remember, the cause of suffering is attachments - primarily the attachment to things being other than they are. And making friends with impermanence will train us to let go of attachments. Training ourselves to remember that all things change can actually be very consoling. But it does take practice.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Eastern screech owl
Photo by Cynthia Burgess

The importance of equanimity

Equanimity is the opposite of "freaking out" or excitableness. It is even-mindedness. Here is a statement about the importance of equanimity I found on this page at
Looking into life we notice how it continually moves between contrasts: rise and fall, success and failure, loss and gain, honor and blame. We feel how our heart responds to all this with happiness and sorrow, delight and despair, disappointment and satisfaction, hope and fear. These waves of emotion carry us up and fling us down; and no sooner do we find rest, than we are in the power of a new wave again. How can we expect to get a footing on the crest of the waves? How can we erect the building of our lives in the midst of this ever restless ocean of existence, if not on the Island of Equanimity.

One way to cultivate equanimity is to meditate on impermanence. Whatever is causing us to get exciteable is something that will pass. Remember that and it's easier to stay even.

Remember that the Four Divine Abodes (sometimes called the Four Sublime States) are loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.