Welcome to Mondo Samu - Questions and Answers about my self-work.

Mondō: "questions and answers"; a recorded collection of dialogues between a pupil and teacher.
Samu: Work service; meditation in work.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blue Skies and Sunshine!

What an incredible day!
Blue Skies and Sunshine!

 I have written a lot about my practice of using mindfulness in less than pleasant situations, such as airports and hotel rooms and even bathrooms, to enjoy myself and be in the present moment.  Typically this is when events like bad weather or surroundings prevented me from walking in the park. This has always worked well for me, and I use it all the time.

Recently, I have been using it a lot for my daily mindful walking meditation practice. With winter, cold, rain and snow, it has been difficult to sometimes even painful to find a time and place for my walks.

Today, in Georgia, it is in the sixties and BEAUTIFUL!!! I took the opportunity to hit the local park I like to walk in. It was so very beautiful and enjoyable, and I was really struck by the massive difference it made in my enjoyment of the walk!

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my walking every time regardless of where it is, but being back in the park surrounded by nature and beauty really made a good thing great!

I hope that you are experiencing great weather wherever you are, and in the absence of that, I hope you are finding your own joy in whatever conditions you are present in using mindfulness.

Have a great day!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

MondoSamu Featured On "Savor The Book Blog"!

I am so very proud to say that Dr. Lilian Cheung, Co-Author of the book "Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Living", and her team recently gave me the wonderful opportunity to write a post as a "Guest Blogger" on their SavorTheBook.Com Blog!

It was posted a couple of days ago, and is live on their blog right now.  It's about how I discovered Savor, applied mindfulness and have lost over 70 pounds now.  It also talks about some of the things I have done to get here. My hope is that something there will help you in your own weight loss journey!

If you have a moment, please visit the Savor The Book Blog and give it a read.  I hope you enjoy it, and thank you all for reading here!

My greatest pleasure is to hear from some of you that this site has helped you in your own journey some how.  I had one person tell me that it was "what she needed to hear right now", which meant a lot to me, because it was what I needed to hear when I heard it.

My warmest regards,

Saturday, January 22, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom

Being a tech-head, and professional problem solver, I tend to enjoy knowing how and why things work the way they do.  A friend of mine, who has a blog called Dharma Loss, is also in a similar line of work and has written a two part post on the very subject (Check his posts out here: Hacking The Brain & Hacking The Brain Part 2).  He has specifically mentioned that he has an interest in "re-wiring" his brain, and that Buddhism is helping him with that.  He enjoys knowing how his brain is wired.  Here's a quote from his posts on the topic that I liked: 

"I don’t know about you, but the thought of rewiring my own brain to change the way it operates is exciting. This may be because my brain has some great things going for it that I’d love to improve and its got some patterns that really aren’t healthy and need to be changed for the better. Either way, those are some pretty good motivators to want to rewire myself."
        ~ The Dharma Loser

So when I saw "Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom" on the shelf, and read the back cover, it appealed to my thirst for knowing how things work, but also because it sounded very similar to some of the things I've read on his blog.  My thought was "I know at least two guys with these issues, so chances are "Buddha's Brain" will not only be helpful to us, but others might find it helpful as well!"

Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom

I snagged it on audio, and began listening.  The only nice thing I can say about the audio version of this book is that it piqued my interest enough that I rushed out to buy the print version.  I try always to be positive and I try, really hard, to only blog about items I LIKE.  I try never to blog about my dislikes because my goal is positivity.  So...suffice it to say that I very much LOVED the print version of this book, and will not be discussing the audio any further in this review! ;-)

The authors, Rick Hanson (also a Ph.D., Neuropsychologist, and Teacher) teams up with Richard Mendius (board certified Neurologist with a subspecialty in the neurobiology and practice of meditation) and produced "Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom" to show us that the path of the Buddha can actually reveal ways that understanding the science of happiness can help us re-wire our brains to make us happier!

I won't kid you..."Buddha's Brain" is not light reading for the average person, but if you are at all interested in how the human brain works, and how you can re-wire your thoughts to reach a happier state, then it's definitely some interesting stuff.

The author explains how our brains have evolved toward keeping us safe from external threats.  Due to this evolution. our inherent negativity leads to suffering. They postulate that by using meditation and the ways of the Buddha, you can cause the reactions in the brain that create neural pathways to actually become more positive.  Essentially saying that if we act positive, we will become positive.

The constant mindfulness and attention to "Right Action" and Right Thinking" and other precepts of Buddhism naturally and organically lend themselves to this pursuit. 

I'm no neuroscientist, but I can tell you from experience that mindfulness and positive thinking vastly improve ones' disposition, so it all makes perfect sense to me. 

While "Buddha's Brain" didn't reveal any major mysteries to me, I did find it to be very interesting.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about it, for me, was that it puts Buddhism in a scientific perspective.  It shows that you can use the ways of Buddhism to achieve quantifiable scientific mental health benefits, whether you subscribe to the tenets of Buddhism or not.

Because of this, I would feel this book is best for those who might not yet be terribly familiar with Buddhism, but are looking for help with happiness, or for those who are considering Buddhism but find it all a little mystical for their tastes.  I say this because I think a lot of people hear "Buddha" and think "esoteric".  If you were one of those people, or more likely if you KNOW someone like that, then this book might remove that veil of mysticism some people can't see past and put things in much more concrete scientific terms.  Telling someone to recite a meditation such as "Breathing in, I am grateful to my body.  Breathing out, I smile at my body" might sound a little strange to those unfamiliar with Mindful Meditation.  Explaining to them that if they do, it will scientifically increase their happiness and how…well, some might find that very helpful.

While "Buddha's Brain" probably isn't for everyone, I would say that it's extremely valuable for those who want to understand the science of happiness a little better.

Mondo Samu

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Jazz Koan

I have written in the past, on more than one occasion, about music and how it has effected me in my health, wellness or spiritual pursuits.  I've talked about Ben Harper's "With My Own Two Hands" and how it is a very "Buddhish" sort of song.  I've written about trumpet virtuoso and legend, Jack Sheldon, and how I experienced a deep and profound sense of involvement in the song and music of his that I was listening to one day.  Well, today, I experienced a similar event of both of those things combined.

I woke up in my hotel room, did my usual morning Tai Chi, practiced my morning meditation, and spent some time reviewing my vision board, as usual.  I then packed everything up and set out for the airport to make my way back home to my family.  In the car, I turned on XM/Sirius' fantastic jazz station "Real Jazz" and drove along enjoying the music.

The show was "American Jazz" and it was focusing on the music, performed by a variety of artists, of legendary writer Jerome Kern.  Having grown up on jazz, I have a pretty good familiarity with a lot of it.  The song that caught my attention was a Jerome Kern piece, with lyrics by Hammerstein,  being performed by Etta Jones called "Why Was I Born".  This was a new song to me.  After hearing it, having the experience I am writing about, I decided to look in to it's history. Then, while researching it so that I could write about it, I now realize why I wasn't familiar with it.  It's from origins are from Broadway, which I've never followed much.

Anyhow, whether because of the relaxed, meditative, state of mind I was in or just because I was in the moment, I found myself amazed and deeply involved with this song.  From the light-footed starting jog of the drums, to the stunningly elegant vocal interpretation of this classic song which - as often was the case for her career - brings to mind the passion of Billie Holiday mixed with the clear sharp energy of Dinah Washington, this song grabbed my attention right from the start!

Timeless Etta Jones

I mentioned her elegant interpretation...this seems to be the reason she left out the first verse of the original Hammerstein lyrics.  I am guessing at this, as my research on this song was quite conflicting and tells nothing of how the lyrics were changed or why.  From what I could find, it was originally written for a late 20's show.

Whatever the reason for the lyric change, it's that change that made this song so noticeable to my "Monkey Mind".  As though she were a Zen Master re-imagining this song as a Koan, Jones starts off asking:

Why was I born?
Why am I living?
What do I get?
What am I giving?

And then she exhibits those old cravings that we're all familiar with at one time or another in our lives.  The craving for love.  She asks with pleading power:

Or why do I want for things, 
I dare not hope for?
What can I hope for?
I wish I knew.
Why do I try, to draw you near me?
Why do I cry?  You never, never, never hear me.

I'm a poor fool, but what can I do?
Oh, why was I born to love you?

These eternal questions, sung with such hope, pain, love, passion and determination fill the listener with every ounce of emotion possible from a song, I feel.  The lyrics give way to a scandalous,  bourbon flavored sax lead that is equally filled with the feeling of these burning questions on the human condition.

All of this, mixed with my mood, led me to ponder - perhaps taking all this a little too far, but enjoying it none the less - what IS music, and (a question I have pondered for most of my life) why do some songs bring lyrics, music, artistry, vocals, talent, words and everything that goes in to a performance together in such a way that they profoundly effect you more than others?  Is great music because of a singer?  The songwriter?  The musicians?  Can the magic happen because of just one of them, or is it the inter-connectedness of them all, in some perfect dose, that does it?  Or is it more?

If you've ever gotten chill-bumps from listening to a good song, you know what I am referring to.  It happened almost any time I listened to my dad play, which at that young age I attributed to hero worship.  The next time I encountered it, I was working for a rock band.  That spine tingling feeling was the reason I was there.  I heard them play for the first time ever, and was struck by the same feeling I had gotten listening to my Dad play.  It wasn't every song, in fact it wasn't even every show.  But every now and then, the atmosphere would sort of click in to place at the club, and MAGIC would happen!  It's quite an experience, and I know a lot of people who have experienced it, usually at live shows.

I don't know what it is but I do believe, just as I spoke of in my Jack Sheldon post, that when it happens, we are TRULY in the moment with the music.  I am beginning to think that what this feeling is, is very similar to what I have heard described by people who have experienced extraordinary meditation states.  The feelings described are similar, and the reason makes sense to me.  Perhaps it is in these moments that we are touching, at it's most fundamental level, the inter-connectedness of the entire universe, or at least of mankind.

Too deep?  I don't know, but it makes good sense to me.  Check this song out, but more importantly be sure you spend some time listening to your very favorite music while being FULLY present in the act of listening to it.  It's an experience worth having, regardless of my musings above!

I would LOVE to hear of similar experiences from any of you readers!  That's the whole reason we're titled MondoSamu after all!


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW: Zafu & Zabuton Meditation Cushion and Mat from SageMediation.com

Several months ago, I started meditation as a part of my daily routine. I've always wanted to, but never thought I could work it in to my busy schedule. If you ask most people if they have ever tried meditation, I think "I don't have time" is probably the most common response. And, interestingly, it's not usually that they find meditation to be strange. I think most people are curious and interested in it, but feel that they can't fit it in to a modern lifestyle. ESPECIALLY if they have kids!

Well, I kept reading that even a minute of meditation could help you. Some said 10 minutes was more than enough to massively reduce stress and give you health benefits. So, when I read "Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Living" by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung, I found myself determined to try fitting it in. Some meditation disciplines are very strict, requiring that you not move, that you sit in a certain way and so forth. Thich Nhat Hanh says meditation is helpful, and that you should do it in whatever way is most achievable for you. Walking, sitting, lying, standing or whatever.

I decided to do it, and immediately added in 10 minutes per day of meditation. At the time, I was 349 pounds and couldn't sit in a position remotely comfortable for it, so I used my LaZBoy! I found it was TREMENDOUSLY helpful to my mental, physical and emotional health!

Next, I bumped it up to 15 minutes per day, and then 20. Around then, I decided I really needed to try the Zafu (meditation cushion) and Zabuton (Meditation Mat) that I see so many people using. I began researching online. There are tons of options out there, and I settled on one I found on Amazon. I liked their prices, and their products. I made it clear that this was the ONLY thing I wanted for Christmas from my wife.

In the meantime, I happened to find myself in Dallas, Texas, at the Dallas Meditation Center on the eve of the Winter Solstice. I got the opportunity to meditate for much longer than I was accustomed and to do so sitting on their Zafu and Zabutons. I was very happy to find it helped greatly! The posture encourages better meditation, and discourages drifting and dozing. The materials are extremely comfortable, using Kapok (hemp) for the mat filling and buckwheat hulls for the Zafu.

The Kapok makes the mat nice and soft, but doesn't clump like other materials. The Buckwheat Hulls make the cushion nice and firm, but not hard. Together, they make a great combination to give you optimal time on your bottom doing some quality meditation!

So, my wife couldn't remember how to find what I asked for and, while searching on her own, found SageMeditation.com and asked me if this is what I wanted. I started to say no, but didn't want to discourage her from making the purchase, so I navigated over to check it out. What I found was a GREAT web site dedicated to selling quality mediation supplies and related merchandise. They had some very helpful information on picking the right equipment for your needs. After reading extensively on their site, even down to choosing the right colors and models for my needs, I gave her a link to the one I was after.

On Christmas morning, I was ecstatic to my very own SageMeditation Zafu and Zabuton! Even though I knew I was getting it, I was elated to actually have it! I began using it the following day.

My Zafu, Zabuton and Mala from SageMeditation.com

The color, the material, the feel, and the usage is all beyond my expectations! I couldn't be happier! I am now meditating 30 minutes per day, and the comfort is fantastic. Less physically, the feeling I get from my mat and cushion on my bamboo hardwood floors versus the LaZBoy is not to be dismissed. It's a big difference mentally.

I spent some time speaking with the owner of SageMeditation.com while writing this post, and found the reason for their quality starts at the top. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, the company prides itself on working with other small businesses to offer the highest quality products possible. Often this means products made by equally small business owners, creating a network of vendor/customer support that exceeds the level of quality and support you might be accustomed to from online vendors!

So, check out the kind folks over at SageMeditation.com. They are fast, responsive and supportive! They are a lean, small company providing quality products and services. I think you won't be disappointed if you make your next meditation purchase through them!

Warm Regards,

Friday, January 7, 2011

Socializing and Favicons

Good morning!  As I continue to improve on this little blog, I am adding features, tweaks and social media.

I set up a facebook account under Mondo Samu and also a Twitter account as @MondoSamu

I'm working on a favicon and logo, but running in to issues with that.  Should be up before too long.

I also enabled the mobile blog, so that the blog shows up really nice on a mobile device such as the iPhone or Droid and such.  VERY cool.

I hope everyone enjoys these changes and additions.

Have a great day!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Three Miles of Meditation

For months now, I've been walking almost every day.  I tend to average 2.5 to 3 miles.  Every since reading "Savor", I try to make my walking a meditative time as well.  This has worked wonders for me in many ways.

A couple of those ways are more exercise (obviously) and more meditation.  Like most folks, time is always a challenge.  Walking Meditation makes the walking more enjoyable, less effort and most of all it vastly expands my meditation time which has a ripple effect throughout the rest of my life.

Since the weather has gotten colder, and the days shorter, I have no longer able to fit a nice walk at the local park in to my schedule.  I chose to walk in my neighborhood.  The block I'm on, right in front of my house, is precisely one half mile.  I walk it six times to get my three miles in.  So while walking the last bit of it recently, I had the thought that since it is such a neatly broken down series of laps, it would be easy to describe how I use it for my meditation.

I get asked, a lot, HOW I perform walking meditation.  I have Thich Nhat Hanh's book on Walking Meditation, and LOVE it. 

Walking Meditation w/DVD & CD-ROM 

I perform the guided meditations on the CD quite often.  I use that one for when I am severely limited on walking space.  Say, for instance, I am stranded at the office, and I know I will not get the opportunity to walk that day outdoors.  I sometimes perform the guided meditations in the hallway of my office building.  I've even performed these in hotel rooms before.

But when I walk outside, I don't listen to music or guided meditations.  I perform my own style of walking meditation based on the things I have learned from Thich Nhat Hanh's books.  The one in my neighborhood breaks down something like this:

0.5 - Breathing
1.0 - Walking Meditation on My Body and Nature.
1.0 - Walking Meditation on My Family and Friends.
0.5 - Walking Meditation on the World, and nothing at all.

For the first half mile loop, I focus simply on my breathing.  I don't try to think of anything in particular.  In fact, focus on my breathing to help clear my mind so that I don't start solving whatever problems are in my head.  Being a professional problem solver, that's just how my mind works.  Every little thing such as how to get a better rate on my insurance, how to teach my daughter to tie her shoes, how to spend more time with my friends who live far away or how to write better CSS code for a web page that I am working on or whatever.  When I am not thinking of anything in particular, my mind starts solving these problems for me.  So…I try very hard to focus on my in-breath and my out-breath, for the first half mile, so that as I enter the second half mile loop, I can turn my mind toward mindful thoughts for me, my family and my friends.

On the second half mile, I begin focusing my thoughts toward my body.  By this time, I am warmed up with the walking, and I can become keenly aware of my body.  Thich Nhat Hanh, in a couple of the books I have read which talked about walking meditation, suggests a process where you first release the tension in your body and let worry and stress fall away as you walk.  Let it sink out of you and in to the earth, acknowledging it, but releasing it.  Then you can start to give gratitude for your body and health.  I start by saying to myself, mentally:

Breathing in, I am aware of my body. 
Breathing out, I appreciate my body. 
Breathing in I welcome the energy of the universe to my body. 
Breathing out, I send the energy throughout my body and back to the universe.
Breathing in, I keep the energy I need,
Breathing out, I send the rest back to the universe. 
Breathing in, I am aware of my leg muscles,
Breathing out, I am aware of their wellness"

and so on for my entire body.

I usually end this portion of the process with something along the lines of:

Breathing in, I am grateful to my body
Breathing out, I appreciate my body's function
Breathing in, I thank my body
Breathing out, I smile to my body.

If you have never done any of this before, these meditations can sound a little odd, but when you are actually doing it, I assure you that it will feel more natural.  For that matter, and this is important, it doesn't matter how you do it or what you say…these are good guides, but I only do them because they work for me.  I arrived at these by starting with some of the suggestions that Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, but I rapidly evolved the suggestions in to my own things.  Things that matter to me, or that feel natural to my inner mind.  The only thing that really matters, at least in my opinion, is that you are focused on gratitude.  The feeling you get from gratitude (and I mean the chemical reaction your body has to the emotion) and the physical benefits from the walking give you a double-whammy of healthy benefit, and there's hard science to back it up.  (I'll be reviewing the book Buddha's Brain for more on that soon)

Anyhow, once I have finished the laps two and three, focused on gratitude for my body, I spend the next two laps doing the same thing, but focused toward my immediate family.  Basically I do breathing-thoughts (as I tend to refer to them) focused on my Wife, Daughter, Brother and Sister for the first of those two laps, then on my entire extended family and set of friends on the second.

I then spend the next lap (being the final half mile) focusing on nothing at all.  I release all thoughts, I typically spend that time smiling.  I let my mind drift and don't focus on any thoughts.  If I notice that I am starting to think of a particular thing, I give mental thanks for the thought, and ask it if I can get back to it later.

At the end of my walk, I slow down, and if possible I like to end the walk with a very slow walking meditation like the guided ones in the Walking Meditation book, or sometimes I will do some mindful movements that are sort of loosely based on Tai Chi.  They are a great way to smooth the pulse back down to a normal rate and be fully relaxed.

That's it!  I hope that you find some use in this information.  I get asked about it often, and it's rather hard to describe quickly, so I often feel I've not helped people who ask.  Alternatively, I hear myself describing it and realize that the average person might find this all to be a little uncomfortable.

A buddy of mine, whom I recommended Mindful Running to when his iPod died tried it for a while and then called me one day with a lengthy poke in the ribs about it.  The story was too long to tell, but suffice it to say that it ended with him buying another iPod.  Maybe it's not for everyone, but I think if he would have tried his running would be much improved.

Please feel free to post and questions and I'll try to answer them.  Meanwhile if you Google "Walking Meditation" you'll get TONS of useful information, guided meditations and assistance.  I highly recommend the Thich Nhat Hanh book "Walking Meditation" as well.  It has been a great thing for me.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mondo Samu Site Maintenance - COMPLETE!

OK, my changes have all been implemented, and as far as I can tell there are no issues with any of it.

Aside from my own permissions changes on the back end, the blog should now post to my Twitter (@mondosamu) and Facebook (Mondo Samu) accounts automatically.

I'll be testing it out of the next few days/weeks.

Let me know if anyone has any questions or issues with any of it.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Mindfulness Snowball to the Face!

Back on Christmas Day, my wonderful day ended in a wonderful way.

After a LONG day of great family fun, opening of presents, family meals and LOTS of vicarious living through my daughter on her first Christmas where she really understood it and enjoyed it, we were treated to an evening snow.

In Georgia, white Christmases are exceedingly rare. We only got a couple of inches, but it was plenty. It was the perfect, big, fat flakes that make the best kind of snowmen.

Well, my Father-In-Law (a Canadian, it's worth mentioning) stuck his head outside, saw the snow building up, and said he was going out to build a Snowman. My daughter, wife and Mother-In-Law all jumped up and started getting bundled up for some snow fun.

While I was excited, I was more interested in the warm, comfy chair I was holding down. I thought "Ah, I'll check it out later." Ultimately, I felt guilty for not going outside with everyone else, so I sighed a burdened sigh and headed outside with a frown.

When I walked outside, I saw my little girl rolling a big base-snowball for her snowman, as beautiful as it could be! Moments later, a great snowball fight ensued.

As a side-note, I was very pleased to see my little girls first snowball fight was met with great joy and enthusiasm, and not tears. How one reacts to ones' first snowball to the face is a major turning point in ones' life, y'know.

Anyhow, I very quickly lost myself in the joyful, mindful moment of the snowman building and snowball fighting, and it seemed to last forever. It was the greatest thing.

Later, I reflected on the fact that I nearly missed it all. I couldn't believe that I had nearly passed it up. Luckily, I didn't miss it. I took a few moments to think about it, decided I would regret it if I didn't go outside, and I DID go outside. The short time outside seemed to last hours, and was one of the most wonderful moments of the season for me.

It was a Mindfulness snowball shot to the face, and I needed it!

It was a powerful lesson for me. A lesson on mindfulness, and a lesson on joy. If you ever find yourself in need of a little joy, and mindfulness, you need look no further than the nearest four year old. They are nearly always immersed in the both!


Monday, January 3, 2011

Mondo Samu Site Maintenance!

Hello all!  I will be doing a couple of minor tweaks, relating to my own site permissions and such, today.  The only possible effect (that I know of) that you might see is that it is possible that some of the photos from previous posts may disappear.  If this happens, I will try to restore them, but it's important that I do this change sooner rather than later.

Thanks for you wonderful presence, and for your patience in the event of any issues.

I'll post once I've completed and tested the maintenance.

On a side note, this should also fix some issues where not everyone was able to post comments.  Following these changes anyone should be able to comment.   We'll try that out and see how it goes.

Thanks again!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Longest Night of the Year Went Too Fast!

I just returned from a trip to Dallas, Texas, on business and had a really great trip.   On Tuesday, December 21st, I had enough free time in the evening that I wanted to get out and do something.  When I travel, I try to use the opportunity to do as many things as I can that I wouldn't normally do.

When I eat out, I like to frequent restaurants I have never been to, and can only go to, in the city I am visiting.  I like to visit the less ordinary attractions.  Take, for instance, when I had a local take me to a Pan Yard in Trinidad.  That is something that very few Americans would get to see because it seems slightly (or very) dangerous, and it's not easy to find.  Just getting there would scare off most tourists.  But, that's just what I like to do.  I'd much rather experience something truly unique than see a tourist trap attraction.

So that explains why when looking at the list of local concerts, movies, events and such in Dallas, that the one that appealed to me the most was the "Winter Solstice Celebration" at the interestingly-lacking-in-specific-practice-tradition-name-appended-to-the-beginning "Dallas Meditation Center"!

I checked out the web site, and all the related information, and I wasn't sold.  First off, I'm rather neutral when it comes to solstice recognition.  Meaning, I have a lot of friends to whom it's a big deal because of their particular religions, but not being particularly religiously affiliated myself it's never been something I paid much attention to.  Also, the very thing that intrigued me about them - the lack of a specified "tradition" such as "Mahayana" or "Soto Zen" or whatever - also turned me off a little because they were SO open to all faiths that I feared a distracting mix of beliefs that might make my first foray in to group meditation a distracted mess.

After vacillating back and forth all day, right up to 30 minutes before the event, I finally decided that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  I put on some white track pants (as the flyer had requested that you wear white if possible) and I set out for the Dallas Meditation Center with my hopes set high, but my running shoes laced up tight in case I didn't like what I found!

By the way, the deciding factor in me finally going was that the facilitator of the event was the founder of the center, Brother ChiSing, who is a student of Thich Nhat Hanh.  I figured , if nothing else, this was a guy I wanted to meet.

Can you tell that I was going in to this with high hopes and low expectations?  I was fully aware of the fact that I was judging this event, this place and it's people without any reasonable cause.  In the end, it was the realization that I was stopping myself before I started - getting in my own way, basically - that made me man-up and go.

When I arrived, the outside of the building was very encouraging.  It was decorated in each window with things like "Tai Chi", "Interfaith", "Interbeing" and so on.  I walked in the front door and there was no one to greet me.  Just when I started feeling kind of like a party crasher, someone walked by and asked if I was there for the event.  I said that I was but didn't know where to go, and they invited me back to get involved.  They asked that I shed my shoes outside the room and directed me inside, where I found a few people sitting already in a meditative state, and a few others just quietly sitting.  It was a little unnerving being thrust in to the room with no real knowledge of what I was in for.

I took a seat, and started doing a little mindful breathing of my own to get myself in the right frame of mind.  It was easy, due to the environment. The room was hardwood floors, large and dark but lit softly with candles and strings of white lights like Christmas lights.  People were trickling in and getting seated, and soon enough Brother ChiSing came in and got things under way.

What followed was the best two hours of group meditation, chanting, talking, mindful moving, relaxation, solstice honoring time I could have ever hoped for.   We started with some introductions, and each person sharing - in a single word - what they were letting go of with the changing cycle of the year and what they were welcoming in.  It became clear that the group had some pain and suffering that they were holding.  The words came with emotion.  Words like "the past", " pain", "loss", "non-practice", "suffering", "judgment", "grief".  Then, the same ones who shared their painful word, shared their word of welcoming for the new year.  These words dwarfed the negative ones with their passion and energy!  These were words such as "new experiences", "practice", "assertiveness", "openness", "non-judgement"  and others.  As sad as some of the emotion was when they said their past words, their future words were full of light and hope!  It was remarkable to be a part.

There were some chants that ChiSing led us in, giving honor to the changing seasons and cycles of the planet and our lives.  They were in multiple languages and honored no particular religion.  There was some "dancing", the prospect of which had me quaking, but in execution it was little more than a circle moving around and singing a little chant.  We did a couple of meditation sessions that were great!  Until that night the longest I had ever meditated was for 15 minutes and in a comfy chair.  This meditation was performed with most everyone on a Zafu and Zabuton (meditation cushion and mat) in a large circle.  This was great for a few reasons for me....first off I really wanted the group meditation experience, so I could decide if I want to pursue the same back home.  Secondly, I wanted to try the mat and cushion, as I have asked for my own for Christmas.   Lastly, I really wanted to meditate for a longer period of time.  All of this turned out to be great!  The meditation was really wonderful, and the group aspect adds a quality, and depth that I am not sure I can adequately describe, but to say that it is very rich.

Without describing it in crushing detail, suffice it to say that the evening went too quickly and was a great deal of fun, very gratifying in many ways and exceeded my expectations by miles!  We did some mindful moving, which was essentially Tai Chi mixed with some thoughtful leadership.  ChiSing gave a heartwarming appeal to everyone to make a choice to say yes - or no - to a mindful pursuit of life over the next two years.  He spoke of the solstice, the cycles of he earth, life and the universe, and of the fact that the planet simply can't sustain people  not living mindfully any longer.  He encouraged everyone to choose to attend group meditations like the one we were having, engage in a mindful life and practice, and stressed that these groups are occurring more and more around the world and that they really matter.  I've done a poor job here of describing it, but the talk was very mindful, poignant and moving.

The night wrapped up with everyone taking a moment to say what they had on their mind, which was very inspirational, and then another group "dance" and chant.

The happiness, mindfulness and sense of Sangha was palpable, and everyone gave hugs and handshakes all around before retiring to the kitchen for some desserts and discussion.

I had a wonderful time talking about "Savor" with a woman who said that my words during the evening about Thich Nhat Hanh and "Savor" were exactly the message she felt she needed to hear.  I really enjoyed this, because I felt the same way when I discovered "Savor"...that it was the right message for me at the right time.  She's now intent on getting the book and applying mindful eating to her own life.  I enjoyed fun and thought provoking discussion with ChiSing and some others about all manner of things.  I felt as though I had made a dozen new friends and was saddened to have to leave them behind.  I took comfort in this though, knowing that we are all connected.  I hope if I am ever back in the Dallas area, I will have the opportunity to meet with and enjoy their company again!

What is the point of all of this?  Well, there are many.  But if i needed to pick a single overriding theme to focus on for this experience it would be "Be open!"

Be open to trying mindfulness in your own life, be open to trying new things that are outside your comfort zone, be open to trying things you might think aren't for you, be open to making new friends, be open to new experiences and even people whom you've never expected you would enjoy or have things in common with.

One of my favorite quotes, which is part of my meditation every single day, is "As I enjoy people, I attract enjoyable people".  I embraced that ideal on the Solstice and was rewarded with infinite kindness, friendship and love from a room full of complete strangers!

I want to tell you more about Brother ChiSing, but I have more to learn about him first.  For now, please take a few moments to check out his various web sites and see what he's doing with the Dallas Meditation Center, then go out and look for something similar in your own area and get involved with it.  At least try it.  As ChiSing encouraged me before leaving, "no one place will be perfection, but just try them all and you'll find one that works for you."

I'll do a follow up story on ChiSing in the future and I will feature his music, and meditation center and more.  Until then, I truly hope that this story has inspired you to look for some similar experience in your own area.

When I was younger I spent countless years exploring and trying various churches.  I was seeking a place of fellowship, and group spirituality, but was constantly disappointed in the people who made up the gatherings.

Not once did I find a place where the group was there for the spirituality of it, but instead I consistently found people who were using the gathering as a networking opportunity or for gossip.  This soured me on religion for many years, until I found my own path that worked for me and eventually accepted and understood what they were doing.

What I found at the DMC,  in addition to all the other great things I described above, was a group of interfaith practitioners who shared a single common desire to meditate and be mindful regardless of their individual religious beliefs.  And no gossip at all!

Thank you to Brother ChiSing, and all of the other kind souls who attended the Winter Solstice Celebration the Dallas Meditation Center, for showing me a great time and extending such warmth and kindness to me. It is my great wish for you all that you achieve the things you are welcoming for the new year!

Warm regards,
Happy Holidays,

Happy NOW Year!!!

2010 has passed. 2011 spreads out before us. Between the two is all that matters. Right NOW.

I wanted, very much, to look back at the year and recount my achievements in this post. Every time I sat down to write this, however, I felt troubled. In the end, I finally decided to take my favorite piece of Buddhist wit "Don't just do something, Sit there!" and put it to practice (if you'll pardon my play on words). I held the question of why this writing of my New Year post was troubling me so much in my mind - "as the sky does the cloud" as one of my favorite analogies goes - while I just sat in meditation. I didn't try to solve it, just let it sit there with my acknowledgment and cocked my meditative head to one side and observed it to see what it would tell me.

To my chagrin, it told me nothing. Having read of this method from others I was sort of expecting it (my mistake) to unravel before me, laying the answer bare. Instead it just sat there.

However, by thinking on the question, and not in it, I was able to learn more about it. What I saw while looking at the question was that here was no reason to answer it. The recounting of past events, as I looked at it without trying to address it, made me realize that the reason it was bothering me is that there was no reason for it.

As I have embraced this mindfulness lifestyle which I have always found attractive, and which I finally started practicing seriously in July, I have tried hard to always live in the moment. This is where the great skeleton key lies! That key which opens all doors. It's not always easy to do, and I'm certainly not perfect about it. But I am always getting better at it. It was this present mindfulness that disagreed with the urge to write about all the things I have accomplished in 2010 & to tell you all the things I hope to achieve in 2011.

It was the "NOW" ignoring the "monkey mind", as they say.

If I made a bullet list out of my achievements in 2010, what would I accomplish? Nothing. These are all things that a reader of the blog already knows. Heck, this blog is - itself - a recounting of those achievements. That is it's nature! So, really, all I would have accomplished would be to boast. To toot my own horn, as they say.

While I am very pleased with what I have done, and hopeful about what I hope to do in the future, I will get there the same regardless. So, I am better off just enjoying where I am right now. The first day of a new year and everything I want and need to make me happy is all around me.

So. Instead of recounting things I have done and stating things I will do, I invite you to join me in this moment and take a nod from Thich Nhat Hanh. Take a few minutes, more if you can, and breathe in and out a few times focusing simply on gratitude for this very moment. As I said at the beginning "2010 has passed. 2011 spreads out before us. Between the two is all that matters. Right NOW."

Have a great moment, every moment, and please know that I am very grateful for you taking the time to visit here!

Happy NOW Year!!!