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.

Pages

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Buddha Heart - A Yearlong Dedicated Practice & Study Group


My dear friend DharmaApple wrote a great post about a project we are starting in January.  She wrote it so well that I'm massively plagiarizing her - with her permission - here! So here goes...her post, slightly modified!

Starting January 1, 2013 my friend DharmaApple and I will begin a new dedicated practice period (Similar to our current Four Foundations practice) called "Buddha Heart - A Yearlong Dedicated Practice & Study Group" based upon Thich Nhat Hanh’s "The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings" as the practice/study guideline.



We have set up a Facebook page for participants to post guided meditations, talks, articles (etc.) related to whichever aspect of the book we are focused on. This will assist in understanding and deepening our practice together. There is a lot of value in learning from one another.

In addition to the Facebook page, we would like to have monthly Skype discussions where we will have a guided meditation and discussions together.

Unlike her wonderful book club (BuddhaBkClb) this is not just about reading and discussing a book. It’s about really making the effort and applying these practices into our daily life in an organized and systematic manner with support of virtual Sangha.

If you ever find yourself confused over what tradition you are interested in or turned off by the dogma of some of them, or if you are just trying to get back to the basics, then this year of core practices might be perfect for you.

The structure we will follow can be seen in the Table of Contents of The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings. The time structure for the year will be as follows:


  • Part One (The Four Noble Truths): January 1- 31 (1 month)
  • Part Two (The Eightfold Path): February 1 – September 30 (8 months)
  • Part Three (Other Basic Buddhist Teachings): October 1 – November 31 (2 months)
  • Part Four (Discourses): December 1 - 31


We have many reasons that all sort of came together at once to generate this idea for us, but for me one of the main reasons is that the Three Gems, The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path are the very core of my path.  When I get distracted, or confused, or have doubt, these teachings always are there for me - rock solid, and dogma free.  It is these basic teachings that Thich Nhat Hanh manages to share in both his lovely and simple way, yet with very organized and logical clarity.

We hope you'll join in the fun!

_/\_

Monday, October 1, 2012

#4Foundations of Mindfulness Dedicated Practice starts today! First up - #Body


Hey, hey! It's October 1st!  We start TODAY!  Remember....there's not much to this...trying to keep it super simple and stress free.  The only thing that matters is that WHEN you practice during the month of October you only focus on the FIRST of the #4Foundations which will be #Body.

If you want to take it up a notch, you can further read the book with us.  We will read The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana and will focus on only one foundation per month in the book as well.  The idea is to take it nice and slow, and the only thing that matters is the dedication to this one practice for this one month.  Check in on Twitter with the hashtags you see here and #OMCru if you want company when you sit.

PLEASE relax, enjoy, and join us!  I really hope we all get what we most need out of this effort!  Be well! _/\_

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dedicated Practice Group on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness


My dear friend @DharmaApple from Edge Meditation Calgary and I have been discussing focus.  It's a long story (for both of us) as to what led us to this idea, and I recommend reading her post about her need for it.  For my part, I was listening to an Against The Stream PodCast by Noah Levine about The Seventh Factor of Awakening.  Some of the things he was saying about Mindfulness, and about sticking with practices for long periods really struck a chord with me.  I started focusing on some of this that day.  Meanwhile, Kayla (@DharmaApple) posted about feeling scattered.  All of these, and other things, were swirling around our heads and an idea formed.  When we discussed it, we decided to try something out. 

She already wrote up a blog post about the details if you want to see that here, but the nuts and bolts of it are as follows:

Four Months of Dedicated Practice on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness.  
  • Starting on October 1st, One Foundation per Month for four months.
  • Read only the section pertaining to that month of practice from The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana.
  • Devote your sitting meditation to only that ONE practice for that Month of Practice.
  • Post your comments or thoughts regarding your experience in the Meditation Mob Facebook Group in the related thread or on Twitter using #4Foundations and whichever hashtag fits the month (#Body, #Feelings, #Mind, #Dhamma)
  • No expectations (other than to devote to this practice) and just see how it goes!



Our hope is that this structured, dedicated practice of the basics will help us sort of free up from whatever habits we've gotten in to with our practice of trying to force things, or expectations of results.  Also, it's just a nice exploration of longer periods of dedicated practice.  It's a small time frame (in terms of dedicated practice), and will give us a taste of a longer such times.  Ultimately, for me, I'm viewing it as a reboot of my sitting.

We'd love to have you join us!  Please let me know if I can assist.

_/\_

Monday, September 3, 2012

So tell me, who aren't you?


So, as I continue to publish my thoughts, efforts and experimentation with Phillip Moffitt's "From Emotional Chaos to Clarity" book (as part of the Buddha Book Club) here, I'm now covering the exercises at the end of Chapter 2 - "Getting To Know The Real You".

Moffitt states at the beginning of this chapter:
"Your movement from emotional chaos to clarity begins with answering the question, "Who am I?"  
Should be a snap, right? :-)

The fundamental point here is, I think, that most people go through life without any real understanding that "The mind" is not "themselves".  With a daily meditation practice, we start to notice that the mind is, indeed, not who we are.  As we meditate, we gain a spaciousness from our thoughts.  This space gives us the ability to understand that our thoughts don't have to rule our behavior.  For many people, especially anyone with some form of addiction, this realization can be life altering.  It can be the first time this idea was ever thought possible!

To do the exercise in Chapter Two of FEC2C (From Emotional Chaos to Clarity), Mr. Moffitt asks us to spend time reflecting, not on who we are but, on who we are not!  One word of caution here...this is, as he states in the book, not a one time thing.  This is a practice you want to incorporate in to your daily life.  Essentially it should become part of your overall practice.  A good tool to check in with on an ongoing basis, I think.

He says:
"The following suggestions can help you cease being trapped in a false identity and begin to open up to new possibilities."  
I will post short versions of the exercises and some thoughts here, but I encourage you to read them at length in the book and practice them as such.


  • Which type of "mistaken identity" best describes the way you tend to think? (referring to several types of behavior he reviews in the chapter.)  For me it was the "You are not your responsibilities and habits" type.  He talks about how "You can fall quite literally in to believing your identity is the sum of your duties and habits."  Any parent out there probably has some experience with this.  I can easily find myself living a routine and mundane daily set of tasks.  I have to make an effort not to.  So I definitely identified with this.  The old cliche "Variety is the spice of life." takes on a whole new meaning when you get stuck in this mindset!

  • Which type has caused you the most suffering in the past? For me it was "You are not your history."  He says "Your history is simply an accumulation of actions and events that characterizes you at a particular moment in your life; it does not define your essence."  I used to, long ago, always blame my parents or other factors - but mostly my parents - for a lot of things in my life.  I let go of that a long time ago, but it used to cause me a lot of suffering.

  • Become a careful observer of your behavior and the mind states underlying that behavior.  I've been trying to make an effort to do this more.  We have a tendency, I think, to see a certain mind state and say to ourselves "aha! I am behaving like this!" and then we identify with that, say this is who we are, and move on.  I think the goal here, or certainly a more skillful goal, is to remember that he says "be an OBSERVER" not a JUDGE!  Don't use any judgement as you notice these things, and don't notice it once and consider that you are that observation.  Just routinely observe, without judgement, these states of mind and be aware of it.  Then do it again. And again.  You get the picture.

  • Begin to notice the difference between the experience you are having and your awareness of the experience.  He gives the example of noticing that you are hungry, but shifting  your attention from the feeling to the awareness of the feeling.  Ask yourself how it is different.  For me, this was a good example because my issues tend to be around food.  Not so much anymore, but still an area of interest for me.  So, using that exact example, I noticed that when I identify with "feeling" hungry I'm anxious and sort of driven to act.  When I shift to the awareness of that feeling, the drive seems to recede and eventually the feeling passes.  When I observed this often enough, I started to notice (and I've been doing this for a couple of years now, so it was much easier for me I think) that often the "feeling" of hunger is just a thought that sets off a chain of other thoughts that imitate a true feeling of hunger.  In other words, my mind says "Man, some dark chocolate would be good right now, with my coffee." and then there is this cascade of thoughts that happens very rapidly, almost undetectably.  "Oooh that sounds great. I love dark chocolate with coffee.  What time is it? Two more hours to lunch. How many calories have I had today? Is it raining? No. Good.  I can walk tonight.  That means I can walk extra and burn off some more calories.  That means I could eat that dark chocolate if I wanted to.  I don't need it.  I do want it.  I'm gonna have it.  Nah, I won't.  Man, I'm REALLY hungry though." and on and on.  Somewhere in there, it's as though the collection of thoughts is dropped in to a bucket that adds up to a single over-riding thought of "I'M HUNGRY".  If I shift from that to just observing that, then I start to see it riding off in to the sunset, very slowly, and I start to notice, I'm really NOT hungry.  I'm fine.  THAT, I think, is the key to this exercise.  Shifting from believing whatever your mind tells you, to letting it believe whatever it wants, while you wave goodbye to it and go about your day.

The example I gave above was a lot longer than I meant to make it, and it also kind of covers the rest of the exercise in chapter two, so I'll let it go at that.  This is a sampling of my work with chapter two, and I hope to hear from some of you as to your experiences with it.

Keep reading!
_/\_

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Emotional Chaos to Clarity - Exercise One

I've been reading the book Emotional Chaos to Clarity by Philip Moffitt with the Buddha Book Club run by my dear friend @DharmaApple.  Since I haven't been posting here much, and I have stuff that is too lengthy to post for twitter, I figured this might be a great place to post my process of working through the book.  This way, it will help me get back to writing here and - with any luck - perhaps it will help someone else discover some things that could help them on their own path from Emotional Chaos to Clarity.

Before I go any further, I should say a couple of things about my mindset going in to this book.  I like Phillip Moffitt a lot.  I discovered him one day while researching something and have followed him since.  I was very excited about his new book.  Once I saw what it was about, however, I admit to having a little trepidation.

I've read just about every self-help book & business productivity book on the market, I think!  When I started looking in to this book, it really seemed a lot like a business productivity book with a Buddhist slant (which makes sense given Mr. Moffitt's background.  He was a hugely successful business magazine editor before leaving that life and devoting himself to the dharma).  I thought a lot about this before beginning.  I had a lot of feelings of this book being too "self-helpy" for me.  I'm kind of done with those books.  Anyhow, after a great amount of consideration, I ultimately decided a few things:
  • If I think I don't need clarity, that's probably a sure sign that I do.
  • My thinking it is too self-helpy for me is probably me being judgmental.
  • What do I have to lose? It's always good to refresh with a little "Don't Know" mind!
So, with that out of the way, I dug in to the book.  I am reading the eBook, and listening to the audio (only after reading it because a certain someone that rhymes with @SharmaFlapple says just listening to the audio is cheating!).  I'm actually really enjoying it this way, as it's a lot to soak in.  I'm reading it, and using that method for highlighting and study.  I'm going back to the previous chapters and listening to the audio after reading them, mostly just to soak in the info a little more, maybe pick up on some bits I didn't catch on my read.  I'm also doing the exercises in the book along the way.  

Often when I read books that have exercises in them, I either don't do them, or I do them randomly or maybe after reading.  This time, because it's part of the club and because we have plenty of time allotted for it, I'm doing them as I go.  Also, I heard early on that if you want to truly get the most out of the book, you needed to do the exercises.  So here goes....

Emotional Chaos to Clarity by Phillip Moffitt

Chapter 1 - Beginning Your Journey To Clarity - Exercise


After opening the exercise section with the above paragraph, Phillip Moffitt goes on to describe how he wants you to perform this basic, daily, mindfulness meditation.  Since I started my practice with basic mindfulness meditation, and return to it always as my primary practice, I am very familiar with how to do it.  Because of that, when I first read this exercise I blew it off as basic instruction that I already know how to do.  I posited that since I do this routinely already, there is no need for me to do this first exercise.  After reading several chapters, I started seeing the wisdom in approaching the book with the proverbial "beginners mind".  I went back and spent a couple of weeks of practice on this one.

Instead of just repeating the basic mindfulness meditation instructions here verbatim, I will just summarize.  But I highly recommend reading it, paying close attention to it, and spending a couple of weeks at least with just this practice - regardless of your current level of practice.

The author says (in a nutshell) to:

  • Start by finding a comfortable place and position.
  • Feel your body and recall your intention to be mindful.
  • Notice tension in the body and relax with a few breaths.
  • Turn your full attention on your breath and let it be your anchor throughout.
  • Spend some time noticing all of the places in the body you feel the breath and find the easiest to stick with.
  • When you mind wanders - and it will - return to the breath.  Do Not Judge!
  • While following the breath, note the characteristics: Short, long, deep, shallow, etc.
  • If your mind really gets stuck in planning - comment to yourself on what it is doing "Planning, planning" or "remembering, remembering"
  • Be patient, be kind to yourself and start over.
  • Start over.
  • Start over.
  • You get the idea.

He ends the first exercise instruction with this deeply important and (seemingly) mundane paragraph.  Read it several times and consider its importance:


I don't have anything remarkable to report with this exercise.  As I said, I do this all the time and it's a standard part of my practice.  If you have been reading my blog for a couple of years, you already know the profound impact this kind of basic meditation had on me.  It continues to do so.  The only important message I have for you on this first exercise is to DO IT!

If I were to boil it down even further than I did here, it would be like so:


  • Sit
  • Breathe
  • Notice
  • Start over, if you need to.
  • Don't judge.


Sounds SO very simple, and it totally is.  But you have to do it long term, daily - even if only briefly - to realize the full benefit.  But you will, if you do.

I hope this helps.  It gets on to other much more (seemingly) interesting stuff, so stay tuned!

Warm regards,
MS



Monday, June 4, 2012

2012 State of the Samu Address

Previously on MondoSamu.com:

2010: I weighed 349 pounds.  I read "Savor" by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung.  I surprisingly, and rather effortlessly,  lost 110 pounds in 11 months by applying it's Mindful Eating, Mindful Living principles. Through "Savor" I was introduced to Buddhism.

2011: Having lost 110 pounds, I plateaued at around 240 and have stayed right around there.  I've continued my healthier lifestyle, as well as my Buddhist practice.  I had hoped to get some health matters handled such as getting a full physical, but I have found many excuses to postpone that one.

2012: And now, the rest of the story....

So, while I failed to do a couple of medical/health things I wanted to this year (so far) I'm extremely pleased with how my year has gone regarding my health and practice.  I am disappointed that I didn't blog more, and I apologize for that to those who enjoy reading here.  I'll try to do better this year.

First, in terms of my health - which is kind of the main focus of why I started this blog - let me update you there, as it's the short part of the story.  As I mentioned, I've leveled off and unless I reduce my food, or increase my exercise, I guess I'm done losing weight.  I still have a goal to lost about 20-30 more pounds, and I will definitely be focusing on that this year. (See the end of this article for my intentions for the coming Samu year)  As for me, I feel GREAT, and I'm happier than ever!  So health is doing well, and I WILL get the doctor stuff handled this year.

Now...the biggest thing that happened in the last year, and the reason for me not blogging as much, is the incredible deepening of my practice.  I said I was going to do it, but I had no idea how deep I would get with it!

First off, I used to post book reviews of various Dharma Books here.  I intended to continue that, and I still hope to do so.  The problem is that I got so deep in to reading them that I have read DOZENS, and before I knew it I was so far behind writing about them that I felt I didn't even really know where to begin.  I'll try to rectify that this year too!  They're one of the most helpful things on the blog I think.  So there was that.

Next, there was the plethora of Sangha's I visited in my travels.  I had the great and distinct pleasure of spending many sits in the presence of numerous loving and welcoming Buddhist Sangha's all over the country.  It was humbling, gratifying and helpful.  So helpful, in fact, that I finally launched one in my area!

After nearly a year of effort, I finally got enough people and resources together with a like mind to launch the Two Hands Sangha.  As a part of that Sangha, we have a steady Mindfulness Meditation Group that meets once per week.  It's hosted in the lovely home and garden of one of our members, and has been a great benefit to all involved, I think.  That progresses well.  I still want to have a secondary group, with a more Buddhist focus (as opposed to the more general Mindfulness group) but it will come.

Aside from the Sangha effort, I've also decided to start attending retreats.  I started getting serious about it, and all of a sudden, a couple of options for a 4 day Memorial Day Weekend retreat popped up.  One in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition and one in the Against The Stream/Theravadan tradition.  I struggled over both as I love the teachings in each, but ultimately my wife prompted me to do the ATS retreat in Joshua Tree, CA when I shared my thoughts with her.

Joshua Tree, CA - ATS Memorial Day Silent Retreat

I was concerned about the extra time a California retreat involves (an extra day on each end for travel) and a few other things, but I explained to her that I wanted to do whichever one would challenge me the most.  After telling her all about it, she wisely (and lovingly) suggested I do the ATS one.  She was right! I'll do a separate post all about that retreat, but it was definitely the right choice.  While I love the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition, I think the effort I had to put in definitely made the ATS retreat more rewarding.  Anyhow, now that I got my feet wet with a 4 day, I've cleared the way to attend a week or so each year.  I'm really looking forward to that.

As a direct result of the retreat, I also FINALLY went full Vegetarian!!  I was lingering in the meat eater world because I couldn't get rid of chicken, but the exquisite vegetarian food and mindful eating on retreat finally gave me the strength and clarity I needed to push the rest of the way over.  I've been veg-only since May 24th!

Last, but certainly not least, I've had the incredible fortune this year to meet some of my Online Dharma friends in the real world and grow closer to that online Sangha.  I hope, in the near future, to write a post all about that Sangha (or #Twangha as I hashtag it on Twitter), but suffice it to say that I deepened my connections to that Sangha and it has had many, varied rewards for me.  This year I was fortunate enough to hang out in the "real world" with the likes of @DharmaApple (who attended the retreat I was on and has turned out to be a great friend), @Jacklope (One of the nicest guys ever, whom I consider a dear brother and friend, and even teacher at times), @MindOnly (a wonderful human being, if ever I've met one) and many, many more.....too many to mention them all here.  But that's been one of the greatest things for me. I've developed these deep, wonderful friendships thoroughly through the Dharma and it's SO rewarding in so many ways.  I'll explore some of that more in my future post on the matter.  In a couple of weeks, I'll be meeting an online Twitter friend who has already become like a sister to me, @KittyDew, and I can't WAIT for that!

I'm sure, after such a lengthy absence, I'm leaving something out, but I think that's enough for now.  SO...

My intentions for the next 12 months or so are:

  • Remain vegetarian. 
  • Attend a 7-10 day retreat!
  • Continue to deepen my practice.
  • Establish better personal health care (routine Doctor and Dentist visits)
  • Re-Read Savor AGAIN and see if bringing a little focus back on to it will shed that last 20!
  • Cultivate two personal, long-range, Dharma-work-related projects in the right livelihood area that I've in mind! (Ooooh, secret-y!)

So that's it.  I hope you'll hang with me in the coming year, as I explore even more!

_/\_


Sunday, March 4, 2012

#RealHappiness 28 Day #MeditationChallenge 2012 - Review

Late in January, I decided that I would participate in the 2012 Real Happiness 28 Day Meditation Challenge after telling a host of friends that the Real Happiness book by Sharon Salzberg was a great way to help them start a daily practice but watching them struggle to do so. I figured it would help motivate them if they had a little company from someone they knew who was directly participating.

Having been practicing for almost two years now, and having read the Real Happiness book previously, I didn't think it was going to do much for me to participate in this thing. What I found was that just reading the book and actually participating in the challenge are two very different things!

From what I observed, this is for two reasons:

1) Doing is better than reading! I had read the entire book and had even practiced many of the methods or - more accurately - something close to them. The difference, this time, was doing them in a daily, planned fashion with guidance. This structure, I feel, translated to a lot of insight and benefit that I didn't expect. The challenge aspect and this structure compelled me to want to track my effort by writing about it.

The second reason I think the results of the month of dedicated practice was such a surprising help was...

2) Responsibility. The commitment to participate in the challenge and, more importantly, to write about it publicly gave me a sense of responsibility that helped me stay at it. While I already practice daily and don't require any additional motivation to practice, I think that writing about it daily made me stick strictly to the books practices rather than settle for ones I might prefer normally.

These two things provided a sort of motivation loop that kept running on its own steam, one step feeding the other, perpetually. So much so, that I'm a little sad to see it stop! But, then, that's a good reason to remember the most important lesson the month had to offer:

Start over!

#RealHappiness - Day 27 - Circle of LovingKindness

This one was the only meditation in the book that I found a little alien and uncomfortable. The only reason was this idea of imagining yourself at the enter of a circle of the most loving beings you can think of. I think the first clue that I need to practice in this manner was this uncomfortable feeling. The second was the very telling fact hat I had a hard time thinking of who would form this circle. The first couple were easy. Siddartha Gautama, Thich Nhat Hanh, The Dalai Lama and so on. I added a few other leaders of the world who were known for their compassion. They were easy because there aren't many. Then, I thought I would add some I knew personally. That's when the discomfort returned.

It's very easy to imagine the cheerful smile and goggly glasses of HHTD wishing me well, but when I thought of some of the people closest to me, I didn't think I could imagine them being purely loving toward me. This is disturbing because there are certain people you should be able to automatically count on for unconditional love. Right?!

The first sign of trouble was when my Dad popped to mind but my Mom didn't. I won't divulge the list, in it's final form, here but it was interesting enough that it bears my returning to it later to practice the LovingKindness meditations on the folks who didn't make the cut! ;-)

With my list complete, I settled in and began with breath meditation and some Metta phrases for myself. After a bit, I imagined the people of the circle giving me their full attention and loving regard. Some of those people are some of you reading this now. I envisioned the easiest one first. Sid. Can't imagine him having anything but loving regard for anyone, right?! Then Thich Nhat Hanh, HHTD and so forth.

You choose three or four phrases like the ones we've been using to have these beings offer to you. These should be big, broad phrases in their scope. Then imagine the beings in the circle offering you these phrases with all of their regard and love. I chose these:

May you be free of suffering.

May you be happy.

May you be at ease.

May you be at peace.

May you love and be loved.


The book warns that this may be uncomfortable, but I didn't find it so. Then it says to let whatever emotions arise pass through you without pursuing them. This is a little harder, but still was fairly comfortable for me, perhaps because of my daily practice. Perhaps it would be more difficult if I didn't already have a daily practice in place.

Simply practice this receiving of love from people wishing you love for as long as you like and when you are ready, you end the practice.

With this beautiful and simple practice, I brought the practices provided for the Real Happiness 28 Day Meditation Challenge to a close. Tomorrow I will practice a core sitting meditation while reflecting on the month.

_/\_

Saturday, March 3, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 26 - Lovingkindness While Walking

The practice Sharon provides for LovingKindness While Walking is a very simple instruction. Simply walk as you would for a walking meditation but instead of focusing on the movement of our steps and the breath, we focus on repeating phrases of LovingKindness to ourselves.

 

May I Be Peaceful. May I Be Happy. May I Be Safe.

 

As we walk, part of our attention will fall on our thoughts and part will fall on our surroundings. We can start by repeating the LovingKindness phrases for ourselves. As we go along, thoughts of other people may arise, perhaps someone we love or someone we have conflict with. When they do, offer them the phrases altered for them, then return to yourself.

 

May You Be Peaceful. May You Be Happy. May You Be Safe.

May I Be Peaceful. May I Be Happy. May I Be Safe.

 

Practice in this way as long as you like or for the duration of your walk. That's it!

 

Last weekend, when I performed this practice, I was out of town visiting friends. As I've mentioned, this trip provided a plethora of opportunity for various LovingKindness practice, much insight and some real healing and deepening of my understanding of this practice.

 

One such example was when I had the opportunity to walk with one of my old friends whom I had great difficulty with. During the walk, we talked a lot. When we weren't talking, I used the quiet to mentally offer us each the phrases above. Then, when conversation came, I found myself warmed to the task and able to talk openly about our past, our present, our families and so on with an open heart and warmth. It was really great for both of us. I highly recommend this practice. It's good for you inside and out, physically and mentally!

 

 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 25 - Quieting The Inner Critic Meditation

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of reuniting with a group of old friends to visit an ailing mentor. These relationships are sort of a second family. They've spanned nearly three decades. They've experienced many forms of joy and suffering over that time, and worst of all great periods of non-relationship.

 

So it was that going in to the weekend, there were a couple of situations that I was concerned about having to deal with. One in particular was difficult to name, but I've narrowed that emotion down to selfishness on my part. It's deeper than that really. Much deeper. But in the end, I'm being selfish.

 

We've had seem unskillful interactions recently. There was an exchange that turned from him showing great disrespect to me, which led to unskillful banter. That led to anger on my part for his lack of mutual respect and understanding. That led to forgiveness on my part, which took some serious practice. Upon raising the white flag with him, and telling him I loved him, he promptly fired another shot in that verbal war. The proverbial last word, if you will, at which point my forgiveness turned to a selfish desire to be understood and accepted by him. At some point I hope to write about Uppekha, which has been a huge practice when working with people like this, but that's not how I worked with my feelings on this occasion. On this occasion, I practiced "Quieting The Inner Critic".

 

As this meditation can be practiced in any position which is comfortable, I chose a lying down position which was more convenient to my housing at the time. I called to mind a difficult emotion - in this case the selfish need to be understood by my old friend - and I watched how I felt about this selfishness. I clearly had the feeling, along with the selfishness, that I was bad for feeling this way.

 

Per this practice, I then changed my way of viewing this as "bad" to viewing it as "painful". Once I was able to regard this feeling as painful, I was able to cradle it and show some compassion for it. As I'm accustomed to doing this with pain from my studies of Thich Nhat Hanh, who is known to talk of treating ones pain as a mother treats her newborn child when it cries, I found this fairly easy to imagine. I invited the pain of my pride, which selfishly wanted to be understood, to relax. I acknowledged it was there, said hello to it and that I loved it and appreciated it for what it was there to accomplish. I did some more practice, I won't go in to here, in the way I'm familiar with from Thich Nhat Hanh and eventually watched as this pain eased and dissipated.

 

Once dissipated, I was left simply loving my friend and feeling a little sad for him. I was left thinking I need to practice some Mudita for him and grow this sense of happiness I was starting to feel for him being comfortable with his beliefs. I realized that I really don't need to be understood or respected by him I order for me to love him and respect his beliefs.

 

When you practice this, in the end, please pay close attention to the words of. Sharon Salzberg at the end of her instruction around it:

 

"Reflect again on the fact that you aren’t able to prevent negative feelings from arising. You don’t need to be overcome by them, defined by them, to act on them or feel ashamed if you have them. This is just in the nature of things."

 

_/_

 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 24 - "Seeing The Good" Meditation

For this practice, we settle and and focus on the breath, then begin by thinking of something good that we have done recently.  Maybe we helped someone out who needed it, or we were kind to someone else.  Nothing big, necessarily, just an act of kindness for another.  We might say to ourselves:
"All beings want to be happy, may they be happy."
Next call to mind a person who has helped you in the past.  Someone who has done you a kindness when you needed it.  The repeat the saying:
"All beings want to be happy, May they be happy."  
Repeat the practice in this way, bringing up someone who's having a tough time, and see a time where maybe they have helped someone else.  Call to mind someone you have had direct conflict with and try to see a way in which they really are a good person and not the bad person you have built a story around.  After each person comes to mind, repeat that phrase. 
"All beings want to be happy, may they be happy."
The point of this method (as I see it) is to glimpse that there might be more to things than we typically see and to learn to water the good seeds instead of the bad.  The habitual practice of labeling these things as "bad" has the effect of watering the bad seeds in us.  This practice helps us begin to break that habit and use that "water" to grow the good seeds in our "Store Consciousness".

Human nature, or more accurately the human ego, is such that people tend to think everything is black and white, that all people are either good or bad.  We say to ourselves "He did me wrong, so he's a jerk" but really there's more to that person than that one act.  He might have been a jerk to you, but his kids might think he's a great father.  Or perhaps he treats his best friend very well, and you just aren't that friend.  Maybe that family member who has mistreated your family is extremely kind and helpful to some other family.

I'm always reminded, when talking about this sort of thing, of the old 80's Boston based Funk-Metal band Extreme.  They put out a concept album called Three Sides To Every Story.  There were three distinct styles on each of the "Sides" of the record titled "Yours", "Mine" and "Truth".  People are not actually all "Bad" or "Good".  The reason I like that so much is that it points to the fact that "Yours" is how your mind sees things.  "Mine" is how my mind sees things.  But the truth...well, that lies somewhere between the other two and is really a combination of them both and so much more.  This touches on the Store Consciousness I spoke of yesterday.  We each have good seeds and bad seeds, and the ones that grow are the ones that we water. 

A friend of mine recently told me she couldn't meditate because her mind won't still.  I responded that her mind has been practicing wandering for hundreds of thousands of hours, non-stop.  It's only practiced letting go for a couple of dozen.  It takes time, and it takes effort.  And it takes watering the good seeds.  Seeing the good.

_/\_


Monday, February 27, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 23 - LovingKindness Meditation for Caregivers

I have a dear friend who is dealing with her own health issues, while being a regular caregiver to her parents whom are both suffering from ailments of a severe nature as well. And she has a child. So, as you can imagine, she's dealing with some stress.

Another friend of mine, who was a bit of a mentor to me in a long-past life, has been dealing with severe health issues for a few years. He has a caregiver who has done an amazing job in some really horrible situations. He's doing much better lately, but wouldn't be so if not for her. I went, with some friends, to visit him this weekend and her support of him was evident in his improved health.  My friends and I, to whom this man matters a great deal, feel we owe his current presence to hers.

There's an even more interesting story buried between those two individuals stories which helped me to see more clearly the fact that there is good and bad in all people, and that gave me deep insight in to "Store Consciousness" this weekend, but that is a whole different story. Maybe I'll get back to that some other time.

Anyhow, seeing both of these two situations up close this weekend, and involving two people whom I care about was both interesting and enlightening. With them on my mind, as well as my own role as an emotional caregiver (which I am grateful to be able to do) for many people at the moment, I sat with these in mind and performed Sharon's LovingKindness Meditation for Caregivers.

I won't write the whole meditation here, as you can find it in Real Happiness if you need it and it applies to you. But I wanted to talk a little about some of the things Sharon brings up on the matter in the book. She says:

"Skillful caregiving depends on balance - the balance between love and compassion for oneself and love and compassion for another; the balance between opening on's heart fully and accepting the limits of what one can change. Moving our hearts toward balance allows us to care and yet still cope because of that caring."

Wow. Well said Sharon Salzberg! These people (caregivers) often teeter on the edge of burnout, which Sharon also talks about, and they really are handling a lot of things. To do well as caregivers, they must find that balance, and the two examples I saw this weekend do very well given their very different but both overwhelming tasks!

A few of the phrases Sharon suggests for this practice (if you are the caregiver) are:

"May I find the inner resources to be able to give to others and receive myself.

May I offer love, knowing I can't control the course of life, suffering or death.

I care about your pain, yet cannot control it.

May I see you as I wish to be seen, as big as life itself, so much more than your need or pain"


Read that last one again. Wow, huh? I practiced these, and the others in Real Happiness during that sit, and they really helped me feel more balanced. I hope that if you are in the position of being a caregiver - and let's face it, we ALL are in some way - that you will find comfort and balance in these practices!

_/\_

#RealHappiness - Day 22 - LovingKindness Meditation

On Day 22 of the #RealHappiness #MeditationChallenge, I sat listening to the Guided LovingKindness Meditation provided by Sharon Salzberg in the Week Four section of Real Happiness.

I've done these practices before, and I'm growing to love them more and more.  In this first, introductory guided meditation to the Metta practice, Sharon guides us to wish ourselves to be to be safe, happy, healthy, and at ease.

"May I be safe,
May I be happy,
May I be healthy,
May I live with ease."

Following that, she asks us to call to mind someone who has helped us in our lives, or who might have inspired us.  For this portion, and for no apparent reason other than her awesomeness, my friend @KittyDew came to mind.  I envisioned her fun loving face, with her cute doggies Pickles and Lulu.  I let the joy that her presence in my life, and our conversations, brings me fill my thoughts. Then I wished for her:

"May you be safe,
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you live with (Pup) ease."

Letting thoughts of my Kitty-bud drift away, I brought my focus back to the breath and called to mind someone I know who is suffering right now.  Her image arose and I focused on some of the difficulties she has faced recently with her job, her health, her families health and more.  She's dear to me, and I wished for her:

"May you and yours be safe,
May you and yours be happy,
May you and yours be healthy,
May you and yours live with ease."

Lastly, I called to mind a difficult person.  Someone you've had a disagreement with.  Maybe someone who has hurt you in some way.  For me, a person whom I had been arguing with, but deeply loved, came to mind.  Since I care very deeply for them, it was easy for me to welcome them, and wish them Metta, but you might have someone in mind whom you find it very difficult to send well wishes to.  If this happens, return to the breath until you feel ready to try again.  When I called them to mind, I was ready and able to wish them:

"May you be safe,
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you live with ease."

This practice, at first glance seems very easy and also perhaps a little ineffectual.  As I have been practicing it more and more, I've come to realize it is neither.  It is not always easy, and - practiced regularly, for long periods - I think it has the power to change your life entirely.  I have some friends like @Jacklope who find it to be crucial for them.  If you've had the pleasure of knowing him, you might understand how powerful this practice really can be!  He has said that it has cracked open his heart and filled him with love.  He's such a genuinely great guy that he positively glows with it.  If he owes this to the Heart Practices, as he has said, then it's certainly worth exploring!

_/\_

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 21 - Thinking Meditation

I wrapped up Week Three of the #MeditationChallenge with 30 minutes of "Thinking Meditation".  I started by settling in and feeling the ground beneath me, as Sharon suggests.  Knowing that I can count on that solidity.  I follow the breath, knowing that it comes and goes without effort.  No need to control it. 

Having reconnected with a Junior High School friend via a social media site right before my sit, I had that fresh on my mind.  It was thoughts of that friendship, the reconnection and the discovery that my best friend from Junior High is a Buddhist that ebbed and flowed for me during this sit.

The goal of this meditation practice is to note the thinking as it happens, and later, what kind of thinking it is.  I started with just the realization that these thoughts were arising.  This was harder than normal for me, as I kept latching on to the thoughts and following a story.  Then I would realize I was no longer watching a thought but creating a story that started with a thought, and I would bring it back to the breath.  This was the real purpose of course, so I guess I succeeded. ;-)

Sharon says "Our habitual tendency is to grab on to a thought and build an entire world around it, or push it away and struggle against it." and this is definitely what I was doing.  Fortunately, I was able to see that, and bring it back.  I was able to let it go, bring my attention back to the breath and continue.

So, with Week Three behind me, I'm looking ahead to Week Four where I'll be working on:
  • LovingKindness - Cultivating Compassion and True Happiness.
  • LovingKindness Meditation for Caregivers.
  • LovingKindness Meditation on Seeing the Good.
  • LovingKindness Meditation on Quieting the Inner Critic.
  • LovingKindness While Walking.
  • Circle of Loving Kindness Meditation.
I'll be out of town this weekend, so I'll save the Walking Meditation for then.  Hopefully, I'll be with my Sangha on Sunday and we can do the Circle Meditation.  Then, before you know it, this month long mediation challenge will be done, and hopefully you'll all have found benefit in the additional practice or established your own daily practice if you didn't already have one! 

_/\_

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 20 - Meditation on Positive Emotions

Last night, I used the guided meditation Sharon has for week three (Titled: Meditation on Emotions) and then when that ended I spent the rest of my time calling up emotions from something that made me feel good.  She prompts us to get in to a comfortable position and then call up something such as time spent with our kids, or something we are very grateful for, etc.  I chose, as it was fresh on my mind, the positive feelings I got from a compliment a friend gave me recently.

This woman was one of my best friends in High School.  We were very close.  I was always attracted to the kind of person she was.  I always saw her as a very clear and bright soul.  She was just a very good person, deeply.  She had some crazy home life going on back then.  Her Dad appeared to be a very angry person, who turned out to have medical issues behind his behavior.  Many, many years later, they finally figured out what was up with him and got him on medicine that has changed his entire families lives.  But, anyhow, she went through some rough times back then and I was with her through that. I was one of the only guys she was allowed to have around, and I was her friend, brother and confidante. 

We lost touch, making contact only once in over 20 years.  That contact was over 15 years ago!  Then we lost touch, seemingly, for good.  A couple of years ago, she found me through a social media site and we reconnected.  She has an amazing family of her own now, with a talented son and loving husband, and she's grown in to the woman I always saw in her.  She's as awesome as ever.

Well, recently she had a birthday, and I sent her a private message telling her Happy Birthday and let her know how lucky I felt to have her as a friend after all these many years.  It was my way of letting her know how much I still appreciate that old friendship.

She responded by sending me a message telling me much the same.  She complimented me tremendously.  I won't share all that here, but basically she said I was always respectful and good to her and that she's happy to find I'm still that way.  Her response was heartfelt and really moved me, and for a few reasons.  With this fresh on my mind, I meditated on the good feelings about it.

I first called up the feeling from when I read the message, and just enjoyed the emotion of it for a few minutes.  Then I started examining the emotion from a little distance.  I looked at how I responded when I read it, and what feelings arose.  I found, to my surprise, that I was not only pleased by the compliment on a simply straight forward level, but also that I had some previously unnoticed  feelings of pride and shame that came up as well, very very faintly. 

I examined the pride, and why I felt it.  The reason I saw for the pride was fairly obvious.  I felt a little vindicated that I was perceived in such a great way, as though I deserved it and was glad to have it recognized.  Simply put, I saw it as validation.

Next I examined the faint feelings of shame.  These were actually a little more pronounced than the pride and also felt very connected to the pride.  I had to really sit, patiently  and observe the whole thing over a few times in order to identify it, but the shame was coming from the fact that I wasn't so much a gentleman in high school as timid.  It came from the fact that I haven't always lived up to the standard that she sees in me.  I wasn't the bold and assertive type back then, though I certainly am now.  Or, at least I wasn't where girls were concerned.  So every time my mind put forth the idea that I was a gentleman to her in high school, and still today, it also puts forth the notion that I was, and am, to her now but that in High School I certainly wasn't always a gentleman.  It tries to bring up other feelings and situations where I didn't live up to that standard.  It's very faint, but it's there.  Here's the immediate description of the feelings straight from my meditation journal following my sit:

"Heart-space is warm and full with a link to a feeling in my brain.  Another link from the heart-space goes to my throat which tightens.  Happy.  Negative thoughts that I'm not as good or have not always been as good as she sees me.  Overwhelming gratitude."
It was very interesting to experience this.  Even more, it was quite interesting to let this rise and go without attempting to tackle it.  We tend to sort of argue with ourselves all the time.  To correct ourselves and defend ourselves from ourselves.  For example, let's say you go out for a healthy lunch with some co-workers and afterward you're comfortably full and content, but the waiter asks "Anybody save room for dessert?"  And then this conversation might unfold in your mind:

"Ooh, that sounds good!"
"Yeah, but you shouldn't."
"Well, I did eat healthy for lunch…"
"Yeah but that's how you got to be fat in the first place."
"No it's not, I'm just big boned!"
"No you eat too much crap food!"
"No, I come from a big family, I can't help it!"
and so on….

This kind of mental exchange is all the mind, or ego, doing it's thing.  And the mind does it's thing, all day, every day unless you intervene.  This kind of meditation practice allows you to examine that process, without judging any of it, and just start to realize how each side of that conversation makes you feel, and where it all comes from.  Which, ultimately, allows you to let go of this type of thinking entirely.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks about "Watering the seeds".  He talks of how we have good seeds and bad seeds, and the ones you water will grow and bear fruit.  If you let this thinking go unchecked - as most of us do all day every day - then at best, both are watered.  In many cases the bad will grow like weeds and strangle out the good.  So he teaches us to water the good and let the bad seeds lie dormant.

This meditation, which Sharon provides very succinctly in Real Happiness, allows you to identify the good and bad seeds, and start to learn to water the good ones.

Even though I was a little vague on the specifics, this is a very personal post for me.  I hope that it helps you deal with your own mind, and take some of that out in to the world in your daily dealings.  As Sharon says, I hope it helps you:

"Bring this skill of gentle interest, curiosity, and attention to your encounters throughout the day.  Notice pleasurable or positive moments, even those that may be seemingly small."  ~ Sharon Salzberg Real Happiness

_/\_

Monday, February 20, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 19 - Meditation on Difficult Emotion

Sunday is always my favorite day of meditation practice as it's the day I'm fortunate enough to practice with my budding Sangha. We have a small, blooming Sangha in my town and, while we're still "young" as a Sangha, we have a great group of people. I'm really lucky to have somehow, unintentionally and quite unexpectedly, found such like-minded, wonderful people!

Anyhow, our format altered slightly this week. It was raining, and we had a new member, so we decided to review the basics. We used Sharon Salzberg's guided meditation from the first week of Real Happiness which contains all the things perfect for a new person. It's simple instruction and gives a touch of everything you should and shouldn't be concerned with. It is really great for starting out.

Following that, we opted out of our usual garden walking meditation and decided to watch Thich Nhat Hanh's DVD on Walking Meditation. That ran longer than expected and instead of doing more meditation, we opted for chatting. So, while our meditation was on the lighter side Sunday, we had a great time getting to know one another and discussing our group and some future things such as retreats.

Following Sangha, late at night, I sat for 30 minutes. Normally, I wouldn't do an additional sit after Sangha, but I felt the need for it, and I wanted to focus on the Calling Up Difficult Emotions practice in Week Three.

There's not much to tell. It's basically the same as what I wrote about yesterday, but specifically dealing with difficult emotions. You call up a time in the past where you felt some negative or difficult emotion. If at any time you are uncomfortable, you can take a break by following the breath for a bit. When observing your body during this meditation, take a look at how it makes your body feel or react. Note these things. Bring them up, recognize that you can examine them without getting swept away by them, acknowledge these feelings with compassion and then gently let them go. Don't cling to them, and do not push them away. Just allow them to move on. Try to pay special attention to the fact that these emotions are not you…they are just emotions. During your daily activities, start noticing when similar feelings happen to you. You might find that you are better able to handle difficult emotions calmly because of this practice.

I've said it over and over during these last few weeks, but I can't stress it enough.  While I'm hopefully providing some useful introduction to this book, Real Happiness, I would strongly recommend that you pick it up and read and practice from it yourself.  I keep finding myself recommending it to people, and the more I work with it, the more I feel it's a great beginning point.

Enjoy!

_/\_

#RealHappiness - Day 18 - Meditation on Emotions

I've been so busy and behind on posting my daily meditations that I hardly realized that I was almost at the end of Week Three and I wasn't really focusing on the book and it's Week Three practices. So, on Saturday I reflected on Week Two and looked at what I should be focusing on as Week Three comes to a close.

In Week Three of the Real Happiness 2012 Meditation Challenge, Sharon Salzberg recommends some of the following practices for us.
  • Meditation on emotions. 
  • Meditation on calling up difficult emotions. 
  • Mental Noting. 
  • Meditation on positive emotions. 
  • Thinking Meditation.
So, Saturday through Tuesday, I'll be working with these. Saturday I started with the Meditation on Emotions. For this practice I used Sharon's guided practice and reviewed the instruction on this.

She invites us to find a balanced and tranquil state but connected to our emotions. Recall feelings of things like when we were "In the zone" so to speak, such as when running, dancing or even cooking. Anything where we got in stride. Settling in to this meditation and following your breath as you pay attention to the emotion, you start noting the feeling tone in your mind. For me, it was around my walking meditation. Not the slower ones, but my three to four miles walks. The feeling tone is usually peaceful and exhilerated. Also, typically, a sense of oneness with things. And so it goes, observing your emotions as they come and go.

This can be a challenging practice, I'm told, but so far it's been OK for me. I think the level of difficulty depends (I would imagine) on your emotional "baggage" so to speak, and how easily you access your emotions.

What I took from this practice as being the most important thing is to establish the habit and capability of stepping back from your emotions and allowing them to unfold, while observing their causes and effects, but not reacting to them. Or perhaps, more succinctly put, to reflect as they go by and not get swept away with them. Let's face it, most of us spend our lives being swept away by emotions, whether we realize it or not!

See you tomorrow!

_/\_

[note: This post was deleted by the blogger interface on the iPad, and had to be reposted.  Sorry if that caused anyone any confusion.]

#RealHappiness - Day 17 - Falling Over Meditation

Friday was Day 17 of the #RealHappiness #MeditationChallenge and what a beautiful day it was!  Here's the scene as I parked my car to go in to work:

I enjoyed the day, had a wonderful Thai lunch with my co-workers.  We have a fun bunch of people, so the lunch was full of laughs.  At the end of the day, as I headed home, the sky offered another great view:

After a nice family dinner and some reading, I hit the cushion quite late and did "Falling Over" Meditation where I fell asleep, and then nearly fell over sideways off the cushion a couple of times!

Sometimes, that's just how it is.  I dozed a couple of times, and instead of beating myself up about it, or worse - giving up, I just stuck it out, started over, fell asleep again and repeated.  Then went to bed.  That's what matters in developing a solid daily practice.  Starting over.  So don't give up!

_/\_

Saturday, February 18, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 16 - Night of the Living Chi

Thursday, the 16th day of the #RealHappiness #MeditationChallenge, was my Tai Chi Class day. I went home after work, had dinner with the family and then headed out for Tai Chi. I didn't really want to go. I wanted to stay home in the quiet and read a book. That's how I knew I HAD to go. So I did.

 

I had a great class and then hit the cushion as soon as I got in the door at home. Normally, I would sit around for a bit first, maybe have some yogurt first. But this time I hit the cushion right away. And I was so glad I did!

 

My core meditation practice was extraordinarily calm and connected! I settled in quickly. Because, presumably of my Tai Chi, I was more calmed already than normal and certainly was more stretched out that I normally am before coming to the mat.

 

I floated (for that's the best way I can describe it) in my meditative state of awareness for the entire time. I was very...un-distracted...or...present I guess. It was fantastic in its non-remarkableness.

 

Anyhow, that was it...nothing terribly amazing to report and nothing troubling. This sit was exactly what most people probably think meditation is all about. Blissful. I hate to even say that word, because of the cliché connotation of it, but it was. Meditation, especially when you're new to it, is rarely like this I think. At least I don't know anyone who claims it to be so that isn't trying to sell you something to help you achieve it! It does happen though, and it is certainly enjoyable when it does. Just don't get attached to it!

 

See you tomorrow!

 

_/_

 

 

Friday, February 17, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 15 - The Benefits Of Practice

Wednesday I practiced walking and sitting meditation.  For my sitting meditation I simply practiced my core meditation and it was as mundane and wonderful as usual.  But, I'd rather tell you about my walking meditation from that day.

It was unseasonably beautiful out on Wednesday in Atlanta.  I took full advantage and made sure I carved out the time for extra walking outside.  I got home, changed and hit the streets of my neighborhood.  I was filled with gratitude for the great weather and neighborhood walk, but I was also extremely happy to be getting back to my routine which has been sporadic lately due to travel and weather.

The subject of enlightenment is one of those strange topics that make people uncomfortable.  Some people brag about having "gotten" it, which tends to make me think they haven't.  Some demur when the subject comes up, which makes me wonder if they have.  And most describe enlightenment as the present moment.  Thich Nhat Hanh has said that enlightenment is simply being present.  He says that "Small enlightenment lead to large enlightenment."  Other teachers I've read and learned from say that enlightenment, or "enlightenment experiences", are when you gain true understanding of something you previously understood only as logic.  That it's all a gradual process of deeper understanding.  Specifically, for this post, I thought of Brad Warner when he talked of what might be considered his own enlightenment experience in "Hardcore Zen".  He said:
"I was walking to work along the Sen-gawa River, just like I did every day, when in an instant everything changed... ...But I can't really recall anything unusual, I was just walking to work."
Well, it was this deeper understanding that hit me like a bolt on Wednesday!  I was walking along, practicing my favorite walking meditation.  I was in the middle of some gratitude sayings, or prayers if you will, about my family when I got to my Dad.  I have this habit of listening to the sounds around me when I think of my Dad.  I listen for the "jazz" in the sounds around me.  The solo, I guess you'd say.  I listen for the part my Dad would be playing if the sounds around me were his band.  There's always something that rises out of it.  It's the lead sounds I'm listening for, never the rhythm.  Not the sirens, or cars, or cicadas.  It's usually the barking dogs, or kids playing or birds singing.  The things that aren't redundant. 

Anyhow, I guess my mind wandered for a second while I was listening for the jazz, when I slowed to a complete stop and stood there with my mouth agape.  Then - and this is where I won't be able to do a very solid job of explaining it - I suddenly gained an insight.  A clear, deep(er?) understanding of Shunyata.  And it came from relating it to music.  I realized that Music is not found in the notes, nor the space between them.  It's both.  Notes are spaces, spaces are notes.  Form is Emptiness, Emptiness if Form.

Now, this doesn't sound like any sort of great revelation and I've logically understood Shunyata (Emptiness) for some time now, but there is a difference between logical understanding and a true, deep understanding.  Most teachers I've read tend to describe "enlightenment moments" as achieving a deeper understanding than a "common logical" understanding on a subject.  They also caution, almost universally, not to get caught up in them and that they are no big deal.  But, as this happened to me, I suddenly gained a true deep understanding of emptiness and interbeing that spiraled through my mind starting with jazz. 

I simply can not explain it better than that, but I guess the shortest way I can try is to say that it was like I had a little idea about how music is a great analogy for Shunyata.  And then from that thought, it was like a doorway cracked open.  I peeked through, and got an even better look at the idea and how it related to Shunyata.  And that was when the door swung wide and I really grasped it all.

Then, as Brad Warner described so well in his book, I walked through the door, and kept going on about my business.  There's really nothing else you can do.

I feel I've done a really terrible job of explaining this.  Almost to the point that I don't feel this was even a worthwhile post.  But, hopefully, someone out there will understand it.  Maybe, with any luck, someone might even benefit from this sub-par explanation.  But most of all, the point of this post is not about Shunyata at all.  It's about Meditation and why a daily meditation practice is so important.  I've been doing this 28 Day Meditation Challenge to help some friends of mine kickstart a daily meditation practice.  When I try to explain to them the benefits of practice, they are so numerous, varied and wide-ranging that it gets hard to explain concisely.  This sort of stair-step deepening of understanding of the Dharma is one of the greatest benefits of meditation.

If anyone out there has any similar experiences, I would really love to hear about them publicly or privately.  Anyone?  Anyone?

#RealHappiness - Day 14 - Walking Meditation; Airport Style!

On Day 14 of the #RealHappiness #MeditationChallenge I hit the cushion after a LONG day of travel home from Ohio. But I decided that instead of writing another day of my Core Meditation, I would tell you about an alternate practice I did that also fit in with Sharon Salzberg's Week Two practices.

In Week Two, Sharon talks about Walking Meditation and gives us a nice guided meditation to use. She even gives some illustrated instruction if needed. I've been practicing walking meditation since the early days of my practice so this is old and comfortable territory for me, but I've not used Sharon's guided meditation until now. Also, my day of travel on Valentine's Day provided me with the perfect opportunity for it!

I've talked often of how much I enjoy walking in the Airport. Coming back to ATL I took the opportunity to listen to the walking meditation from Sharon as I walked the mile and a half or so from my gate to baggage claim. First off, the ATL airport is basically one big straight line. There's a train, but you can walk instead. If you choose to walk, you're treated to all sorts of interesting stuff. There's a segment that is filled with giant photos and artifacts and information about the history of Atlanta. There's a section of statues that are just amazing. It's really nice!

Most travelers never see these beautiful statues in the
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Also, it's a great way to enjoy your travel rather than race through it. It kind of nudges you in to being more mindful and getting exercise all at once! Lastly, listening to the guided meditation added a nice component to it as well.

Give it a try…next time you visit the airport, try skipping the escalators, elevators and moving sidewalks. The trains and trams. Try walking from the entrance to your gate. Make sure you have the time to do it, and then just relax and enjoy. There's something almost perversely enjoyable about walking slowly and calmly through such a hectic and frenzied environment. And best of all, you'll be sitting for a flight anyhow…this helps you get your muscles stretched and warmed before all that sitting!

Let me know if you've done this and what your experience was!

Be well!

_/\_

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 13 - Core Meditation, Hotel Style

Sunday was Day 12, and I had a great Sangha group that day which served my day of travel well. Following Sangha on Sunday, I drove to the ATL airport, hopped a flight for Ohio, landed and rented a car, then drove two hours to my hotel. I got to bed at 1:30am Monday! So, it was a very busy day, and while I did just manage to squeeze in meditation before bed, I did not get time to write about it!

So on Day 13 - Monday - I was running on on fumes. I was in the middle of America with the only coffee shop around was located in the local Hospital (That did not deter me from going). I taught class all day, struggled to find a vegetarian meal of a whole foods variety and made it to the cushion just before midnight again!

I did my core meditation practice and promptly fell asleep following that. I felt fortunate just to have been able to maintain my practice under the travel load I had.  I actually do really well maintaining my meditation practice on the road. I find creative ways to sit in my hotel room using pillows and couch cushions and such. It's always so quiet that I find it very easy. The hard part is finding the time when I'm on the road, but I always manage.  Sorry it's not more exciting than that!

I'm feeling a little out of touch though as I've not been active much on Twitter this week with my #OMCru family.


#RealHappiness - Day 12 - Forgiveness

Day 12 of the 2012 #RealHappiness 28 Day Meditation Challenge was Sangha day!  So my meditation was varied and wonderful.  A theme of Forgiveness seemed to rise from the week, so we enjoyed Gary Sanders' guided meditation on Forgiveness, followed by a 10 minute walking meditation.  When we finished that, we followed it up with a nice 20 minute silent sit. 

I gathered and shared a handful of quotes from Jack Kornfield, before we chatted for a bit.  Finally, before I carried the calm with me to the airport to fly out on business, we finished off with a poem by Hafiz. 

"Even after all this time, The sun never says to the earth, 'You owe me.'
Look what happens with a Love like that.  It lights the whole sky!" ~ Hafiz of Persia
Sangha meditation is always nice and such a different thing than solo meditation.  Our location, which is currently in the home of one of our members, is so perfect for our needs and she makes it so with tea, incense and her lovely home garden.  It's a nice place to practice, to be sure!

I was able to take that calm away with me as I headed for the airport.  It served me well to have meditated prior to driving through Atlanta traffic!  I hit a traffic jam and lost about an hour, but I didn't mind.  I was still in a meditative state for the drive.  I make it a habit, when traveling, to allow tons of time at the airport so that I'm not rushed.  I've even written about it before.  Often I even visit the Interfaith Chapel in the airport and meditate before or after a trip.  On Sunday, once I finally made it to the airport, I enjoyed skipping the train as usual, and walked all the way to the gate.  There's some really cool artwork and such you can enjoy in the ATL airport if you're willing to walk!

See you next time!
_/\_


[note: while I've been meditating daily as part of the challenge still, I've not managed to write regularly the last few days with traveling, so I hope you're still hanging in there.  If you don't see my posts daily, don't give up on the challenge…I'll get caught up ASAP!]



Monday, February 13, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 11 - Body Sensation Meditation

After a great day spent with my little girl, I finally made it to the mat around 11pm.  I had forgone the Body Sensation meditation the night before because I didn't trust myself to stay awake in a lying position.  On Day 11, I didn't find it to be an issue since I had just finished a Grande cup of Pikes from Starbucks!

With the Body Sensation Meditation, we are instructed to take note of each sensation in the body by using mindfulness to observe and simply note the state of the sensation as being either pleasant, neutral or unpleasant. 

The *normal* human condition is that we all cruise through our days on auto-pilot in a mindless state while experiencing all of these sensations.  Whether it's driving to work, feeding the dog, listening to music or even conversing with someone. With all of these things we tend to cling to the pleasant ones, hide or resist the unpleasant and not notice the neutral ones. 

I settled in, followed my breath and began acknowledging the sensations.  For someone like myself, who used to eat mindlessly all the time, and had a lifetime of weight issues as a result there is tremendous difficulty and tremendous benefit in this type of practice. 

I leave you with this quote from Sharon Salzberg:

"When we can’t let the moment in front of us be what it is (because we’re afraid that if it’s good, it will end too soon; if it’s bad, it’ll go on forever; and if it’s neutral, it’ll bore us to tears) , we’re out of balance. Mindfulness restores that balance; we catch our habitual reactions of clinging, condemning, and zoning out, and let them go." ~ Sharon Salzberg Real Happiness

Saturday, February 11, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 10 - Stayed Out Too Late #MeditationChallenge

I barely snuck my Day 10 #RealHappiness #MeditationChallenge sit in before it was Day 11! Actually, I started it on the 10th and finished on the 11th! ;)

There's nothing exciting to describe as I ended up doing my core meditation, rather than the one I had planned. Having had a very long day and not starting sit until late at night, I didn't trust myself to meditate while lying down even with my timer!

I'll tell you, however, that a sitting meditation (or likely any sort of relaxing meditation) is a wonderful way to end a long day. I'm certain that I sleep much better having meditated!

I've a busy day today, and then tomorrow is Sangha day! Woot! I'll see you here after my meditation tonight!

And since I stated that I had nothing exciting to describe about my meditation, I leave you with the following Quote by Thich Nhat Hanh.

“Many people think excitement is happiness.... But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power


Friday, February 10, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 9 - Body Scan Meditation

I've had a daily meditation practice for close to two years now, so I was a little surprised by how helpful the #RealHappiness book, and indeed the #MeditationChallenge itself, were to me in the first week.  While I am already sitting, it is extremely helpful to practice these different methods and writing about it here has helped me consider the practice more as well.  So, going in to Week Two, I'm looking forward to the other various practices I'll be trying.

With that in mind, I worked around the Body Scan Meditation last night.  I knew going in to this one that I would face a challenge.  A while back, I went through a period where I switched from a sitting practice to a lying down method.  This created two issues for me.  First, when I went back to the cushion I found it extremely difficult to sit for very long at all without back pain.  It was as though I had started over.  I've worked through that, and I'm back to my normal 30 minutes of sitting per day now.  The other issue was that I would fall asleep at times.  Because I now sit in the evenings I am, of course, more sleepy.  It's far too easy when lying comfortably, to let the mind drift and then fall asleep. 

Knowing that I was very likely going to fall asleep, I made plans for that.  I used my Insight Timer App on the iPhone (one of the benefits I referred to yesterday of using technology to compliment practice) to keep me from falling asleep, or at least falling asleep for long.  I set up interval bells to alert me every five minutes.  I figured may not prevent sleep, but would at least allow me to "start over" as Sharon hammers home to us!

I was alert and scanned from the top of my head down.  My eyes, my face where I found a lot of tension and was able to release it.  And this is perhaps the true power of this kind of practice, or certainly a major benefit.  One thing I've learned with all meditation is that simply by observing or bringing your attention to a feeling, it will often simply dissipate.  If you have a painful feeling, sometimes just observing the feeling and acknowledging it makes it recede.  If you have tension in a particular area, often if you observe it, and maybe - as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches - view your pain the way a mother greets her crying baby.  The baby needs attention and she does not hate the child for crying, she cradles it and gives it attention and it immediately feels better.

I made it through without falling asleep, though I certainly drifted at times, but I just caught myself drifting, re-focused on the breath and began again.  It was a very interesting practice and I was happy to have done it.  I've only done a similar practice once before I think when I visited the Against The Stream Buddhist Meditation Society in Los Angeles where Pablo Das led a sitting meditation in which we focused on one area and then another, cycling through the body that way. I found that one much easier as it was sitting.

By the way, please keep in mind that I am experimenting with the various methods Sharon Salzberg offers in her book Real Happiness.  There's no requirement to do them in the order I am doing them or even to do them all!  For the Day 10 meditation I will be doing the Body Sensation Meditation.  See you tomorrow!

_/\_

Thursday, February 9, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 8 - Reflecting On Week One

Since yesterday was the eighth day of the 2012 Real Happiness 28 Day Meditation Challenge, I decided to follow the books lead and reflect on the first week.

After starting the book with some great information such as what meditation IS and what it is NOT, the first week of instruction in "Real Happiness" provides a gold mine of extremely important, deep, simple and very - VERY - useful information. 

At the beginning of the week, we started by talking about concentration.  Sharon talks a little about how we can't change the past, and can't predict the future, and about being in the present moment.  She talked about choosing a place to meditate, what to wear and a time to practice.  She talks about the posture, and how it doesn't have to be perfect.  About how the back is the most important part and how over time better posture will aid your practice.  She gives an overview of what the week will look like. And, finally, she leads us with some guided meditations and offers some variations of practice for us to work with.

At a glance, this all sounds very basic.  And while it is the basics, it is anything but basic!  It is fundamental information, but it's also things that you will use and expand on every time you sit.  Forever.  So I can't overstate how useful the basic info provided in week one can be.

  • Meditation is not glamorous.  
  • Your thoughts will drift.  
  • When they do, come back to the breath.  
  • Don't beat yourself up.  
  • Just start over.  
  • This IS the practice! 
  • Don't get discouraged. 
  • Mix up your practice.  
  • Try different approaches.  
  • Keep a sitting journal.  
All of these things, are supremely valuable and essential.
So, with all of this in mind, my Day 8 sit was a mixed bag.  I did the core meditation.  I followed the breath for a while.  I let go of thoughts for a while.  I did "Hearing Meditation" for a while.  I did Cradling the breath meditation.  I enjoyed it all.  I didn't choose this, I just let it happen.

One thing I would like to add here, is the use of technology.  This might sound a little strange when you're maybe picturing sitting with pillows and candles and bells and such, but I bring it up because toward the end of this section of the book, Sharon talks about keeping a Meditation Journal.  While I have an actual bell, I have found it much more useful in my practice to rely on technology for this.  I've reviewed in the past some of the meditation bell options, and there's been progress on many of them.  So I'd like to reference a few options here for you to consider.  I'm not promoting any of them, but actually use them all.  I am sort of waiting for new versions before writing any more reviews of them, so for now I just suggest trying them out if you have a smartphone or tablet and see if you like them.  More importantly, see if they HELP your practice.  They should AID you, not distract from your practice!

~ Meditate - Meditation Timer by SimpleTouch
~ Insight Timer - by Spotlight Six
~ Equanimity - Meditation Timer & Tracker by Robin Barooah

All of these are functionally great for using as a timer and bell(s).  The latter two also act as meditation journals.  Insight Timer is the least attractive, in my opinion, but the most functionality offering all of the above as well as a rather limited social media functionality (which if you are part of an online Sangha such as the Online Meditation Crew, makes it the most handy option).  The most important thing is that they all work very well to aid in timing and tracking your practice.

When I prepare to sit, I tweet my check-in to the #OMCru, I set the iPhone to Airplane mode to prevent interruptions and then I start my timer.  A bell rings to start me.  Three bells signal the end of the sit.  A journal automatically pops up for my entry then I turn on the phone and tweet my check-out.  It's painless, seamless and very, very useful to me.  I hope you will find it so, as well.

I look forward to the second week!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 7 - Letting-Go-Of-Thought Meditation

I decided to utilize the "Letting Go Of Thought" practice described by Sharon in "Real Happiness".  This is something I already do, pretty much since I started, but it's always good to approach it like it's new. Plus it never hurts to get different guidance on these things.

As meditations go, there's not much to tell.  I sat, I settled and I waited.  In the book, Sharon says to return to the breath any time you do get distracted, and that is exactly what I did.  For this kind of meditation, you will often hear people use some variation on the "Mountain and Clouds" or the "Sky and Clouds".  One that I have used often, and to great effect for me personally, is:

"Breathing In, my mind is the great blue sky.
Breathing Out, my thoughts are the clouds that pass by."

I am pleased to say that I wasn't too often distracted (probably because I've practiced this considerably) but I still found myself pursuing a random thought now and then.  This is perfectly normal, and happens less with time. When I did, I simply took a moment and re-focused on the feeling of the breath entering my nose and exiting.  Sharon gives really good, very simple and clear instruction on this in the book.
"We release a thought or a feeling not because we are afraid of it or because we can't bear to acknowledge it as a part of our experience, but because in this context, it is unnecessary.  Right now we are practicing concentration, sustaining our attention on the breath." ~ Sharon Salzberg "Real Happiness"
I did this for 20 minutes and it was, as it usually is, very calming and peaceful.  The last 10 minutes of my 30 minute sit, I was more distracted.  Or, not distracted so much by stray thoughts I followed, but more deliberately I started pondering specific thoughts.  Intentionally, I guess.  For me, sometimes, this happens in meditation where I will suddenly start pondering some thing, usually a problem I've not solved, and my mind will decide that the time is right to solve it.

So, for the last 10 minutes of my sit, I pondered a couple of issues on my mind.  Rather than letting go of these, I decided to sort of let my mind do it's thing and work on these problems.  Not really letting go of the thoughts, but rather sort of observing the solution taking place without interfering. It's rather hard to describe, but there ya go. 

The bell rang, and I was somewhat energized from my sit.  I ended up staying up later than planned as a result.  Not a bad thing, just a thing.

How was your first week of the challenge?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 6 - Hearing Meditation

So last night. on Day Six of the 2012 Real Happiness 28 Day Meditation Challenge, I decided to focus on the "Hearing Meditation" Sharon describes in "Real Happiness".  I actually do a similar practice quite often.  She invites us to "See if you can hear a sound without naming or interpreting it."  Simple right?

I actually utilize distracting sounds as the focal point of my meditation in order to prevent distraction quite often.  I started doing this early in my practice because I would wake early in the morning and meditate when the house was as quiet as it ever is.  With pets, a child, a spouse and living in the city it's unavoidable to experience sounds that can be distracting.

As an example, we have cats who would maybe start scratching on a post repeatedly or some such.  Another noise that was very minor, but which I found extremely distracting, was the hard drive in our DVR.  It would spin up now and then at odd times to record something and, me being a tech worker, catch my attention.  This points to the fact that these responses are learned responses and CAN be let go of, or at least handled differently. Only because I work with computers, where a hard drive sound could signal a problem, does this give that sound enough value in my brain to cause it to be a distraction.  Most people wouldn't even have heard it.   So, rather than getting annoyed by these distractions, I started turning my attention on them and just allowing them to happen, then observing my reactions to them.

This is been extremely helpful to me in building a practice in a distracting environment.  Now, almost two years later, I have been known to meditate quite happily in the middle of a parade crowd in DisneyWorld!

Well, last night, I followed Sharon's instructions around this practice and it worked well for the most part.  That is, it worked well in the way that it normally does for me, where I notice the sound and observe it.  Where this practice got tough for me was when I got to the part where Sharon says to "See if you can hear a sound without naming or interpreting it."  This is MUCH more challenging than it sounds.

This not "naming or interpreting" part is the key, I think, to the deeper levels of this practice.  It's simple enough to listen and observe sounds.  Getting to the point of hearing the sound, noting your response to it and then observing the space between those two is a great thing in itself.  To then not identify the sound is another level of practice altogether, though!  You've spent your entire lifetime learning that that sound outside is a bus, or a motorcycle or a dog barking.  To now try and hear the sound, observe your reaction to it and stop yourself from identifying it is truly challenging, at least for me! 

Anyhow, I sat listening to the television show my wife was listening to, the cars, the animals, the planes and so forth.  As I did, I realized I was paying so much attention to the effort to not identify these sounds that I was preventing myself from the rest of it.  The mindfulness of it.  So I relaxed, I allowed and observed.  I noted the space between the sound and the reaction.  And slowly, I started to glimpse the possibility of not identifying the sounds.  I very much enjoyed this expansion on a practice I already use regularly.  I expect I'll be spending more time on Hearing Meditation soon!

I hope your practice is expanding as well!

Be at ease!
_/\_

Monday, February 6, 2012

#RealHappiness - Day 5 - Gratitude!

Sunday afternoon is when the Two Hands Sangha meets for it's weekly meditation group. Day 5 of the challenge happened to be our Sangha meet day, so I rolled them all in to one.

In the week leading up to our gathering, I had picked up on a few loose ends of conversation and such. The theme that seemed to rise out of it all was Gratitude. I had heard each of our members expressing gratitude in various ways and for various things as well as missing opportunities to be grateful, including myself.

So, on Sunday morning, I found myself with a little free time and used it to try to sew those loose threads together for a talk on Gratitude. I was looking for some poetry about Gratitude and I stumbled across a fantastic article that not only included various quotes and poems on the subject, but a TON of other great insight on incorporating Gratitude in to our daily lives.

The article, by a gentleman I was not familiar with (Phillip Moffitt), was PERFECT for my needs. I ended up highlighting sections of it to discuss and had so much material that I really had to prune it down to fit it in the time frame we had.

Anyhow, once I found that incredible selection from DharmaWisdom, all I needed to round out the group meet was a nice guided meditation on Gratitude. I reached out to my #Twangha (all my Twitter Sangha from all over the world, including the #OMCru - Online Meditation Crew) and asked if anyone had a suggestion. Kayla Hewitt, a great young aspiring Dharma teacher, immediately reminded me of Gary Sanders recorded meditation on the topic. It was PERFECT!

So, we had our 20 minute guided meditation, followed by a beautiful 10 minute walking meditation in the gardens (Which was so lovely one member didn't even hear the bell and ran a little long enjoying the trees) and finally another 15 minute silent sit. We wrapped up with the reading from the article, and some discussion. It was truly a beautiful way to wrap up the weekend and I was FULL of gratitude for our wonderful little Sangha and my amazing #Twangha. 

If you don't belong to a Sangha yet - and perhaps if you're participating in the RealHappiness challenge, you might not - I would definitely encourage you to seek out one in your area. If you have good ones, that's a great thing to be grateful for! If you don't, start one and be grateful for that! ;) Best of luck with this practice, and may we all be at ease!