RSS Feed

Category Archives: mindfulness

Joanna Macy writes:

Posted on

As the rug is progressively pulled out from under us, it is easy to panic, and even easier to simply shut down. These two instinctive reactions — panic and paralysis — are the roadside ditches that border our pathway to a livable future. To fall into either one is the greatest of all the dangers we face, for they deaden the heart and derail the mind. If ever we needed spiritual practices and disciplines for staying alert and connected, it is now. The greatest gift we can give our world is our presence, awake and attentive. What can help us do that? Here, drawn from ancient religions and Earth wisdom traditions, are a handful of practices I have learned to count on.

1. Breathe

Our friend the breath is always with us. When we pay attention to its flow, it merges mind with body, and connects inner world with outer world. Mindfulness of breathing in and breathing out can center and steady you. “Feel how your breathing makes more space around you,” writes the poet Rilke. “Pure, continuous exchange with all that is, flow and counterflow where rhythmically we come to be.” Notice that you are not deciding each time to exhale or inhale; it’s rather that you’re being breathed. Breathed by life. And so are all the other animals, and plants too, in vast rhythms of reciprocity. Feel that web enlivening you and holding you. The felt flow-through of matter/energy brings a measure of ease, and opens us to the flow-through of information as well. This lowers our usual defenses against distressing information, and begins to unblock the feedback loops, so we can more clearly perceive what we’ve caused to happen.

More>>>

when suddenly a light goes on …

Posted on

… and, for a couple of seconds, clarity reigns. And so it was during last night’s meditation. As I told fellow-sitters afterwards, my blogging days are coming to an end. If not an end, then to a drastic slow-down. In a couple of weeks it’ll be the 1,500th posts since I began — almost one per day for four years.

The time has come for me to walk more quietly. “He who knows does not speak”, it says in the Tao te Ching, and “he who speaks does not know.” There’s a fair amount of ego involved in keeping a blog: thinking that what I have to say is of interest and even benefit to others.

What brought this on? The mind likes to figure things out, label it, put a neat bow on it. In reality, as with an avalanche, many tiny events contributed to the shift. For one, the question of what matters bubbled up on my 68th birthday. So did Steve’s decision to toss his TV and disconnect from the Internet. Also the facts that, in my family at least, the previous generation has died out … and that an offer to father a child has come too late. My days are numbered (statistically) and I notice the hours spent at the keyboard.

All these are just thoughts, of course.

Looking back on life we see
that nothing remained the same.
things came
and went
without permission or control.
The future will unfold in the same manner.
What is there to do
but sit in mindful appreciation
and watch it come
and go.

source: Martin, W. (2010). The sage’s Tao te Ching: ancient advice for the second half of life. New York: The Experiment, p. 114. image: geekalerts.com

soixante huit

Posted on

What do you make of birthdays when you’re getting old? I’m told that Zen practitioner no longer mark the occasion (although some make a fuss about the Buddha’s own). I woke up this morning with the familiar mix of physical and emotional aches, made the same cup of tea and pot of oatmeal as I often do.

Same old, same old — yet new and for the first time. This is a day like any other, yet it is not. I’ve never been here (nor have you, come to think of it). Celebrate? Why not celebrate this moment? And say a prayer of thanksgiving —

Praised be your father and mother,
Who loved you before you were,
And trusted to call you here
With no idea who you would be.

Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be,
Blessed be those who have crossed your life
With dark gifts of hurt and loss
That have helped to school your mind
In the art of disappointment.

On this echoing-day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul;
Enter the generosity of silence
To hear your hidden heart;
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.

source: O’Donohue, J. (2008). To bless the space between us. Doubleday, p. 51. image: self-portrait walking along the camino.

fun and games at the zen monastery

Posted on

Four of us are planning a long retreat in the fall. You may think of a zen monastery as a somber place, with bald people scurrying to and fro, sitting for hours on black cushions, chanting in Sanskrit and Japanese, bowing to everyone and every thing, eating out of wooden bowls and drinking the wash water oryoki-style, getting up at 3:40am and collapsing into bunk beds by 10pm, working in the garden, kitchen, housekeeping, or sewing room, and did I mention bowing? Yes to all that, and then some.

Also a fair amount of smiling, laughing, and chatting (except during the monthly week of silence and between lights-out and that nasty wake-up bell). One of the fun activities at Great Vow Zen Monastery, where I trained ten years ago, is their marimba band. Go figure. See YouTube of a concert given at a meeting of (dancing) Zen teachers. My spiritual teacher, the monastery’s Oh So Venerable roshi (japanese word for ‘old teacher’) Chozen Bays MD, plays in the second row, starting things off with “a-one, a-two.”

image: brooklynzen.org

in the ordinary everyday

Posted on

We finished a 4-week Mindful Living course last night. In response to someone’s report of persistent back pain and another’s mention of not having enough time to meditate, I spoke of obstacles as key ingredients to the practice of mindfulness. Each obstacle on the path to happiness is in fact the path itself. Each calls us to ‘come to our senses.’ Instead of resisting or wishing them to go away, I suggested, we can welcome them as fingers pointing to the moon. “It’s helpful,” writes Pema Chodron,

to realize that … doing everyday things like working, walking outside, talking with people, bathing, using the toilet, and eating is actually all that we need to be fully awake, fully alive, fully human. 

source: Chodron, P. (2010). The wisdom of no escape and the path of loving-kindness. Boston: Shambhala, p.5. image: http://www.glitterfy.com/graphics/

loving eyes

Posted on

Seven of us met for mediation last night: twice 25 minutes of sitting and 15 of slow walking in the garden. Afterwards someone serves sweets and tea, bowing before each cushion, with a bow in return … a simple formality to savour this simple exchange. We end with a brief go-around to share insights or questions. Awaiting my turn, eyes brimming with tears, I resist the habitual urge to analyze. For an instance, the capacity to empathize is boundless. Lingering at the door with good-byes, I notice a gentle intimacy — within me, towards others and every/thing.

I thought no more of this until I saw, just now, the mention of “loving eyes” in a review of my Zen teacher’s new book:

Seeing with loving eyes is not a one-way experience, nor is it just a visual experience. When we touch something with loving eyes, we bring a certain warmth from our side, but we may also be surprised to feel warmth radiating back to us. We begin to wonder, is everything in the world made of love? And have I been blocking that out?

source: Review by Bodhipaksa of Jan Chozen Bays. (2011). How to train a wild elephant & other adventures in mindfulness. Boston: Shambhala (due in July). 

can you sit still for 3 minutes?

Posted on

I’ve been reading about Christian mystics and was struck by Apostle Paul telling the flock to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). In the 3rd and 4th century, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, who lived solitary lives away from communal bustle, recited all 150 Psalms every day. A recent 60 Minutes piece showed the Greek Orthodox monks of Mt. Athos continually praying while doing routine chores. Talk about being focussed, about bringing monkey mind back to the centre, moment by moment. I admire such dedication and concentration and, in a romantic moment, wish I could be one of them. I tried it 10-15 years ago, spending guest-time with Benedictine and Franciscan monks and training at a Zen monastery for a year.

What can we busy bees — with jobs, studies, relationships, and assorted worries — learn from people living in monastic seclusion? For many of us, meditation appears to be a route towards stilling the mind and finding some peace amid everyday chaos … but sitting still for 30 minutes or an hour isn’t working out. We try … and then give up, discouraged. We join a sitting group … and gradually stop coming. Many practical explanations, all good. Net result: new disappointment on top of old.

Here then is my suggestion: “meditate every day for three minutes.” That’s about as long as it takes to drink a quick cup of tea, make a short phone call, or reply to a couple of emails. Is that something you could do — would like to try? Can you find a quiet place somewhere (at home, in your office, the college library, a bathroom, on a bus, before getting out of the car)? Can you sit upright or lie down, on a chair or meditation cushion? Close your eyes or lower your gaze? Notice your body’s sensations: aches and itches, tensions and pleasures? Sense your breath, even half a breath? Do this for three (3) minutes, no more. Do it every day, ideally at the same time.

Let that be your meditation practice, gentle and kind.

image: monk at Mt. Athos