Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ready to Start Meditating?

     Would YOU benefit NOW from starting a meditation practice eg by taking an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course? 

     "Timing" ("readiness for change") really is everything! In broad terms, if you're happy & feel that life will remain rosy, you probably don't want anything to change. If, however, you're somewhat unhappy & sense that genuine happiness is obtainable, you may be motivated to actively change your life. 
     An important timing issue to consider is recent major trauma: death of a loved one, or the recent end of an important relationship. It's best to give yourself adequate time to heal from such trauma before taking on the challenge of learning to meditate. 
     “Any experience that is stressful enough to leave us feeling helpless, frightened, overwhelmed, or profoundly unsafe is considered a trauma.” Pat Ogden To benefit from meditation, one has to be able to feel safe, relax, & play just past one's comfort zone, in their zone of learning. I use the word 'play' because the quality of effort required for meditation is much like looking after a beloved 3-year old child. It's kind, playful awareness, flexibility & curiosity (instead of struggling to drag a heavy suitcase up flights of stairs). 
     So, is this the right time for you to start meditating? Maybe the following can help you decide:

     1) For some, life is rolling along nicely and feel that if they just keep doing their part, life will continue to be satisfactory. While life is not always perfect, short of winning a lottery, they really can't see how life could be much better than it is now. 
     These folks tend not to be motivated to start, nor complete, an 8-week MBSR program. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
 
     2) For some, life is tolerable - "ordinary unhappiness" - but they're certain, even dogmatic, that nothing can be done to substantially improve things.
     These folks are rarely interested in meditation.

     3) Some do not settle for "ordinary unhappiness" and are certain, even dogmatic, that they are markedly improving their lives by engaging in a specific path, practice, discipline, philosophy etc.
     These folks might be open to meditation IF they realize that their current seemingly successful path is not interfered with AND IF they believe that meditation can supplement or boost the depth & effectiveness of their current path, practice, discipline, philosophy etc.

     4) Some do not settle for "ordinary unhappiness" and seek a path towards genuine peace & profound happiness. They're ready to gradually let go of fearful (egocentric) self-concern, and shift to (allocentric, ecocentric) openness & loving curiosity about all aspects of life, including death. Such a shift clearly requires maturity in the form of self-compassion, self-acceptance, & acceptance of all manner of life's difficulties, complexities & apparent paradoxes.
     Folks like this are uncommon, BUT tend to be deeply interested in meditation practices.

     When the time is right, most people benefit from meditation.

     I've received VERY diverse, wise email responses to this post, which I will share by early July - stay tuned! 
     If you haven't already, please consider adding your unique perspective.


Kentville Ravine Trail
          

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Clear Perception

     Can I appreciate the "one taste" of reality?:

     Perhaps the ultimate level of psychosocialspiritual evolution, awakening or enlightenment can be defined as "intimacy with all things."

     "enlightenment ... only occurs as we reach a particular degree of sensitivity or openness to life." 
       Judith Blackstone. “The Enlightenment Process. A Guide to Embodied Spiritual Awakening.” Paragon House, 2008.

     "The Great Way is not difficult
       for those who have no preferences..."     Sengstan

 
      “When preferences for a particular experience fade, the myriad things come forward to play, shimmering with suchness. Obviously, flowers and trees do this, but so do beer cans and microwaves. They’re all waiting for our embrace. It is enormously empowering to inhabit a world so vibrant with singularity.” 
       Darlene Cohen, Buddhadharma: The practioner’s quarterly, Spring 2007

     "The mind creates the abyss
       and the heart crosses it."                         Nisargadatta


     “The apparently objective world is unconsciously structured by the ways we seek to secure ourselves within it. … precisely this attempt to ground ourselves in the world is what separates us from it.” 
        David R. Loy. “Lack & Transcendence. The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.

     "When we give our hearts to whatever we do, to whatever we experience, or to what is happening around us, without personal agendas or preferences taking over ... the space of awareness, is exactly the same."
       Amaro Bikkhu "Small boat, great mountain." 2003   www.amaravati.org/downloads/pdf/SmallBoat.pdf 




Sunday, May 26, 2019

"Busy, busy, busy"?

     "To commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of modern times."       Thomas Merton 

     "Saying 'yes' to more things than we can actually manage to be present for with integrity and ease of being is in effect saying 'no' to all those things and people and places we have already said 'yes' to.

     We may be betraying what is deepest and best in ourselves, and we may be betraying our relationships to others, even those we most love, and even our connectedness to places, to being at home where we are and fully in touch with what is most important and required in any moment. We might be losing touch, unknowingly, with our very relationship to the possibilities and the impossibilities of time."
     Jon Kabat-Zinn. "The Infidelity of Busyness." Mindfulness 2019; 10: 588–589.

     "'How is your heart?' I recently asked a friend going through a trying period of overwork and romantic tumult, circling the event horizon of burnout while trying to bring a colossal labor of love to life. His answer, beautiful and heartbreaking, came swiftly, unreservedly, the way words leave children’s lips simple, sincere, and poetic, before adulthood has learned to complicate them out of the poetry and the sincerity with considerations of reason and self-consciousness: 'My heart is too busy to be a heart,' he replied."
       Maria Popova https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/05/23/my-heart-corinna-luyken/?mc_cid=8f44637385&mc_eid=0d773a20c1 



Saturday, May 25, 2019

Processing Suffering

     We all sense varying degrees of chronic dys-ease: anxiety, lack, hunger, inadequacy, guilt. We never seem to be able to clearly identify the specific cause. Therefore not surprisingly, despite our constant striving towards comfort, lasting relief remains elusive. A "low-grade neurosis called normality" or "ordinary unhappiness" is obviously a central, universal human itch. Many of us mistakenly assume that everyone else is fairly consistently happy, and if we were only "normal" we too would be living a life-long river boat cruise commercial.
     Below is a surprisingly helpful (if a tad scholarly) insight derived from Western psychology, Western philosophy, and thousands of years of Buddhist meditation experience. 
     In summary, what can actually help us with this universal dys-ease is seeing our situation as clearly as possible, fully accepting and staying with unavoidable discomfort until it resolves. In fully meeting ('physically processing' or 'being intimate with') life's constant, mostly uncontrollable, often uncomfortable & at times frightening aspects, we learn to release our many illusions (of control, of certainty, of solidity, of identity, of everything) and instead, learn to peacefully abide in not-knowing, in groundlessness. 
     "Finally, the mind comes to rest in its natural state: the ground from which both conscious and ordinary subconscious events arise." B. Alan Wallace

     “… the Buddhist path is nothing other than a way to resolve our sense of lack. Since there was no primeval offense and no expulsion from the Garden, there is nothing that needs to be gained. Our lack turns out to be the sense that there is a lack, which does not mean we can simply deny or try to ignore that sense. For Buddhism our problem turns out to be paradoxical. The actual problem is our deeply repressed fear that our groundlessness / nothing-ness is a problem. When I stop trying to fill up that hole at my core by vindicating or realizing myself in some symbolic way, something can happen to it, and to me.  
     This is easy to misunderstand, for the letting go that is necessary is not directly accessible to consciousness. The ego cannot absolve its own lack because the ego is the other side of that lack. In terms of life and death, the ego is that which believes itself to be alive and fears death; hence the ego, although only a mental construction, will face its imminent disappearance with horror. Uncovering that repression, recovering the denial of death for consciousness, requires the courage to suffer. Our struggle against death is usually redirected into symbolic games of competition, as the urge to defeat our opponent or at least be a little better than our neighbor. To free us from the paralysis of death-in-life, the energy that is distorted into such symptomatic activities must be translated back into its more original form, the terror of death, and that terror endured (there’s nothing one can do with it except be conscious of it and bear it.). … the Buddhist path is not resoluteness but simple awareness, which Buddhist meditation cultivates. One does not do anything with that anguish except develop the ability to dwell in it or rather as it; then the anguish, having nowhere else to direct itself, consumes the sense of self. Since the sense of lack is the other pole of the sense of self – tails to its head, but one coin – primordial lack-as-anguish devours not only the ego-self but itself.  

     The point is neither to flee from the pure-guilt-as-anguish by objectifying it in some fashion, nor to identify with it by abasing oneself, but to let it burn itself out, like a fire that exhausts its fuel, which in this case is the sense of self. If we cultivate the ability to dwell as it, then ontological guilt, finding nothing else to be guilty for, consumes the sense of self and thereby itself as well. Since this devours one’s compensatory self-importance, one becomes a completely ordinary person, who feels no different from anyone else and no need to be different from anyone else. … this is the end of experiencing our existence as a burden to be shouldered, inasmuch as the heavy weight of life originates in the need to secure or vindicate ourselves. According to Buddhism, the ego-as-lack dissolves in the experience of one’s true nature as a groundlessness that has nothing to gain and nothing to lose, and is therefore free.”

       David R. Loy. “Lack & Transcendence. The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.



Monday, May 20, 2019

Uncomplicated Meditation

     "Meditation is the art of being. Unfortunately, we turn it into the art of doing. We ask, What am I doing? I am meditating. Well, what is that? Well, I am trying to be. Sometimes we introduce too much unnecessary struggle or strife that does not need to be part of it. Meditation is the art of being still, to be, and you do not have to do anything to be – you are, and I am. Nothing is required for you to be. ‘I am’ requires nothing more, and there is no need to define beyond that. I am good, I am bad, I am right, I am wrong – those thoughts are part of life as well, but none of that defines being. The sheer act of existence, the sheer act of being and of consciousness, is its own miracle.

     The meditative mind is extraordinarily sensitive. As useful as thought is, too much makes the mind dull. It needs to be renewed primarily through silence. So take this day to make some room for listening to the quiet spaces inside. Do not make it a goal; just notice what you notice through listening and through being available to what is occurring in each moment of experience. If you do, your experience will take on transparency – it will not feel as heavy and solid, but will start to feel translucent and ephemeral, which allows even more depth. Listen and make room for the deeper dimensions of your being to arise into your consciousness. This is a way to authentically enter a place of meditation.”
       Adyashanti. “The Most Important Thing. Discovering Truth at the Heart of Life.” Sounds True, 2019.  

     "True meditation has no direction or goal. It is pure wordless surrender, pure silent prayer. All methods aiming at achieving a certain state of mind are limited, impermanent, and conditioned. Fascination with states leads only to bondage and dependency. True meditation is abidance as primordial awareness.
     True meditation appears in consciousness spontaneously when awareness is not being manipulated or controlled. When you first start to meditate, you notice that attention is often being held captive by focus on some object: on thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, memories, sounds, etc. This is because the mind is conditioned to focus and contract upon objects. Then the mind compulsively interprets and tries to control what it is aware of (the object) in a mechanical and distorted way. It begins to draw conclusions and make assumptions according to past conditioning.
     In true meditation all objects (thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, etc.) are left to their natural functioning. This means that no effort should be made to focus on, manipulate, control, or suppress any object of awareness. In true meditation the emphasis is on being awareness; not on being aware of objects, but on resting as primordial awareness itself. Primordial awareness is the source in which all objects arise and subside.
     As you gently relax into awareness, into listening, the mind’s compulsive contraction around objects will fade. Silence of being will come more clearly into consciousness as a welcoming to rest and abide. An attitude of open receptivity, free of any goal or anticipation, will facilitate the presence of silence and stillness to be revealed as your natural condition.
     As you rest into stillness more profoundly, awareness becomes free of the mind’s compulsive control, contractions, and identifications. Awareness naturally returns to its non-state of absolute unmanifest potential, the silent abyss beyond all knowing.”
       Adyashanti "True Meditation Has No Direction." http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=960




Thursday, May 16, 2019

Opening to ALL of Life

     “Difficulty opens us to moments of grace during which we are reminded of the great vitality beneath the surface of things – beneath the way things seem to be. When we even talk about grace or about any moment of breakthrough into a greater sense of the reality of which we are a part and which we are, we think of it as something extraordinarily pleasant or at least more pleasant than the environment we are in. We believe that if we could only separate from our difficulties, if we could not be so challenged by what occurs day to day, we would have a better opportunity for moments of grace to occur; we would be more able to open to a bigger sense of reality and of who we are. It is interesting that we hold these ideas of what is conducive to grace, to spiritual breakthrough, because they actually contradict the moments when grace shows up.
     Sometimes we do have moments of grace and deeper understanding when we are in a serene, comfortable, safe environment. Grace can arise as we are walking through the forest on a quiet day when nothing is disturbing us, and we are taken by the great silence and held by that sense of nature that allows us to relax into the greater reality of what we are. However, after more than two decades of teaching, I have found that grace comes more often through great challenges: when we are coming up against some edge in our lives, when we do not know how to handle a situation, or when our normal ways of coping are not useful and we find ourselves on unfamiliar ground. The challenge could be the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job; it could be a serious illness or any manner of things that leave us no choice but to draw upon a capacity within us that we might not know how to access otherwise.
     We see this in stories from all the great religious traditions. The Buddha is a good example. He wanted to find out if there was any answer to the existential human dilemma of the unavoidable facts of birth, life, death, and suffering. He was motivated by seeing something we all recognize at some point or another: life holds a great deal of suffering. In his time, if you were going to go on a serious spiritual quest, it was common to become a renunciant, so he left his home, his wife and children, and his princely ease and wealth to seek answers. After six years of arduous spiritual practices and disciplines like fasting and self-mortification, after mastering religious teachings and many styles of meditation, he realized he had to face the truth that he had not found the answer he was seeking.
     This was the Buddha’s turning point – a period of great despair for him. Imagine you have given up everything in your life to go on a quest and you have done the hard work, you have practiced and studied with the great teachers of the day, yet after years of seeking you realize you have not found what you were looking for. What a disappointment! On top of that, the Buddha was starving to death, because his ascetic practices had worn down his body – he looked like a skeleton. We know the image of the Buddha sitting under the bodhi tree, but we often forget that what got him under the bodhi tree was the pain of meeting his own edge, of being brought to a place within himself that he did not know how to break through. In this difficult moment, he did not know he was approaching that mysterious and powerful dawning of grace that would open a new vista of realization – of connection with life.
     The bodhi tree is a mythic motif. The tree stands for the tree of life, much like the tree of immortality in the Qur’an or the tree of knowledge in the book of Genesis in the Bible. Adam and Eve plucked the fruit from the tree. The Buddha did not take anything from the bodhi tree but sat down under it. He sat with the stark reality of life. He committed himself to life, but not in the way we usually think of committing ourselves – squeezing it for all the vitality we can. Instead he sat down at the root of existence and tried to find a resolution to the unavoidable fact of human existence, and he woke up. That is why the image of the Buddha under the bodhi tree is a teaching unto itself. When we come to a great barrier, when we find a place inside us we do not know how to navigate, when we are in a painful experience that we cannot avoid, we need to sit down right there – at the root of that experience, at the root of the tree of life – and be still. It is not an easy teaching, but it is a great teaching: be still amid difficulty, making yourself available to whatever is occurring in that moment.
     Being still is not an act of physical motionlessness or of quieting the mind. It is about being available to whatever is occurring in every moment. When we are completely open – even if it is difficult – we have stopped fighting against life, we have stopped moving against whatever situation we find ourselves in, and there is a possibility for discovery. This is where a great movement of grace can occur. We stop trying to run away from what is and sit down right in the middle of it – even if it is unknown – and reach a place of deeper understanding.
     It takes a lot of faith to sit down right in the middle of your existence. This is not the same as the ‘faith’ that a doctrine or teaching or teacher is the truth. That is actually a belief, which tells us how to interpret life and find comfort and safety within it; a belief provides a way of insulating ourselves from real faith – from real trust. Faith in its purest sense is something different. Faith allows us to let go of belief, of how we habitually translate each moment of our experience into a conceptual model that seems to make it easier to understand, seems to give us some control, and eases the feeling of insecurity we have whenever we find ourselves on some edge. Your edge could be challenges in your work or relationship; it could be illness or a loved one’s death or even your own impending death; it could be your feeling very challenged by the great sorrow of the world. A lot of things can make you feel like you are on an edge and you do not know what to do with it.” 
       Adyashanti. “The Most Important Thing. Discovering Truth at the Heart of Life.” Sounds True, 2019.



 
Natural play of light ...

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship

     "All shall be well,
      and all shall be well,
      and all manner of things shall be well." Julian of Norwich (1342 – 1416) English Christian mystic

      “So long as one is merely on the surface of things, they are always imperfect, unsatisfactory, incomplete. Penetrate into the substance and everything is perfect, complete, whole.”

        Philip Kapleau. “The Zen of Living and Dying. A Practical and Spiritual Guide.” Shambhala, 1998. 

     How do we feel on reading such statements by saints, mystics & other serious meditators / contemplatives? Where do we land on this spectrum?: 

vehemently disagree
confused & lost
intrigued
intellectually agree
emotionally agree
completely agree (intellectually, emotionally & physically)

     The closer we are to vehement disagreement, the more aversion we have towards some aspects of our life & our selves AND the more craving we experience towards other aspects of our life & our selves. Powerful aversion to all (people, things & situations) that threatens our survival, health, happiness, wealth, status, etc, and craving & clinging to all that guarantees our survival, health, happiness, wealth, status, etc seems absolutely obvious, healthy & reasonable to most of us.
     YET, at the same time, we all know at least subconsciously, that our ability to control constant change, aging, sickness & death is an illusion. So most of us, for most if not all our lives, live "merely on the surface of things." We half-pretend (delusion) we can keep our "self" from changing, aging, getting sick & dying, AND at some level, we experience life as hard, cruel & meaningless.

     But an interesting change occurs when we stop pouring so much energy into aversion, craving & delusion. We start to experience intimacy with who we really are, everything around us, with all of life. This often happens after we suddenly realize that we only have a very short time to live (trauma-associated growth); following other major traumas ('shipwrecks'); during aboriginal sweat lodge ceremonies, vision quests, & other spiritual practices; insights, 'heart openings' & other mystical experiences during serious meditation practice. 
     Many of us have experienced more trauma than we may consciously realize. Psychotherapy would greatly help to free us from a prison of PTSD-like reactivity. Relying on spirituality alone when psychotherapy is necessary ('spiritual bypassing') prolongs needless suffering and obstructs spiritual growth.
     "On the surface of things," life does suck. But when we "penetrate into the substance," when we become intimate with reality, everything changes.

      "You learn about a thing ... by opening yourself wholeheartedly to it. You learn about a thing by loving it." Barbara McClintock - Nobel prize-winning geneticist


     "Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough." George Washington Carver  

     "When we give our hearts to whatever we do, to whatever we experience, or to what is happening around us, without personal agendas or preferences taking over ... the space of awareness, is exactly the same."
       Amaro Bikkhu "Small Boat, Great Mountain." 2003   www.amaravati.org/downloads/pdf/SmallBoat.pdf 

     "All IS well,
      and all
IS well,
      and all manner of things
ARE well." Julian of Norwich (modified)