Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘practice’

We Are Not What We Think

Being Present: Cultivate a Peaceful Mind through Spiritual Practice
by Darren Cockburn. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51RSwi0BKVL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This work is extensive, well-formatted, referenced, nuanced, and easy to understand and put into practice. Being Present explores the ways mindfulness, awareness, yoga, and religious practice, can become the bedrock of our daily lives to create simplicity and insight. Mr. Cockburn says, “Simplifying our life helps us to cultivate Presence and Presence equips us to manage complexity.”

The material provides a close look at “Presence”. What it is, and what it is not? Where it comes from and where it goes, and how to have frequent access to its benefits. The introduction thoroughly outlines all of the areas to be examined within. These include our bodies, people, meditation, hindrances, the ego, simplicity, acceptance, addictions, stillness, nature, work, service, and how to structure one’s practice.

The author’s “three approaches to cultivating Presence” were especially helpful. “The first is through structured practice. This covers activities practiced on a regular basis, including meditation, yoga, and studying spiritual teachings. The second approach is through everyday activities where we are striving to be Present. For example, we may be making a conscious effort to be more Present whilst walking or brushing our teeth. The third approach is to change our conditions so that our life becomes more conducive to being Present. Examples here may include changing our job, letting go of certain relationships, working to release addictions, taking regular exercise, letting go of unhelpful habits and connecting with nature.”

There is an excellent summation at the end of each chapter called Points For Reflection, shared personal experiences in each section, and some well-designed diagrams throughout Being Present. Mr. Cockburn has presented a well-balanced, practical, and insightful book that is applicable for the novice or seasoned practitioner of Presence and mindfulness. I recommend reading it cover to cover, or as a quick reference.

Let’s Dance

Let’s Dance: Transforming our lives through meditation.
by Lawrence Levy
Tricycle

At a group meditation I led recently, I was discussing the importance of properly preparing for meditation by paying attention to the elements of time, place, and posture. Segyu Rinpoche, Juniper’s founding teacher, was present. At one moment, with a playful look on his face, Rinpoche asked me a question. He wanted to know what I had meant when I mentioned the possibility of placing a flower or a candle in one’s meditation space.

030LetsDance

I understood what he was asking. I was reluctant to share details about my meditation practice, and I knew that Rinpoche believed it was important for me to break that resistance. As he smiled in the background, I took a leap. I described the care I put into my own meditation space—the way I look for just the right flower in my garden, or the perfect orchid at the local market, the attention I pay to making sure the area is clean, and the feeling I experience when I light a candle and imagine it radiating to my family, friends, and others.

I had confessed to my ritual. Later, at the end of the meditation, I said to the group: “You see how Rinpoche was playing with me earlier. It’s like a dance. He prompted, I followed. That’s the dance of meditation, the dance of moving ourselves inwardly.”

Dancing is a beautiful metaphor for the richness of meditation. More than an exercise to focus the mind, it is a transformational journey inward, a means to know ourselves and refine our way of being. It is an art, full of rhythm and beauty, crescendo and quiet. It can be moving, light and joyous. Like removing kinks from a hose, it propels us to overcome our resistances so the best in us can flow.

Sometimes the step onto this dance floor seems like a large one. We don’t want to learn the moves; we’d rather have something quick. We don’t want a relationship with a dance partner; we’d prefer to go it alone. We don’t want to look inside; we want to stay as we are, only freer, happier, and wiser. But freedom, happiness, and wisdom may not arise from merely staying as we are.

The genius of the Buddha—the Indian prince Siddhartha—and many who followed him was the realization that the mind is not static. It is living, breathing, evolving. Because it is the medium through which we experience our lives, there are immeasurable benefits from refining it, sharpening it, and discovering its potential. Therefore, sometimes we have to push ourselves; we have to learn some steps that might at first feel awkward but soon become second nature.

To do this dance takes two sides. On the one is our own effort to grow and refine our way of being and experience. On the other is a partner—a teacher or guide to show us the steps and keep us moving. This requires teachers who know how to transmit wisdom not as ancient knowledge but as living tradition. It calls for a community of individuals, born out of local culture and united by the idea that the inner journey—the dance through which we learn to live fully and freely—is a deep and beautiful way to engage life.

At stake here is not just our own well-being. We live in a time when our narratives are increasingly about what is broken in our world: how the institutions charged with running it are brokers of self-interest and power; how modern governments work for corporations and the wealthy; how media is in an ever-increasing arms race for control of our preferences.

Look for the root of these problems and we end up at the mind—its greed, fear, and craving. If the mind is the root of the problem, then solving the problem—crafting a humanity in which our leaders are stewards of a peaceful, noble, and just world; in which individuals give full expression to their talents and creativity; and in which each person feels relevant and important to the whole—will only come from a change in mind. For this, we have to do the dance that will move us inwardly.

These ideas are not new. A long time ago the Buddha realized the immeasurable benefits to be gained from refining the mind. He also implored his followers not to turn his teachings into dogma but to have the courage to examine the reality we are in right now and to become the best we can be in it.

Read entire article and more at TRICYCLE.

Noting Now

Last week when we visited the meditation group at Salinas State Prison, the sitting meditation portion involved the “noting” practice. I’ve been finding it to be very helpful at any time.

“Noting” means just that. As one becomes aware of which sense they are using, they simply say to themselves or “note” what is happening at that moment. If I become aware that I am listening or hearing something, I note “hearing”. If my eyes are open and I am aware of seeing, I note “seeing”. The same holds true for “feeling” (which includes emotions and body sensations), smelling, speaking and thinking. Thinking is often the one sense that we are most unaware of and get caught in for sometime (past or future) before becoming aware that we are “thinking”. When noting thinking, it helps to take us out of the story or “stuff” our mind is telling us. It’s not a matter of trying to use one sense over another or to push away or hold on to any thing, but simply noting what is.

The question or experience that can also arise, as one is noting, is “Who or what is it that is aware of one’s self or senses, that is able to be conscious of which sense is active. Then again, that is just another question… “thinking”.

This practice of noting tends to keep one much more present and aware of what is, rather than what was or how we want things “to be”. As always, it is not “the way”, but a good boat to use as we get to the other shore.

A Gradual Awakening

Excerpt from A Gradual Awakening by Stephen Levine. Over the last 3 decades, I have returned to this book many times for insight, reminders and support.

Awareness

Meditation is awareness. The motivation for meditating is often quite different for each person. Many people come to meditation because of their love for the qualities of some teacher or their desire to know God. Others because of a desire to understand mind. Some begin not even knowing what meditation is, but with a great longing to be free from some sadness, some pain, some incompleteness in their lives.

Here is offered a simple Buddhist mindfulness practice to come to wholeness, to our natural completeness. The basis of the practice is to directly participate in each moment as it occurs with as much awareness and understanding as possible.

We’ve all developed some degree of concentration and awareness. Just to be able to rad a book, to live our complicated lives, takes awareness and concentration. They’re qualities of mind present in everyone.

Meditation intensifies those qualities through systematic, gentle, persevering techniques. To develop concentration, we choose a single object of awareness, the primary object, that the attention is “re-minded” to return to and encouraged to stay with. We choose a primary object and work with it; whether it is something we generate in the conceptual realm, like a verbal repetition or the idea of loving-kindness, or something that is always present, like the sensations in the body.

Mindfulness of breathing is a powerful means of developing concentration. The breath is a superb object because it’s constantly a part of our experience. Also, because our breathing changes, the awareness must become very subtle to accommodate itself to it. Awareness watches the sensations that occur with the natural coming and going of the breath. Awareness penetrates the subtle sensations that accompany each breath. When we bring attention to the level of sensation, we are not so entangled in the verbal level where all the voices of thought hold sway, usually lost in the “internal dialogue.”

The internal dialogue is always commenting and judging and planning. It contains a lot of thoughts of self, a lot of self-consciousness. It blocks the light of our natural wisdom; it limits our seeing who we are; it makes a lot of noise and attracts our attention to a fraction of the reality in which we exist. But when the awareness is one-pointedly focused on the coming and going of the breath, all the other aspects of the mind/body process come automatically, clearly into focus as they arise. Meditation puts us into direct contact – which means direct experience – with more of who we are.

For instance, if we watch the mind as though it were a film project on a screen, as concentration deepens, it may go into a kind of slow motion and allow us to see more of what is happening. This then deepens our awareness and further allows us to observe the film almost frame by frame, to discover how one thought leads imperceptibly to the next. We see how thoughts we took to be “me” or “mine” are just an ongoing process. This perspective helps break our deep identification with the seeming solid reality of the movie of the mind. As we become less engrossed in the melodrama, we see it’s just flow, and can watch it all as it passes. We are not even drawn into the action by the passing of a judgmental comment or an agitated moment of impatience.

When we simply see – moment to moment – what’s occurring, observing without judgment or preference, we don’t get lost thinking, “I prefer this moment to that moment, I prefer this pleasant thought to that pain in my knee.” As we begin developing this choiceless awareness, what starts coming within the field of awareness is quite remarkable: we start seeing the root from which thought arises. We see intention, out of which action comes. We observe the natural process of mind and discover how much of what we so treasured to be ourselves is essentially impersonal phenomena passing by.

We discover we don’t really need to ask anyone any questions, we needn’t look outside ourselves for the answer. As we penetrate the flow, the flow is the answer. The asking of the question is itself the answer. When we ask, “Who am I?” who we are is the processes asking the question.

Courage Inside Walls

Went to maximum security prison yesterday for weekly group. Only there for about 3 hours, but time seemed irrelevant. What was relevant, was the insight, wisdom and life experience shared by those present for the meditation class.

Issue of anger, grief, revenge and killing came to surface and how people have dealt with those feelings and actions in the past and how they understand and see them and them selves, now.

Take a breath, pause, observe what you are experiencing moment to moment (physically, emotionally & mentally) and name or label it. Then, if you choose (and having a “choice” is key) to then take wise skillful action or not, it is more likely that you will not be reacting out of conditioning or pain, but with consciousness and compassion. That is the essence of what we and those in the group are discovering.

Our words and actions are important and have effects, but the intentions and awareness behind, before or with them are even more vital.

The strength and courage of the men in this group to be willing to step outside the known, to look at them selves honestly and to convey what they are seeing is liberating, artful and inspiring. Martin Luther King Jr. often spoke about not judging one by their outer appearances, but by the character of their character and humanity.

Nobody attending this weekly group pretends that they are now beyond their past and have permanently changed for the good (including the facilitators), nor excused them selves or blamed their incarceration on others. They have taken responsibility for their actions and the consequences. They have begun to personally understand the pain and loss they have inflicted on others, but have also come to realize that the “others” are in fact part of them selves and that harm to another is also harming ones self.

Practicing meditation and self-reflection and observation in a prison setting takes a lot of guts. Practicing meditation and mindfulness in our daily lives wherever our bodies are, takes vigilance, consistency and continual fine tuning. I hope those of us on the outside continue to practice with as much bravery and sustained effort as these men who are temporarily living within prison walls.

Falling For Fun

Our family loves to kick, punch, strike and throw each other around. I’m not talking about domestic violence, which is sadly far to common, nor is this a metaphor for some violent form of communication. What I am referring to is an inter-generational love of martial arts. A love of learning how to defend oneself and others, while simultaneously strengthening and calming our body, hearts and minds.

When I was a young man (about two hundred years ago) I was lucky enough to discover a martial arts school in my hometown that taught Judo and Ju-Jitsu. The head teacher (Sensei) was a woman named Professor Jane Carr. The reason I say “lucky” is because I could have innocently become involved with a so-called teacher who had not been well trained, whose only concern was fighting or winning competitions and/or making money. A teacher, who cared more about power, control and prestige then self-control, honor and respect.

Professor Carr was different. She was a teacher, warrior, mother, counselor, non-violent activist and friend all rolled up into one. She expected all her students to work hard to improve themselves in all aspects of their lives, in and out of the dojo (practice hall). She commanded respect, not because of her fighting skills (which are formidable), but because she showed respect for others and would settle for nothing less in herself. Her presence demonstrated and invited those around her to discover their own inner strengths and character. Professor Carr is still teaching (after 45 years) and her daughter is head instructor at the academy.

When I moved to Santa Cruz I took up Tai Chi Chuan, which is a slow-moving series of Chinese exercises that can also be used for other means. I studied for a short time with Dale Strawhacker (a local acupuncturist and Tai Chi instructor) and continue to practice at home every morning.

Our oldest son took Tae Kwon Do (Korean karate) with Master Song at Song’s Martial Arts Institute. We had checked a number of schools to make sure this was a place of learning and respect. We had wanted him to have a positive experience, like I had as a teen. After six months our autistic son’s coordination, strength and self-confidence had increased ten-fold.

It seems that people rolling, jumping, falling, moving and breathing their way to health and vitality have surrounded us. Our oldest son’s friend practiced the Brazilian art of Copeira. A number of our children’s friends have taken Aikido (a Japanese martial art) or karate and many of our adult friends seem to be thrilled with Qi Kung (a separate or combined art of Chinese Gung Fu). A previous colleague told me how her entire family works out together and their daughter has gone to the national championships in Tae Kwon Do. My wife and youngest son practiced Gung Fu in Watsonville for a number of years with a wonderful teacher at Black Tiger Academy.

We are very fortunate in Santa Cruz County to have such a variety and depth of knowledge, traditions and practices to choose from. We have martial arts from Brazil, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Okinawa. There are schools that focus on self-defense, competition, physical health or all three. Some emphasize having fun. Others prioritize meditative practices, aerobics and rhythm or creating community.

Qualified teachers, of whatever backgrounds or style; will have you and/or your children’s well being as their priority. They will practice what they preach by paying attention to there words and actions, but not focusing on themselves. They will instill confidence, support and compassion, not fear, dominance or adoration.

Consider what qualities you want in a teacher before you choose a particular style or school. Visit different classes and practice halls before you decide where to spend your money and time. Ask questions about the instructor’s background, their philosophy and approach to learning. Talk to their students. Once you find the right fit, stay with it and practice daily. You’ll soon find that it will give you a positive spin on every aspect of your life and those around you.

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