Meditation as an act of love

“Don’t meditate to fix yourself, to heal yourself, to improve yourself, to redeem yourself; rather, do it as an act of love, of deep warm friendship to yourself. In this way there is no longer any need for the subtle aggression of self-improvement, for the endless guilt of not doing enough. It offers the possibility of an end to the ceaseless round of trying so hard that wraps so many people’s lives in a knot. Instead there is now meditation as an act of love. How endlessly delightful and encouraging.”

– Bob Sharples, from Meditation: Calming the Mind

Many of us take up meditation because we want to become softer, kinder people. I’m right there with you.

Practice when life gets tough

Sometimes life comes at us full force and overwhelms us. That’s what happened to me the last few months. Things happened that were so overpowering that all my usual routines went out the window just so I could get through each day. My work, my social life – and yes, my sitting practice – pretty much dropped off my plate.

At times like this, people often say, “Life got in my way.” But that’s so not true. This IS my life. Just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s standing in my way. Actually, I think it’s exactly the opposite. It’s showing me exactly where I need to go to push beyond my comfort zone. It’s like a custom designed life lesson created just for me.

Buddhism & the Mindfulness Movement: Friends or Foes?

This is a post by Vishvapani, a mindfulness trainer and senior member of my Buddhist order. I’m very much in agreement with his views — that the meeting of these two streams is creating a wonderful synergy that can profoundly benefit both. I, for one, am dedicating my energies to advancing this cause.

Buddhism & the Mindfulness Movement: Friends or Foes?

We’re in the middle of the Mindfulness Boom as Buddhist-derived meditation practices enter the cultural mainstream. But is this the Dharma touching and transforming western society, or is Buddhism being turned into a self-help technique and a consumer product? Its time for Buddhists to start reflecting seriously on the mindfulness movement and to learn its lessons.

A back tip for meditators, or how to sit with more ease

Can’t seem to find a comfortable way to sit in meditation? Here’s something really simple to try. It’s actually a mindfulness practice in itself. It’s a way to balance your natural ability to relax with the forces of gravity to find a well-aligned posture that’s effortless and free. I do this myself at the beginning of every sit, and find it really helpful.

For a visual cue, imagine your body as like a bunch of children’s wooden blocks, stacked one on top of another. It can rise up pretty high, as long as you place each block squarely on the one below. Gravity exerts a pull straight down the middle of the stack that keeps it well-balanced.

Doing this in effect also creates an upward flow of energy that allows you to stack the blocks up high – certainly higher than if you piled them crooked. So even though we think of gravity as a force that pulls downward, when it’s used well you can think of it as creating a natural upward lift as well.

STOP and be mindful

People often come to my meditation courses because they want to learn how to slow down their crazy busy lives.

So you start sitting for 10, 20, or maybe even 30 minutes a day. But after some weeks of this, you still feel like things are crazy busy and all over the place. So your meditation isn’t working, you say to me.

Here’s my first thought. I’m wondering if you’re thinking of meditation as something you can drop into your life for say, 30 minutes a day, and have it counterbalance the other 15 or so hours that your mind is on full tilt. (I’m assuming you spend 8 or so hours sleeping or resting). Certainly, meditating 30 minutes a day is better than not doing it at all. But looking at it from a common sense perspective, is it reasonable to expect a 30 minute sit to cancel out the effect of 15 hours of frenetic activity?

When metta doesn’t mean “love”

I remember feeling very frustrated – and frankly a little baffled – when I was first learning the metta bhavana practice. Especially around the fourth stage, the difficult person. How was I supposed to feel warmth and affection for somebody I admitted not getting along with?

It was a tall order, and the whole idea left me feeling inadequate. I often sat there wondering what the heck metta was supposed to feel like, because I just didn’t get it. I figured there must be something wrong with me. I’m wondering if you’ve ever found yourself in a similar place.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with me or you. One of the problems stems from the typical translation of “metta” as “lovingkindness.” While that’s not incorrect, it’s a little misleading, especially in the case of the difficult person. I think many of us have such strong images of what “love” means that it limits our perspective.

Jon Kabat-Zinn on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

This past spring, I attended professional training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) — a program started by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the UMass Medical Center. Basically, MBSR is a way of presenting meditation in a secular context — for health, wellness, and self-awareness. It brings the transformative power of mindfulness out to the mainstream in a way that “Buddhist” things probably never could. I am now moving toward offering MBSR classes of my own in the Boston area, starting this fall.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work, here’s a masterful presentation by the man himself. Warning: it’s two hours long, but I found it very inspiring.

Why the metta bhavana practice makes sense

In the metta bhavana meditation practice, we imagine that we’re connected to all humanity and all life – and send our lovingkindness out to them. Here’s a graphic that offers a mathematical perspective on why this makes sense.

Meditating on anxiety

One of my clients — I’ll call him Mark — took up meditation to help with his lifelong anxiety. He was all too aware of his tendency to over-analyze and worry about everything. He’d been meditating on and off for two years, gone on retreats, read tons of dharma books, done everything he could think of.

But he felt like there was no progress at all. He told me that every sit still featured that same old frenzied monkey mind swinging from tree to tree. It was nothing but frustration.

I have to say, I empathize. I bet you’ve been in a similar place, too. We all take up meditation with some kind of goal in mind. And we really do put in our best efforts. But what do we do when it doesn’t work?

We’ve all been told since childhood that if we want something to happen, we have to MAKE it happen. This is true, up to a point.

Finding comfort in my own skin

moon thru raindropsAfter tossing and turning through some sleepless nights, I discovered a few things about the discomfort at the root of my insomnia. Realizing that it’s always there on some level, it’s given me something real to work with, day and night.

I turn to look at my bedside clock. 3:18 am. Here I am again, wide awake, staring at the ceiling. Darn it.