Archive | Meditation

Happy Birthday Insight Meditation Center!

Today is also the birthday of The Insight Meditation Center in Barre, MA.

That is Sharon Salzberg’s base and she and others founded it today 36th years ago.

I am not absolutely sure about this but I think that’s where one of my favorite political writers Robert Wright did a meditation retreat, which he hilariously wrote up for the New York Times in 2009 (it’s really funny), and which I highlighted here.  He recently landed a blog at The Atlantic.  He hasn’t written about meditation there.  Yet.

“The Buddha Walks into a Bar….”

I just find this effort and book terrific. The Daily Beast headlines Meditation Teacher Lodro Rinzler Rebrands Buddhism to Deal with Drinking and Sex. I’m not sure how much rebranding is going on here, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I read Rinzler column occasionally over at the because the title alone is funny – What Would Sid Do

The take on how to mindfully drink alcohol is worth the click over alone. Well, alright, I will highlight it here,

Rinzler gave me a crash-course in “right drinking” over a pot of Chrysanthemum tea. The first step is to know your intention: Is the drinking celebratory or to eliminate sorrow? Next, he says, taste the thing. You’ll drink better, he says, shirking the inferior sauce. As in silent meditation, he recommends observing your mind while consuming the beverage and labeling ideas or feelings that come up. And lastly, he advises knowing your limits, qualifying that he drinks less than he used to. “I try not to get to that point where I would say things that cause harm.”

but click over anyway for some more enlightenment or buy the book – The Buddha Walks into a Bar…

Ethan Nichtern is mentioned in the piece and he is the founder of the Interdependence Project, which is also worth the click. I’ve never met Ethan, but I know his father David (whose Tuesday night Facebook Dharma Talks have been fantastic) and a dear friend of mine, Kim Stetz, teaches yoga there. And here is a podcast where Lodro and Ethan talk about Lodro’s book. It’s on my list to read now.

Affectionate Awareness

Sounds True is not only a great publisher but Tami Simon does these unbelievable great and meaty interviews with some of her authors and thinkers and writers.

The other week she interview Jon Kabat-Zinn, which you can listen to here or download from iTunes.

Here are some of my favorite passages….

I love this way of looking at “failure”

you can’t imitate anybody else. You have to find your own way, and life being the teacher will show you every time you get caught, every time you get hung up, every time you get attached. All of the things that we most think might be failures are actually just lessons—just the way, I think, Thomas Edison said, after his thousandth try resulted in the light bulb, but [he had] 999 failures, he said, “Those weren’t failures at all. I had 999 ways of knowing how not to make a light bulb.” And so, in that sense, that again is a kind of generous way of looking at it.

Regarding brain research on the effects of meditation:

all this brain research that’s coming out that’s showing not only changes in the activity of the very important regions of the brain that have to do with learning, that have to do with memory, that have to do with executive function and decision-making and emotion regulation. [They’re] not only finding changes in activation of various regions of the brain and the direction of what you might call great cognitive control or greater executive functioning and great emotional intelligence, but they are actually now seeing structural changes in many of these regions of both the neo-cortex and limbic system—the emotional domain of the brain.

So in eight weeks, in MBSR, they’re seeing thickening in various regions of the hippocampus and certain regions of the insula and the neocortex, and then the thinning of the amygdala. If these results turn out to be true, it is really demonstrating (and the irony is that it’s through meditation research) that the human brain is really an organ of experience and it responds to experience by changing its own structure. And its structure is the most complex structure in the known universe, and consists of over a hundred billion neurons, and neurons are only half the population of the human brain. [Those] hundred billion neurons [have] so many connections that, for our purposes, the number of synaptic connections is infinite.

And another, regarding “affectionate attention”:

Mindfulness is—you know, the way I define it operationally, is “the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” And the “non-judgmentally” is the real kicker, because we have judgments and ideas and opinion about just about everything. But that’s where the affectionate attending comes in. It’s not some kind of cold clinical perspective [where] we’re taking on things as you would if you were just thinking about things. It’s actually experiencing a sense of being in relationship to everything that is being experienced because the reality is all relational.

I mean, you can’t touch without being touched, and by extension, all the senses are in some way relational. If you don’t think that when you see that you’re being seen by the world—well, you may not feel that way if you’re living in New York City where everybody averts eye contact. But if you tried to spend the night in the rainforest in the Amazon, say, you’ll have the feeling that you’re being seen, not just that you’re seeing. That you’re being heard, that you’re not just hearing. And you’re being smelled and it’s not just you smelling. And you could very well be being tasted, too, by small creatures, as well as potentially [be] lunch for big creatures.

David Nichtern’s Mindfulness Meditation Instruction

David Nichtern is the one who introduced me to meditation in April 2002. The practice has helped me immeasurably. It’s so simple yet so powerful. Here – in only six minutes – David provides his instructions on mindfulness meditation. Check it out, do it and enjoy!

Here is his web site to learn more:

“Change In An Instant” The New Field of Energy Psychology

Insights from the Edge is a free podcast sponsored by the publisher SoundsTrue. It’s one of my favorites and always interesting. I always learn a lot.

The one from the other day, the 29th, the anniversary of my mother’s death, is about energy psychology which is a new area of psychology, trying to help people live better and happier lives.

Dr. Henry Grayson, the guest who is a psychologist and a physicist, defines energy psychology this way:

the field of energy psychology is just one that recognizes that everything is comprised of cell energies and that consciousness plays a role in it. And so the field of energy psychology recognizes both the dealing with the energy meridians that we’re talking about; dealing with the field of energy that surrounds a body; dealing with the “non-local mind” that it has been called in physics—that our mind is not contained in the brain and the skull but in fact reaches out to countless others around us because it’s all a part of “one mind,” as physicist Erwin Schrödinger put it. Whether it’s the subtle energies of the Eastern tradition of energy—not just meridians but the chakras. And so the broad field of energy psychology has people that work with various ones of these dimensions or all of them. Or just how consciousness seems to affect it without using any specific focus on any of those. That would be the broader field of energy psychology, I would say.

Here is the description of the podcast which you can listen to here or read or print out the transcript. Or you can download from iTunes. All free. And I highly recommend.

Tami Simon speaks with Dr. Henry Grayson, a leading psychologist who has spent decades exploring the connections between psychology, physics, and the spiritual traditions of the world. Dr. Grayson founded and served as chairman emeritus at the National Institute for Psychotherapies in New York. With Sounds True, he has created the nine-hour audio training course The New Physics of Love: The Power of Mind and Spirit in Relationships. In this episode, Tami speaks with Dr. Grayson about the role of thoughts in our relationships, how the non-local nature of the universe impacts our consciousness, and the possibility of “deleting undesirable and obsolete core beliefs in the twinkling of an eye.” (60 minutes)

SoundsTrue has published a CD, which is a 9 hour course, called The New Physics of Love. Dr Grayson also has a book called Mindful Loving.

In the podcast, Dr. Grayson describes a process he went through on himself to release the disturbance caused by a childhood trauma. He said it takes about 45 minutes. I’m not sure what you do for the unconscious traumas…, but here is his process:

  • Place the fingers on the forehead – to focus. Through the centuries people often did that. Even Rodin knew that in his portrayal of his statue the thinker. We learn that it stimulates the frontal lobes of the brain, subtle energies, helps us focus. Focus on the trauma, memory, who was in that scene, the scene, how i felt, where i feel it in the body. Breathe.
  • Place the fingers on the eyebrow I release all fear related to this trauma. Take a deep breath and exhale.
  • Place the fingers on the outer edge of the eyebrow. And i release all anger and rage related to trauma. Take a deep breath or two or three.
  • Place the Fingers underneath the eye I release all anxieties related to this trauma
  • Place the fingers on under the nose I release all embarassment related to this trauma
  • Place the fingers on under the lip I release all shame and guilt related to this trauma. And a deep breath.
  • Place the fingers on under the arm – I release all worry and excessive concern related to this trauma. Deep breathing again.
  • Place the fingers on under the rib cage in front. I release all hurt and sadness related to this trauma
  • Place the fingers on over the heart – I release fear. breath in love and exhale fear. 6,8 or 10 slow breaths.
  • Place the fingers on the collar bone (one either side). Has to do with fear again. I release all fear related to this trauma

I would assess what came up, how much disturbance remained for me on a scale of one to ten. Was a 10 when I started. On the first round I got it down to a 6, second time it came down to a 3, third down to 0.

Then he addressed, for me a key question, the obvious question:

TS: I think of all of the people who have physical challenges and who have wanted so much for there to be a healing. They have brought all of their intent, all of their openness and capacity into the situation and it hasn’t changed for them. They’ve remained ill. And so when I hear your story about the fingers burning and your belief, I think, well … how do we understand all of the people who aren’t healing?

HG: I think that’s a wonderful question, Tami. It’s one that inspired the book I just finished writing, actually.

What I discovered—I was giving a seminar in Boston a couple of years ago, maybe three years ago and I had the inspiration to start it off by saying, “How many people here want to have a totally happy and healthy life?” Of course everybody’s hand went up. And of course my asking this question was inspired by what I experienced clinically and with myself in other dimensions but I thought I’d ask this larger audience. Everybody’s hand went up and I said, “With your permission, I’d like to come around and do this muscle testing on everybody very quickly and to see if you believe you deserve to have a totally healthy and happy life or if it’s safe for you to have a totally healthy and happy life.” I thought that maybe 25-30 percent would have some of those.

The results blew my mind, literally. Everybody agreed to participate in it. And in this workshop there were probably 75 people who were there and I quickly went around and did this. Eighty-two percent of the people had both of those barriers as beliefs. They don’t deserve it and it’s not safe to have a totally healthy and happy life. The other 18 percent had one or the other. And these are only two of many barriers we could have.

I thought, “Well, let’s check this out further. Is it just New Englanders?” I was doing a seminar in New York a few weeks later and got the same results. Raleigh, North Carolina? Same results. Chicago—same results. San Francisco, Austin, Texas, all across the country, I got the same results. Almost identical. There was just a point or two off. And these were only two, as I say, of many different barriers that could be beliefs or traumas or world views or secondary gains or whatever it might be. Most of those are not conscious to us. And all of these people in all of these audiences were mostly people who had done a lot of work in different kinds of self reflection—spiritually or psychologically—and still were not conscious of it.We can’t blame ourselves for it because that’s what the ego mind always wants us to do: to blame ourselves for making ourselves sick or whatever. No, we can’t blame ourselves. We’ve just had those downloads. We had those conclusions from childhood. It is part of the human condition that we carry that. You can’t sail a boat if we’ve got anchors holding it back. And maybe the anchors aren’t visible to us. We’ve taken sailing lessons. We’ve learned how to hoist the sails, how to set the rudder, how to set the sail. The wind is there but the boat’s not moving. We’ve not been taught how to look for all of those anchors. It might be hidden, holding the boat back.

And I think the same thing is true for us, that when we don’t get the results that we want there are other hidden anchors. If 90-95 percent of all of our behaviors are not conscious, it’s very likely that we have a bunch there that are just not conscious to us. One reason I do the muscle testing is because it helps us access that quite quickly as to what they are and where they are and what it would take to cut loose those anchors.

So I think that that is a role that keeps a lot of things from working. And then the other thing is that sometimes we just have a need, for some reason, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, but we have some strong gains for keeping or having the sickness. We haven’t dealt with it otherwise. And if we’ve not dealt with it, whether it’s in a relationship or in the body, or whatever it is, we’re not ready to let it go. And so we have to be ready to do that. And that’s why I like these other methods too because it helps open up that dimension. That’s when I say that whether you want to have a healthy and happy relationship or whether you want to have a healthy and happy body or mind, or business success, or money, or whatever it might be, the same thing applies.

How to Transform Suffering

Great dharma talk online with David Nichtern last night the six paramitas, which are teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. David offers these every Tuesday at 7 pm, ET. He was my first and is my foremost buddhist teacher.

Paramita means perfection or perfect relationship. I also read that the Chinese character for this word means “crossing over to the other shore,” which according to Thich Nhat Hanh means the shore of peace, non-fear, and liberation.

There are six:

  1. Generosity (dana)
  2. Discipline, precepts, mindfulness training (shila)
  3. Patience, inclusiveness, capacity to receive, bear, transform pain inflicted on you (kshanti)
  4. Exertion, energy, perseverance (virya)
  5. Meditation (dhyana)
  6. Discernment, wisdom, insight, understanding (prajna)

I was reading up on these concepts in Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (p. 195-196) regarding generosity, what can we give?, he asks. He answers – our stability (or solidity), our freedom (freedom from craving, anger, jealousy, despair, fair, and wrong perceptions), our freshness, peace (and lucidity), space.

The person we love needs space in order to be happy. In a flower arrangement, each flower needs space around it in oder to radiate its true beauty. A person is like a flower. Without space within and around her, she cannot be happy….And the more we offer, the more we have. When the person we love is happy, happiness comes back to use right away. We give to her, but we are giving to ourselves at the same time.

Giving is a wonderful practice. The Buddha said what when you are angry at someone, if you have tried everything and still feel angry, practice dana paramita. When we are angry our tendency is to punish the other person. But when we do, there is only an escalation of the suffering. The Buddha proposed that instead, you send her a gift. When you feel angry, you won’t want to go out and buy a gift, so take the opportunity now to prepare the gift when you are not angry. Then, when all else fails, go and mail that gift to her, and amazingly, you’ll feel better right away…You get what you offer. Instead of trying to punish the other person, offer him exactly what he needs. The practice of giving can bring you to the shore of well-being very quickly.

When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That is the message he is sending. If you are able to see that, offer him what he needs – relief. Happiness and safety are not an individual matter. His happiness and safety are crucial for your happiness and safety. Wholeheartedly wish him happiness and safety, and you will be happy and safe also.

What else can we offer? Understanding. Understanding is the flower of practice…when you offer others your understanding they will stop suffering right away.

The first petal of the flower of the paramitas is dana paramita, the practice of giving. What you give is what you receive, more quickly than the signals sent by satellite. Whether you give your presence, your stability, your freshness, your solidity, your freedom, or your understanding, your gift can work a miracle. Dana paramita is the practice of love.

When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That is the message he is sending if you are able to see that, offer him what he needs – relief. Happiness and safety are not an individual matter. His happiness and safety are crucial for your happiness and safety. Wholeheartedly wish him happiness and safety, and you will be happy and safe also.

I also really loved what Thich Nhat Hanh says about patience. He notes,

Kshanti is often translated as patience or forbearance, but I believe “inclusiveness” better conveys the Buddha’s teaching. When we practice inclusiveness, we don’t have to suffer or forebear, even when we have to embrace suffering and injustice. The other person says or does something that makes us angry. he inflicts on us some kind of injustice. But if our heart is large enough, we don’t suffer.

The Buddha offered this wonderful image. If you take a handful of salt and pour it into a small bowl of water, the water in the bowl will be too salty to drink. But if you pour the same amount of salt into a large river, people will still be able to drink the river’s water. (Remember, this teaching was offered 2,600 years ago, when it was still possible to drink from rivers!) Because of its immensity, the river has the capacity to receive and transform. The river doesn’t suffer at all because of a handful of salt. If your heart is small, one unjust word or act will make you suffer. But if your heart is large, if you have understanding and compassion, that word or deed will not have the power to make you suffer. You will be able to receive, embrace, and transform it in an instant. What counts is your capacity. To transform your suffering, your heart has to be as big as the ocean.

I just love that.

Elisabeth Lesser on Spirituality, Grief and Loss

I am a fan of Oprah’s. And I am even a bigger fan of Elizabeth Lesser because her book Broken Open really helped me deal with the emotional turmoil in dealing with a painful and chronic untreatable illness.

They sat down and talked about the nature of spirituality, how to make pain useful, how to deal with grief and loss – on Sunday morning, November 13th for Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday on Oprah’s OWN channel. I took some notes:

Lesser – When you say a spiritual path what you’re talking about it – it’s already there inside us, this instinct that we are more than our mind and our body. The path is just getting the obstacles out of the way so we can wake up and fully know our full aliveness, and know that’s who we are.

Oprah – Most times people think that spirituality is, well, people have their own definitions of it but a lot of people think it’s a lot of woo-woo talk. When it is really quite the opposite. It’s the most grounding awakening path you can ever pursue in your life.

Lesser – I’m not a very woo-woo person.

Oprah – Yeah, it’s not out there, its always right here (gestures towards herself)

Lesser – I came to the title – Broken Open – through an image – the image of a rose tightly wound around itself, the bud, like we all feel so much every day tightly wound, anxious, shut down. And in order for that bud to open and blossom into the flower we love so much, it has to break its shell, it has to break open. And it’s an irony of this human life, strangely enough it is our most difficult, broken times – loss of a job, loss of a marriage, illness, loss of a child – those are the times when we are brought to our knees and we open. Our hearts can open during those times. And if we fight those times and fight the bud opening, we sort of a half of a life. But when we open into our brokenness, that’s when we blossom….And fighting life, as I’m sure we can all relate to that feeling of life is happening to us, we are in this stream of life and instead of relaxing into it, we are swimming as hard as we can against the current. That’s sort of the opposite of the spiritual instinct. The spiritual instinct is to relax into the mystery of life as it’s happening.

Oprah – And the spiritual instinct allows you to move through life no matter what is going on in your life, when you are on the spiritual path – it means no matter what happens to you and difficulties will come and challenges will come because that’s all part of the human experience. But the spiritual connection allows you to know that no matter what – you are going to be all right

Lesser – Everything that is happening in our life is a spiritual moment

Oprah – I like what you said on page 105 – “Nothing has awakened my heart as much as the pain of a broken family; nothing has given me as much strength as the time I spent alone in the ruined aftermath of a marriage.” How is that a spiritual path? I think when you have the most devastating things happen to you, that those are your holiest moments. That’s when you get to see who you really are.

Lesser – Yes, because we spend so much of our life trying to be what we think we are supposed to be…what society wants us to be, what our parents thinks we should be, our husband, our wife, our image….just our image of what a spiritual or a good person should look like….so through that experience of divorce and becoming a single mother, I lost everything – my financial security, my self-image, my home, my support. I was really a single mom and everything changed for me. And in the depths of that loss, I found out who I really was. I began to trust who I was. I began to find a genuine me who could withstand anything.

Oprah – how do you do that

Lesser – Well, you can either break down, stay broken down and shut down or you can break open. It’s a decision you make. A commitment. I am going through a very hard time, I’m not going to waste this precious experience, this opportunity to become the best me.

Oprah – I also ask the experience, the crisis, the experience in the moment, what are you here to teach me? What did your divorce teach you?

Lesser – The first thing that it taught me is that i couldn’t blame anyone for what had gone wrong in the marriage. I had spent a lot of time blaming my ex-husband. But I had to take responsibility myself. I had to say – what does this have to teach me about me, not about him, not about how unfair life is. It wasn’t about that. It was what did I do to make this happen. And if I could really sit in the pain of that. The pain is really looking at yourself and what you did to create the mess you’re in and if you can look at it head on fearlessly and say teach me. Teach me about myself so I can grow.

Oprah – Most people search for closure after the loss of a loved one, but Elizabeth says its one of her least favorite words. Why?

Lesser – Because if you don’t take the time to grieve and to let yourself feel what happens, you just put a scar over it and it doesn’t go away. In fact, it festers. And it becomes something else. Perhaps it turns into bitterness or anger or blame and you never get over it. So letting yourself descend into grief…and letting it do what it will with you for as long as it takes, it a much more intelligent response to loss than cleaning up real fast, going back to work, you get your three days of grief days and then you go back to work. That’s not a very wise way to handle it.

Glenn (another guest discussing the grief of losing his young adult son) – And you never get over it. It’s always there. You always live with it.

Lesser – You wear it as a badge of how well you loved. Grief is an expression that you loved well.