Monthly Archives: September 2016

Meditation

Meditation

Meditation

Calmness is only part of meditation. Calmness or stillness allows us to witness and observe our reactiveness. So you sit calmly and the laundry or what you will have for lunch pops in your head. You noticed the laundry and the question of lunch. The thing is stuff you have to do is always pippin in your head but you don’t notice it. Our mind has developed a habit of being so full of planning and reacting that it has become back ground noise, until we sit still. Then the background becomes foreground.

Natural reactions can form behaviors that aren’t necessarily beneficial because they are reflexive adaptations to a suffering. The practice of meditation is simply observing those reactions. By learning to not cling to that suffering or not clinging to the reaction is an act of compassion because you are not judging but just allowing. The medicine is being able to notice these patterns of negative habits while preferring to stay in calmness and not engage in reactivity.

I’m beginning this sharing with my personal practice because it works for me. After that I will share some meditations I know of that work, or have tried and liked. I don’t recommend trying to sit for long periods in the beginning. I recommend short 1-5 minute sessions and building up along the way. Think of it like beginning exercise. If you go to hard too long too fast you get hurt or burned out. It’s discouraging. From the very beginning give yourself space to grow.

My Meditation

Feel energy, infuse the energy with loving warmth, focus on your center and stay. When you notice your mind has wandered, simply return. Noticing that you have wandered means you are more aware. In the beginning our awareness can be so tight that we don’t notice our mind has wandered.

My friend Kamal Ravikant wrote a wonderfully short and delightfully effective book titled: Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It. Kamal tells of how he cured his depression by repeating the phrase: I Love Myself. He was so depressed at one point that his brother placed a GPS tracking device on him. I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t use his technique it will help give you the confidence to develop your own.

The Meaning of Meditation

Meditation means to familiarize. So in a way we are always meditating, because we are always getting better at something. This is why we say people get set in their ways. Meditation is more difficult if performed by fighting against old habits and conditioned responses. It is much more effective when used to harmonize the mind with the desired behavior. Fighting against old habits actually strengthens them because they remain a focus of attention which reinforces them.

Consciously or not, usually not, we are constantly becoming more and more familiar, habituated, to one thing or another. Therefore meditation practice usually has a goal in mind be it calmness, increased proficiency (as in sports or business), compassion training, or witnessing the mind. Meditation is the development of a chosen behavior or state of mind. Much of our mental training, even the training we consider a choice, are really adaptations to the needs of a sport, job, or medical condition. The original goal or reason for meditation was liberation or divine spiritual realization.

Calmness
Calmness meditation is the practice of gradually getting acquainted with a level of consciousness other than the chaotic monkey mind. Your mind, like the ocean, has different levels of movement. Most humans are familiar with the the part of the mind that is like the top of the ocean where winds and the pull of gravity create ripples. It is the nature of this level of mind to have ripples so the idea of stopping the ripples is ineffective because it is still involved with the ripples and the antagonistic nature of wanting to stop the ripples creates more ripples due to conflict.

Meditation to improve proficiency might be the most widely used technique. It usually takes the form of visualizing but repeating phrases like it is getting easier and easier, or I am strong and confident, work too. The Tibetan Buddhist technique of tonglen or giving and receiving is a visualization that also uses the breath to transform the heart of the practitioner.

Tonglen
Recall a joyful memory and feel that joy in your heart. The Tibetan word for the mind is sem includes the heart as well as the intellect so fill your heart and intellect with the joyful feeling and imagine your heart to be like a joyful radiant sun. There are four levels of Tonglen.

Level One
You are filled with radiant joy. Imagine yourself standing before you covered with a thick black heavy cloud of all your stress, anxiety, anger, grief and conceit. Inhale that thick heavy black cloud into your radiant and joyful heart, not as an act of sacrifice or martyrdom, but as a confident and joyful sense that you can help like when holding the door open for another or helping an elderly person across the street. Exhale sending yourself light and joy.

Level Two
You are filled with radiant joy. Imagine yourself standing before someone you are indifferent to (like a random person on the street) covered with a thick black heavy cloud of all your stress, anxiety, anger, grief and conceit. Inhale that thick heavy black cloud into your radiant and joyful heart, not as an act of sacrifice or martyrdom, but as a confident and joyful sense that you can help like when holding the door open for another or helping an elderly person across the street. Exhale sending that person light and joy.

Level Three
You are filled with radiant joy. Imagine someone you love standing before you covered with a thick black heavy cloud of all your stress, anxiety, anger, grief and conceit. Inhale that thick heavy black cloud into your radiant and joyful heart, not as an act of sacrifice or martyrdom, but as a confident and joyful sense that you can help like when holding the door open for another or helping an elderly person across the street. Exhale sending the person you love light and joy.

Level Four
You are filled with radiant joy. Imagine someone you hate, or strongly dislike, standing before you covered with a thick black heavy cloud of all your stress, anxiety, anger, grief and conceit. Inhale that thick heavy black cloud into your radiant and joyful heart, not as an act of sacrifice or martyrdom, but as a confident and joyful sense that you can help like when holding the door open for another or helping an elderly person across the street. Exhale sending the person you hate, or strongly dislike, love light and joy.

The levels are supposed to be in increasing order of difficulty but personally I think it can be more difficult to work with people you love. I think the more of a personal emotional attachment you have be it love or hate the more difficult the practice of Tonglen will be.

The Dalai Lama says it is impossible to literally take on the suffering of another and this exercise serves a purpose different from self sacrifice in that way. I think on a purely psychological level Tonglen reduces reactivity and increases joyful steadiness in the face of suffering be it ours or that of others.

Metta
Metta means loving kindness. It consist of repeating phrases like:
May I be happy
May I be peaceful
May I be free from suffering
And the causes of suffering

You can change I with you:
May you be happy
May you be peaceful
May you be free from suffering
And the causes of suffering

Because you can interchange I and you it is similar to Tonglen but different in that it is verbal and not visual, which also makes it like a mantra. You can create your own like:
May you be joyful
May you be prosperous
May you live fulfilled
May you realize your divinity

Have fun.

Mindfulness
Mindfulness is also known as calm abiding and refers to the ability to rest the attention on an object without getting distracted for a prolonged period. The technique usually involves observing or noticing the flow of air of the breath, gazing at a candle or sacred object, or observing thoughts. It is an entry level but very important basic exercise. It is the roots upon which the tree of a meditation practice grows.

It is possible to develop mindfulness through the practice of asana, or posture, in yoga. Observing the body and breath in asana allows the mind to be observed through the breath and body. When the body gets tense, loses balance, or the breath suspends or becomes erratic, you become aware that the mind has become tense or wavy too. Bringing the body and breath back to calm and balance means the mind has too. This is the real aim of yoga and not to hit a perfect pose.

Mantra, breath observation, kirtan (chanting the names of the divine), most repetitive focus meditation acts like an anchor that takes awareness down to the depths of the mind where it is still and quiet like the deepest part of the ocean. The end game of meditation is to be familiar and aware of all levels of the ocean without the mind being disturbed by movement. Relaxed babies don’t get car sick. They rock and flow with the rhythm of the movement of the car. It is only after learning to cling that the tension leads to nausea. You cannot get sea sick of you are the ocean.

I thought we were soul mates…

I thought we were soul mates…

Dear Soul,
I have been told many stories of tragic relationships that began fiery, passionately, and blissfully only to heartwrenchingly fall apart. “WHY!?! I thought this one was my Soul Mate…, why?”

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” -Rumi
These gut wrenching relationships are a type of soulmate relationship. They represent transformation through destruction. In India this energy is represented by Kali, in Europe by the Pheonix, it is the serpent who tempts Adam and Eve away from the safety and innocence of Eden, and in Hawaii she is Pele who transforms lava into the safety of land. These relationships are often the most painful, but they create the necessary opening for you to let the light in.

I have seen it many times and the worst is when you are already in a relationship. It is disorienting to meet someone you feel an instant and significant bond with when you are already in a relationship. It takes a lot of life experience and spiritual growth to realize that context has a purpose. Inviting someone you love and care about through the agonizing journey of a breakup or divorce is selfish cruelty. Even if the other person wants to go on that journey, like a romantic hero, it leads to another kind of painful lesson all together.

Sure it can feel nice to have someone who wants to go through hell with you, but there are consequences and karmic debt to both parties no matter how good it feels at the moment. The one exception is when a couple both agree that the relationship was already over and agree to leave feeling relieved and even appreciative for one another. Then a transition relationship could be a positive and kind karmic catalyst rather than the firey type of transformation.

I don’t like to overly simplify things because life simply isn’t like that, but a good rule of thumb is when you feel strongly connected or pulled to someone it will usually end in a train wreck. This is just what I have observed with thousands of my clients. Some could say my negative view has attracted those clients to me or biased my perception, but I have accounted for both possibilities in my observations as well. I say observations because during a reading I am just the messenger and if I were tainting the reading then I would never see a positive outcome from such connections, but sometimes there are. Each person’s soul and karmic journey is different and sacred, and it is not for the reader to interfere.

It appears the reason a strong pull and connection toward someone is bad is because the pull is created by mutual or similar emptiness. Of course most romantic stories and songs make that magnetic pulling feeling important which educates us to believe it is a good sign. Consider the opposite. Think of people you have known for a long time, like childhood friends who, when you get together, even if you don’t see each other for years, it doesn’t seem like any time has passed. If you can recall how you met them it won’t have that strong pull. Most positive relationships just feel comfortable. We have been educated not to trust feeling good, but that is a topic for another time.
“Being a candle is not easy: in order to give Light one must first burn.” -Rumi
So why must we burn? What’s the lesson? It’s different for each person, but we are all seeking to realize that we don’t need love, and we aren’t needy. We don’t need love from anyone because we are love, and that is why our good relationships have a timeless quality. The bad relationships guide us to learn our true value, and the joy of sharing that value rather than trying to earn it, or be validated by another. When you know your worth and fullness you will no longer have dramatic and challenging romantic relationships and instead will have fulfilling and positively loving, supportive, and nurturing relationships.



 

Meditation

Meditation

When I was a child I did a few martial arts. Before each class and for a few minutes at the end we could practice either focusing on our breathing or clearing our minds. This was my introduction to meditation. Many of us are taught to believe meditation is getting the mind to be blank, but this is possibly the least sophisticated version of the practice. A little up the food chain is settling or calming the mind. Athletes, and anyone interested in increasing performance like some business people, think meditation is focusing on a skill or mental rehearsal. For energy workers and spiritual practitioners meditation is for clearing chakras, white or divine light shielding, and increasing vibrational frequency. Yogis meditate to achieving moksha or liberation. Buddhist meditate to awaken, Buddha means awake. All of these are forms of meditation. The word meditation means to become familiar with, or to familiarize with, so any mental activity that increases familiarity is meditation.

In a way we are meditating all the time. Every belief we support, or affirm with experience, is an act of strengthening familiarization. Every time we get upset about something, like politics, the unfairness of the world, or how shitty other drivers are, we are becoming more and more familiar with those things and our reactions to them. The worse part is whatever we focus on, or recognize, seems to appear more and more in our lives. It’s not magic or law of attraction, its just the way the brain works. Doubt me? Play punch buggy. Punch buggy is a game where the first person to see a VW Bug gets to punch the other person. At first you don’t see too many, but the more you look the more you find, you know, seek and ye shall find. Soon the contestants are punching each other with equal frequency because seeing VW Bugs gets easier and easier.

Meditation is mind training. You are learning to control, not only what you are familiar with, but your reactions and responses to stimuli. All learning is a process of familiarizing. Most of us learn how to view the world naturally and slowly over time. It takes years for us to master our native language, if you doubt this because the “experts” say it is easier for young people to learn language go and try to have an intelligent conversation with a three year old. On the flip side an adult can immerse themselves into a foreign language and become fluent in three months. Focused and concentrated learning can happen quickly which means we can become familiar with new things easier than we believe. What does this have to do with mediation? It’s all meditation. The difference is we can meditate or become familiar unconsciously through social learning and adaptation, or consciously, by choosing to focus on what we want to become familiar with.

Want peace of mind? Become aware of and familiar with peace. It is easier to feel peaceful in nature or a natural setting, unless of course you encounter a snake or a bear. But even mosquitos are a challenge. The Dalai Lama has said, “Think you are too small to make a difference? Try sleeping with a mosquito.” Jokes aside feeing peaceful due to natural or peaceful settings is conditional. True peace of mind is becoming aware of the level or part of your mind that is peaceful and becoming more familiar with it. This is a form of meditating on the mind. Meditation on the mind is an advanced practice. The mind is more than the intellect and the mental chatter we normally think of, mind actually includes the heart and emotions too.

Before we can analyze the mind we need to see the mind. Usually we are too embroiled in the mind to have enough distance to be able to see or analyze the mind. I know this sounds strange but the mind we are naturally familiar with is the one made of language. Its the constant chatter and emotional reactions to that chatter that we identify with the most. For a moment consider what kind of thought you had before you had language? You had thought, you just didn’t have linguistic thought, it was a world of sensation and direct engagement without labeling, judging, and evaluating. You couldn’t describe your identity with words like my name is, I am this many years old, I do this for a living, and so on. It is not bad to have linguistic thought, what is bad is being unconsciously controlled and habituated by it. Language based thought is just one level of mind and awareness. We are multidimensional beings and living a life constrained by our language based and reactive animal fight or flight brain is to live a stunted life. We can experience a much larger slice of life by becoming more and more familiar with other parts of our mind. To begin to do this it is best to first learn to become aware of our settled level of mind.

Years ago I learned Transcendental Meditation or TM. I was given a mantra or sound that was matched to me by my birthday. The mantra acts as an anchor. The way it was explained to me is the mind is like the ocean. On the surface the ocean is wavy, but as you go deeper down the water gets calmer and calmer. The mantra acts like an anchor that draws your awareness deeper and deeper, to where the mind is calmer and calmer. Dr. Herbert Benson performed experiments using any two syllable word, like relax, as the mantra. His experiments showed the same physiological response as the TM mantra. The TM mantra and instruction cost about a thousand dollars, but you only pay it once and its good for life versus going to a meditation class and paying or donating weekly which could add up to more than a thousand bucks over a life time. You could make up a sound like Dr. Benson did, check out his book, The Relaxation Response for detailed instruction. Another way to the settled part of your mind is to simply focus on your breathing. At first your mind will wander and you won’t even notice that it wandered. One day you will catch your mind wandering and the simple act of noticing your mind wandering and bringing it back to the breathing is greater awareness and more mental control. The more you practice and become familiar with observing the breath, the calmer and clearer you will be. You could gaze at a candle, the image of a thing of beauty, or of spiritual importance like an image of Buddha or Christ. The more you are able to focus on the image in greater and greater detail the more mental calmness and control you will have.

These exercises are a good start. When you get more control you will begin to notice your thoughts like observing clouds passing in the sky. When that happens you will then proceed with becoming familiar with the observer part of your consciousness. Just this step will make you less reactive to your thoughts and emotions which will automatically help you be more peaceful. There are deeper and deeper levels of openness and serenity, but the instruction above will be a lot to chew on should you decide to partake in mind training. Good luck on your journey.

Resources:

Turning Confusion Into Clarity by Yongey Mingyur
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
Happiness by Mathieu Ricard
The Wise Heart by Jack Cornfield
Meditation in Action by Chogyam Trungpa