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Saying Grace

Saying Grace

I am sometimes asked to offer a blessing on food. The request is well meant, but ill educated. It is redundant. The food, the people gathered, the earth, sun, and rain that made the food are the blessings. Grace serves the purpose of recognizing the blessings of the people and the food. The highest way to recognize the blessing of the people and the food is to express gratitude and appreciation for them. Saying grace is a giving of thanks.

Thanksgiving is not a yearly event. It is a daily and hourly event. Any moment you recognize the blessings in your life you also recognize the grace bestowed upon you. It takes a clear and humble heart and mind to recognize our lives are moment to moment full of grace, but the moment you do you are filled with peace and joy.

Careful What You Ask For

Careful What You Ask For

She began talking about her life as soon as we shook hands. Silently, I asked my spirit guides if I should stop her. No, let her talk. At one point about half way through she mentioned a man had asked her to marry. She declined since he wasn’t her type. When she finally stopped she asked me if she could get married. I told her she could have already been married. Who? When? You mentioned earlier a man proposed and you declined. Had you accepted you would already be married. Ask a better question.

I told her to ask if she could happily marry someone that was her type. What I didn’t tell her is that even that question is limiting because many people, including her, don’t really know what their best match is. It would be best for a person like her to pray to receive the best person for her happiness. A question often leads to a single answer, or more questions, not all answers. It is important to ask good questions to get good answers.

The Giving Experiment Day 2

The Giving Experiment Day 2

My wife and I took friends from out of town to Target. The women were in power shopping mold. Mindful of the giving experiment I strolled around ready to give be it a smile, compliment, aid, or even a pause to let someone in a rush be on their way, when I found myself wondering what I was going to do to pass the time.

How quickly my thoughts had turned to myself. Not that thinking about what to do with myself is necessarily bad, but it’s not the same as maintaining thoughtful engagement with the world. It amazed me the way a normal thought like that could be a form of self-absorption. It got me thinking about other normal ways of thinking that could lead to self-absorption.

I could have just as easily thought of work, which would seem like an act of productivity rather than avoidance, but it would have been avoidance. How often did I use work as a way to avoid an uncomfortable situation or conversation? That question led to the question; how often has my mind wandered instead of being present to what was happening before me? Focusing on giving made me realize how evasive my mind could be to the present moment.

The Giving Experiment

The Giving Experiment

“Remember to give every person more than you take.” – Earl Nightingale

Barnes and Noble was having a book drive to give children in need books for Christmas. To further offset the negative feeling about the ten dollars received for the books I sold I took out the ten dollars and donated a book to the drive. The cashier, a normally somber looking dude was surprised and delighted. His face light up beyond what I had previously thought possible. I walked away feeling warm.

At the market the familiar ring of the Salvation Army bell sounded as the man ringing it sang a Christmas carol. After shopping I dropped five dollars in the red donation pot. I didn’t really have the money to spare, but wanted to reinforce a feeling of abundance. Slipping the money into the pot the man stood up and bowed as he thanked me with his singsong voice. I felt blessed as a peacefulness washed away all anxiety. Instead of spending five dollars on a latte, I received priceless peace.

Driving home I reflected on the way giving had been much more satisfying than buying something for myself. The selling of books and returning of things was inspired by an episode on the School of Greatness podcast on minimalism. I started the day intending to remove things from my environment I no love ne’er valued, and ended excited about the change giving brings to life. From today till Christmas I’m challenging myself to focus my thoughts and actions everyday on giving.

Green Drink Recipe

Green Drink Recipe

1 cup water
1 cup oj
1 cup pineapple
Two handfuls kale
Two handfuls spinach
1 cup frozen mango chunks
1 stalk celery
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Cheyenne pepper to taste, I put 1/8-1/4 tsp

It’ll almost fill a Vitamix so I suggest cutting down by 1/3 for a single serving, maybe even less for a NutriBullet. Cheyenne pepper may upset your digestion and it might be better for some to go without it.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

Feeling Overwhelmed?

When cutting down a big tree, whether you fell it once, or break it down but by bit, you will need to prune the small branches, then the big branches, and then the tree is cut into smaller and smaller pieces and made into lumber, kindling, or saw dust. Then the stump can be uprooted. It is the same process for replacing an old behavior with a new one. Part of the anxiety of any journey is this emptying, tilling and planting process. Take it a one step at a time. Stay in harmony with yourself so you don’t burn out.

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.