Browsing Category "Practice"
13 Jun
2018
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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How to Dissolve Tension

I got this little gem of a quote last night from listening to one of Ajahn Sucitto’s newly posted talks, which was part of his response to a question about how to relax tensions that are “locked up” in the body:

“The universal solvent is goodwill.”

27 May
2018
Posted in: Books, Practice, Travel
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Toward Which My Journey Tends

I leave on Tuesday (May 29) for the Nine Bodies retreat at Spirit Rock, then I’m staying over to meet with Phillip the next day, so I won’t get back until the following Tuesday, (June 5). Look for my next post sometime later that week.

In the mean time, I leave you with this selection from Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino, the guide book I always consult before traveling:

The Great Khan’s atlas contains also the maps of the promised lands visited in thought but not yet discovered or founded: New Atlantis, Utopia, the City of the Sun, Oceana, Tamoé, New Harmony, New Lanark, Icaria.

Kublai asked Marco: “You, who go about exploring and who see signs, can tell me toward which of these futures the favoring winds are driving us.”

“For these ports I could not draw a route on the map or set a date for the landing. At times all I need is a brief glimpse, an opening in the midst of an incongruous landscape, a glint of lights in the fog, the dialogue of two passersby meeting in the crowd, and I think that, setting out from there, I will put together, piece by piece, the perfect city, made of fragments mixed with the rest, of instants separated by intervals, of signals one sends out, not knowing who receives them. If I tell you that the city toward which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time, now scattered, now more condensed, you must not believe the search for it can stop. Perhaps while we speak, it is rising, scattered, within the confines of your empire; you can hunt for it, but only in the way I have said.”

Already the Great Khan was leafing through his atlas, over the maps of the cities that menace in nightmares and maledictions: Enoch, Babylon, Yahooland, Butua, Brave New World.

He said: “It is all useless, if the last landing place can only be the infernal city, and it is there that, in ever-narrowing circles, the current is drawing us.”

And Polo said: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.” 

25 May
2018
Posted in: Practice, Sangha at Large
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Spread the Word!

I just finished my first ever Tiny Retreat and it was great!

What’s a Tiny Retreat? It’s a half-day, at-home, sitting-and-walking practice that I have committed to doing once a month — 8:00 am to 12:00 noon (Central Time) on the last Friday of every month (schedule permitting). I posted about why I’m doing it here.

Part of what why it was so great today was that even though I was here at home, doing sitting and walking meditation all by myself, I wasn’t really doing it all by myself because I know that at least one of my Dharma buddies was at her home, also doing sitting and walking meditation, at the same time, with the intention of deepening her practice, and of doing it with me.

AND there are a couple more Dharma buddies of mine who have committed to doing it with me, too!

Want to join us? The next one is June 29, 8:00 am to 12:00 noon Central Time. Even if you can’t do on that date or at that time, how about doing it that evening, or the next day, or the day after that ???? Let me know and I’ll make a special point of sending blessings to you. We could even check in on how it’s going, if you’d like. (Email me here.)

23 May
2018
Posted in: Practice, Teachers
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Don’t Leave Home Without It

“In your investigation of the world, never allow the mind to leave the body.

“Examine the body’s nature. See the elements that comprise it. See the impermanence, the suffering, the selflessness of the body while sitting, walking, standing, or lying down.

“When its true nature is seen fully and lucidly by the heart, the wonders of the world will become clear.”

— Ajahn Mun

22 May
2018
Posted in: Generosity, Practice
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Here’s a Tip

I was having lunch the other day at a neighborhood place I like to go to and just as I was getting ready to leave, a friend of mine came in, who I don’t see all that often, so of course I invited her to sit at my table — she was just stopping in to get something to take home and hadn’t planned to sit down, but there I was and so she did. I had already paid my bill and I guess having someone new sit down at my table without me leaving confused the waitress, because it was a long time before we could get her attention. And then once we did, it was another long time before we got the drink my friend ordered, even though while we waited the bus boy brought a drink to me that I hadn’t even ordered. Then it was another really long time before our waitress returned and asked my friend to repeat her order because apparently somehow she had lost it.

I noticed that I was getting annoyed during all of this and so was my friend, but at least we were able to take advantage of the time to have a nice long visit. One of the things my friend said while we waited, which I’m sure only came up because of the situation, was that she has been making a practice of always leaving big tips — really big tips (like 50% of the bill) — even when the service is not all that great, because she recognized what a hard job it is to wait tables, and since she can afford to give money to charities, why not give money to people who wait tables.

I love that!

18 May
2018
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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Relax: Body. Breath. Mind.

One of my oldest habit patterns is believing that MY way is the RIGHT way. This can be very painful. For everyone!

Of course, sometimes my way IS the right way…or at lease ONE of the right ways…but it would be a whole lot better if I could avoid getting caught in this kind of thinking.

Mindfulness, of course, is the way to break free of old habits, so I’ve been working with that. But then last night, I happened to listen to a talk in which Phillip Moffitt describes how he developed a specific practice — for himself — to address this very habit!

He calls it Relaxing into Surrender:

“I started this practice when I was working with a particular area of my life… I was repeatedly getting caught in something that was not personal in nature, but nonetheless, it was something that I very much wanted to go my way.

“The feeling was one of tightness, closed heart, closed mind, and it was an unwholesome feeling. So I started relaxing. And then as I was doing it more I realized: Ah, there’s a bigger teaching here. For me! I started this practice not to teach it to you, but for my own practice. 

“What I have done now for these past 23 months is: periodically, every day, I will take just a brief 30 seconds or 3 minutes or 5 minutes or whatever it is…and I will relax. I will relax the body; I will relax the breath; I will relax the mind state. As best I am able. 

“So: driving a car, sitting in a meeting, I’ll just relax. Now maybe it’ll be in the middle of something that I actually have a point of view about, but other people are talking and I will sit there and I will just consciously relax: body, breath, and mind. Driving down the highway I will do it. Talking on the phone I will do it. Being by myself. Walking out in nature. Over and over again… I make a mindfulness practice out of relaxing. 

“What I discovered is that, although I already had a great deal of equanimity, mindfully relaxing day after day throughout the day in this way opened me up to a new level of relaxing, of letting loose of tension in attention, of tension in the body, tension in the mind state and it brought up this possibility repeatedly of surrendering.

“Because once I’d done all that relaxing…then I realized: OK so now here I am really wanting to affect the outcome in the decision we’re making in this particular meeting, but, who knows…maybe what I think would be best isn’t the best. But even if it IS best, maybe it’s going to happen and maybe it’s not. So: just let it go.

“But not giving up the point of view or failing to articulate that point of view!

“From a classical Buddhist teaching, this is letting go of sakkays-ditthi (personality view)…. which is the view of seeing everything from a dualistic perspective, from a personality — I like this and I don’t like that; I don’t want this to happen and I do want that to happen — and being attracted to all of that, to taking it in such a way that there is tension, there is clinging, there is holding onto it.

But not letting go of your values! Of course you want your community to be a safe community. You want your country to be a country of dignity and of kindness. And honesty. Of course you want that. Of course!!! But the getting tense around it is separate from the wanting of that, of having that as a value 

“What we surrender is the getting defined by it. So relax throughout the day and see: Oh, I can relax in this moment. Over and over again. Then this idea of surrender will come up in its own form, in its own time….

“The breath and the relationship of the breath to the emotions is a multi-dimensional experience. If you never experiment, you aren’t giving yourself a chance. This very simple exercise that I’m inviting you to do of relaxing the breath with the body and the mind, in the way I’ve said up to this point — that is enough.

“I can give you very fancy kinds of breath work, of controlling the breath, of controlling the inhale and the exhale, where to place the breath, where to follow the breath… I’ve done lots of very esoteric practices. But you do not need those practices for what we’re pointing to tonight. You really don’t.

“For most of us, we have to have some sort of practice. Otherwise our minds just take over and there’s some part of us that’s just on autopilot

“So we relax, but we don’t abandon practice. Surrender doesn’t mean quitting. It’s a specific use of the word ‘surrender.’ You’re surrendering attachment to outcome. You’re not quitting. You’re not being asked to give up the juice of your life. You’re being asked to practice letting go of your attachment, your clinging, your demand that those areas of your life be a certain way.” 

***

I really see how this could have a big impact…over time, of course. Phillip says to try it for at least 3 months.

OK, Phillip. At least for the next 3 months, I’m taking this one as a specific practice. Anybody else out there care to join me?

(The excerpt above is from Phillip Moffitt’s talk called Relaxing into Surrender, beginning at about the 40 minute mark. It is lightly edited for readability. Click here for the full talk.)

16 May
2018
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We Are All of the Nature…

Today is my Mom and Dad’s 70th wedding anniversary. This is a photo of them taken at my niece’s wedding in 2008.

Mom will be 89 in August. Dad is 91. I took Mom to the doctor this morning for her annual check up. Dad will go for his tomorrow. They’re doing remarkably well. But still.

Every morning I recite the Buddha’s 5 Remembrances. This morning it felt especially tender:

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health.

I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings. There is no way to escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the womb from which I am born. Whatever I may do, for good or for ill, to that I will fall heir.

14 May
2018
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Try a Tiny Retreat

I was listening to a talk by Phillip Moffitt on Choiceless Awareness — not with any particular intent except to be listening to Phillip give a dharma talk — and I heard him get started by talking about samadhi practice, and saying that no matter what kind of meditation we’re doing, we start out by collecting and unifying our mind…and that as we build up continuity, over time, “our mind gets really stable.”

Right. Nothing new there.

But then he said: “Really stable. Not so much during an evening like this [he was talking to his Sunday Night sitting group], and certainly not that much at home (usually) if we’re just doing 30 minutes at home — but if we’re doing a half-day, one weekend a month — the mind can get pretty darn stable….in a half day, if you’re there alone, and you don’t have some big thing on your mind. You can really get going on this.”

And I thought: Wow.

I have a daily sitting practice, which I just “kicked up a notch” by increasing the amount of time I sit. (And I’ve really noticed a big difference as a result.) But I never thought about scheduling a half-day, here at home, once a month.

And then I thought: I could do it!

So…I’ll be taking a Tiny Retreat — on the last Friday of every month, from 8:00 am to 12:00 noon. Starting Friday, May 25.

Want to join me? (You could do it on a different day, at whatever time you want.) But we’d still be doing it “together.” We could check in with each other about it. Or just text to say that we’d done it.

I’m serious. Email me here if you’re interested.

Think about it!

11 May
2018
Posted in: Books, Practice, Retreats
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Homework!

I’ve been doing the “Required Advanced Reading” for Phillip Moffitt’s next retreat, titled: Meditating on the Nine Bodies: A Practical Map for Insight Practitioners (which I’ll be attending at the end of this month.)

The requirement is to read the first six chapters of Phillip’s new book, Awakening through the Nine Bodies: Explorations in Consciousness for Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga Practitioners.

It’s pretty unusual for there to be a homework assignment(!) required to attend a retreat, but I think this is going to be a pretty unusual retreat.

(I already read the book when it first came out last fall. Let me just say: It’s not a quick read. But if you’re interested, it’s worth it!)

The “Nine Bodies” refers to nine levels of consciousness that (according to these teachings) can be accessed/experienced through meditation. These levels are called: Physical Body, Vital Body, Emotional Body, Etheric Body, Astral Body, Intuitional Body, Spiritual Body, Divine Body, Cosmic Body.

The book includes meditation instructions for accessing each of these Bodies. Here’s an excerpt from the first one:

“Begin with simply practicing mindfulness of the wind element manifesting as breath in the Physical Body. Be mindful of any physical sensations that tell you that you are breathing; breath is occurring. You may feel the wind element as pressure, tingling, or vibration, or as an in-and-out or rising-and-falling movement.

“When you are able to consciously feel these body sensations directly without commenting on them or trying to control them through your thoughts, you are directly accessing the Physical Body. Confirm whether this is true for you. You will see that indeed consciousness knows it knows physical sensations. Instructing you to do this confirmation may seem unimportant, but the ‘knowing you know’ aspect of consciousness builds strength and confidence of mind, which helps the mind develop its more subtle capacities for attention…

“One way to describe the felt sense of being in the Physical Body is as ’embodied consciousness.’ Another is feeling ‘grounded in the body.’…. From this embodied consciousness you can develop a felt sense for the nervous system based on the principle of being grounded.

“You will discover that your attention can be grounded in any conscious experience, not just the body, if you cultivate the intention to rest attention on that experience.

“Just as the nervous system has a parasympathetic relaxation response when it realizes it is safely resting on Earth, which in turn calms and clears the mind, this calming relaxation response is generated when accessing each of the Bodies….

“From the practical perspective, it is very helpful to be able to access the Physical Body in daily life when the mind is racing and emotions are strong. I recommend that you repeatedly return to establishing mindfulness of the body ‘within the body’ throughout your day. It provides a beneficial break for an overly active mind or a mind that is habitually tuning out.”

***

Interested? You can find recordings of these and other instructions for accessing the Physical, Vital, Emotional, Etheric, and Intuitive Bodies by clicking here. Some are led by Phillip Moffitt, other by his co-teacher, Dana DePalma. Enjoy!

12 Apr
2018
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The “And” Practice

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of dharma talks that Phillip Moffitt has given at the Marin Sangha because there he’s primarily focused on Dharma Practice in Daily Life (as opposed to most of the talks from Spirit Rock, which are usually in a retreat setting).

At the beginning of the one I listened to last night (Exploring the Many Dimensions of Metta), Phillip took comments from the sangha members about their experience using the Metta phrases. One woman said that her favorite phrase was: May you be at peace. She said she often repeats it to herself as she goes about her day. And then just recently, while she was on her way to the office, someone darted out in front of her car and she blurted out: Oh you asshole! But then right after that, she found herself thinking: May you be at peace.

(Everyone laughed.)

Phillip said, “That’s what I call the ‘And… Practice.’ It’s like: I’m so mad…. or It’s so unfair… then you add the ‘and….

“The ‘And… Practice’ is what connects you back to a wholesome state when you’ve moved to an unwholesome state of mind. You’re already having the unwholesome mind state, so you accept that, and then the ‘and…’ is your intention to go back to the wholesome state. Maybe you go back and maybe you don’t, but that’s your intention. The practice connects you back to your deepest intention.”

***

I love that!

I don’t think I’ve ever heard it explained quite like that before. I’ve heard of using “and” instead of “but” in conversation, as a way of being inclusive and to keep from being argumentative, but never as a way to re-connect with a deeper intention.

I’m going to try it.

***

The whole talk is a terrific, by the way. Click here to listen.