Browsing Category "Practice"
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
Posted in: Practice
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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
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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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
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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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.

2 Apr
2018
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The Body Infused with Awareness

I led the Sunday Sangha sitting group this past weekend in the Metta for the Body mediation, using instructions from Phillip Moffitt’s Daylong Retreat for Experienced Students.

What to try this at home? Here’s the text:

Today we’re going to be doing Loving-kindness as a meditation, but we’re going to be doing it for the body. The body itself. Not for “me,” not for “my” body… The liver is not concerned about being “my liver.” The liver has it’s own experience in it’s “liver-ness.” Not as a self-reflective consciousness. But as an actual experience as having tension or heaviness or whatever various kinds of things that could be going on with the liver. The same with the heart, the lungs… So we are treating each of the body parts as an experience in itself.

We’re not saying oh, I want to “fix my knees.” There’s no judging, comparing, or fixing at all. We’re not trying to do some kind of magic. Rather, we’re building concentration through Metta practice because Metta is a concentration practice. It’s a mantra practice, and all mantra practices – whether they are Hindu or Christian or Buddhist or whatever – are concentration practices. The repetition itself defines a kind of concentration.

The phrases I use are:
May I be safe and feel protected.
May I be happy, just as I am.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I live in the world with ease.

The orientation towards these phrases (what we mean by “safe” and “happy” etc.) is the kind of well-being that can come to the body when the body is infused with awareness. You may feel only the slightest amount of this well-being, or you may feel a lot of it. If we were doing this once a day over many days or if we were doing this all day long, you’d be more likely to feel more of it. But for however long you are doing it, the more relaxed you are, the more you’re able to take it easy with your body — the more you will be able to develop concentration.

But you are keeping your mind on the phrases. You’re not pausing and wandering around in your mind. You are keeping continuity from one moment to the next. It’s one phrase, then the next, the next, the next…  We want it to be steady. You can have a changing rhythm – you might start slow and it might speed up, for example – but you are aware of your rhythm, of the pacing, and there’s a continuity within whatever’s going on at the time. So you don’t say one phrase fast and then slow down on the next one. It’s not jerky like that at all. The steadiness is part of what builds the concentration.

You may at times get images of your body as you’re doing this. Those images are fine. They’re not a distraction. But you keep your words in the forefront and let the images be in the background. You may find yourself really getting into the awareness of a particular sensation—some kind of tension in the neck, for example—and thoughts might start to come, like: “oh, this tension is a kind of fear that’s showing up in my neck,” which may be true, but this is not our investigation time. You could do that some other time. But for now, we’re keeping those thoughts in the background. You’re not getting rid of the thought; you’re not denying it; you’re just moving on. Another day you could do it differently, but not now.

We’re going to move through the body. Top to bottom and back up, if you’re comfortable like that. Or else straight down each time, or up each time if you’re more comfortable with that.

You can choose from a number of different ways to do this. Sometimes I only do the organs. Sometimes I’ll only do the bones. Or sometimes I just do whatever comes up as I move from my head down to my feet. You choose whatever you think would work for you.

You can use whatever phrases you’re used to. You can also decrease the number of phrases, if you prefer that. And you can modify them, if that seems right.

For example:
May these knuckles be safe and feel protected.
May these knuckles be happy, just as they are.
May these knuckles be healthy and strong.
May these knuckles live in this body with ease.

Part of doing this practice is really opening to, imagining your body having this well-being. Well-being is relative to what’s possible. I can not imagine well-being as though I were 25 years old. That isn’t within the realm of what’s possible. But I can imagine the various parts of my body as having well-being within the range of their condition right now. And that works quite beautifully. Otherwise you’re getting unreal. You’re falling into magical thinking. And it’s not magical thinking.

There is a feeling of well-being that can develop in the body from doing this, in part just because there’s a kind of deep relaxation going on. And part of it is because energy follows awareness, so you’re energizing the parts of the body, and that energizing is very wholeness for the body. Part of it is that you are letting loose of certain tensions that are held and it’s like doing yoga of the mind for the body. And there’s a mysterious aspect. It’s just mysterious as to why this has a certain well-being-ness to it, but it does mysteriously happen.

Remember, we’re not trying to “get it right.” We’re just looking to experience the experience. There is as little “doing” as possible when we’re “doing” meditation. (Despite all these instructions!) It’s very light.

OK. So let’s start…..

***

I’ve modified this slightly. (For example, I offered the phrases I like to use because Phillip didn’t include his.) If you want to hear Phillip himself, click here. His instructions for this meditation start at about the 1 hr and 50 minute mark.

9 Mar
2018
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Attention is the Active Part of Intention

(one more excerpt from the At-Home Retreat with Phillip Moffitt):

“In terms of the clarity of your practice, I want to remind you again that the first rule is that you are non-doing…in so far as you can. So: You are not doing the practice. You are letting the practice do you.

“There is a certain amount of doing. (This is one of these paradoxes that you just have to work out for yourself.) There’s a certain amount of doing or nothing would happen. But then you ask: Am I doing any more than I need to be doing…and you drop it. You feel your way. You drop it and then if you see that your mind just wanders off, you adjust. You feel your way.

“The practice can have great intensity and still be light. There’s not a lot of doing – despite of all the instructions we give all the time!

“But the practice does involve your knowing that you can direct attention, your knowing that you know how to direct attention, that you’ve practiced directing attention, and that you know when you are directing attention. And that means both the connecting and the sustaining aspect of directing attention.

Attention is the active part of intention. Intention in the Eight-Fold Path is the pivotal point on the Path. It’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s where your understanding—your Right View—actually shows up in somebody’s life: yours and others. Without that intention, it just doesn’t happen.

Attention is the manifestation of intention and intention is what creates the karma for us (both immediately and if you believe in reincarnation, in the long term). So attention becomes very, very important.

“Being able to place your attention anywhere – in your body, in knowing Pleasant or Unpleasant, in the Third Foundation of Mindfulness, in the Forth Foundation of Mindfulness, in the Three Characteristics, in the Twelve Aspects of the Four Noble Truths…whatever degree of knowledge you have – being able to place your attention where it seems wise to place it, is part of this clarity.

“You place your attention, and you really know these locations. Whatever you’ve learned, you know the locations where you can be mindful. Anything you’ve ever been taught, you can be mindful of that. So you can locate yourself. You know how to have your mind rest there. Or there. Or there.

“The ability to direct and sustain attention is one of the things that comes faster than some of these other things. So that’s the good news in it. You really see: I can direct my mind. And I can locate it here, and here. And I can know these locations. It gives you something to be doing and it can add to the inspiration.

“One of the inspirations of practice may be the very practice itself. It inspires you to more practice. And discovering new things in practice can be an inspiration for practice. Letting go can be an inspiration for practice. Surrender can be an inspiration for practice. Having clarity can be an inspiration for practice.

“See how it all fits together? It’s a hologram. It’s all contained. Any one piece of the Dharma contains all of the Dharma. You start anywhere and you can get to every other single realization. And that’s why sometimes when you hear a dharma talk on retreat and you think: well, that’s kind of what they said the night before or two nights ago…they’ve just sort of come back around to this. That’s because it’s a whole piece. It’s unified. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, the Dharma. Just as a structure. Just as a perception of what it is and what you are. It is breathtakingly beautiful in its architecture, its blueprint, its DNA if you like.”

***

(Click here to listen to this talk. The excerpt above begins at about 2 hr 31min into the tape.)