Browsing Category "Practice"
5 Nov
Posted in: Practice
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Abbra Caddabra!

This month’s DPP homework has arrived and one of the topics is The Five Aggregates. This is a key teaching, which is hard to fully get, but one that’s certainly intriguing. The Buddha looked at his experience and found that everything he felt himself to be could be categorized into five groups (aggregates), and that none of these were really substantial, none were “who he was.”

The five categories are:
(1) the body
(2) the feeling that experiences are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral
(3) the perception/recognition of knowing what things are (oh, yeah, that’s a bird!)
(4) the thought patterns that include emotions, attitudes, fantasies, likes/dislikes, etc.
(5) the consciousness that is aware of things that are seen, heard, smelled, touched, tasted, or thought

One of our readings is the Phena Sutta, in which the Buddha offers metaphors for the nature of each of these five. The body, he says, is like a pile of foam. Feelings, like a bubble in a pond. Perception, like a mirage. Thought patterns, like a banana tree (which has no core). And conscious, he says, is like a magic trick.

“Now suppose that a magician or magician’s apprentice were to display a magic trick at a major intersection, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, and appropriately examine it. To him….it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a magic trick?

“In the same way, a monk sees, observes, and appropriately examines any consciousness that is past, future or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him….it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in consciousness?”

Try it!

1 Nov
Posted in: Books, Groups, Practice
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Attend to the Peacefulness

Last night at the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group, I offered the following instructions from a really wonderful little book by Ajahn Sucitto, “Kamma and the End of Kamma.” (Available as a free download here.)

Sit still in a quiet and settled place in a way that feels comfortable. Relax your eyes, but let them stay open or half-open, with a relaxed gaze. Be aware of the sensation of your eyeballs resting in the eye-sockets (rather than focusing on what you can see). Be sensitive to the tendency for the eyes to fidget, and keep relaxing that. 

Bring your attention to the sensations of your hands, then your jaw and tongue. See if they, too, can take a break from being ready to act or be on guard. Let your tongue rest in the roof of your mouth. Then sweep that relaxing attention from the corners of the eyes and around the head, as if you were unfastening a bandana. Let the scalp feel free.

Let your eyes close. As you relax all around your head and face, bring that quality of attention, slowly, gradually, down over your throat. Loosen up there, as if allowing each out-breath to sound an inaudible drone.

Keeping in touch with these places in your body, be aware of the flow of thoughts and emotions that pass through your mind. Listen to them as if you’re listening to flowing water, or the sea. If you find yourself reaching to them, bring your attention to the next out-breath, continuing to relax through the eyes, throat and hands.

While maintaining awareness of the overall presence of your body, practice stepping back from, or letting go of, any thoughts and emotions that arise. Don’t add to them; let them pass. Whenever you do that, notice the sense of spaciousness, however brief, that seems to be there, behind the thoughts and feelings. Attune to the peacefulness of that.

Feeling the peacefulness of that, take it in. Rather than demand or try to achieve calm, make a practice of quietly offering peace to the energies that pass through you. 


30 Oct
Posted in: Groups, Practice
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Mindfulness at Work

Last night the Dancing with Life KM group met, but we never got around to talking about the book. We sat for 20 minutes, as usual, and then went around the circle, giving everyone a chance to check in and to share what’s going on in their life. When it came to me, I started talking about the retreat I just came back from…about Mirabai..and people started asking questions, and then we got into how important it is to go on retreats, especially with a good teacher, and then about how to find one….and before we knew it, the time was up!

So in keeping with the theme of finding a good teacher, I thought I’d post just one more thing about Mirabai. She’s got a new CD, called Working with Mindfulnesswhich can be downloaded here. It’s about practicing mindfulness at work and it has a series of short, guided meditations including: Email with Intention, Reminders for a Mindful Workplace and Building Better Work Relationships.

Here’s what Mirabai says about the CD: You cannot control your stressors at work, but you can learn to manage your responses to them. “Working with Mindfulness” offers exercises for the workplace adapted from traditional Buddhist practices that I’ve taught to hundreds of people at Google, Monsanto, Hearst, Seva Foundation, Fetzer Institute, and the Wilderness Society. Participants report reduced stress, increased productivity, and openness to creative problem solving. Most importantly, they felt that their relationships improved.

Check it out! 



24 Oct
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
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What Is Alive

One of the contemplative practices we did at the retreat was a free-writing exercise, which began with this prompt: What is alive for me in this moment is.... We wrote for several minutes starting with that. Then we were asked to choose a sentence from what we’d just written, and use that as a prompt.

What was alive for me in the beginning was a sense of joy and appreciation. I wrote a lot about being happy to see Mirabai, about being able to speak Italian with one of the participants, the beauty of the room, the light, the wood, the stained glass windows, but then I wrote: There is a sharp, bright, pain-point in my knee, which is also alive.

And for some reason, that’s the sentence I chose to use as the prompt for the second part. I wrote:

There is a sharp, bright, pain-point in my knee, which is also alive. But it does not overwhelm me. It breathes, but it does not consume all the air in my mind. It comes. And it goes. It disturbs me sometimes. Frightens me, even.


Death is behind the mask of this pain. No, not exactly death. Growing-Old is it’s name. I get afraid of it. Of it changing me. Making me unable to walk up the stairs without wincing. Unable to sit on the floor…or to get back up.

But fear is not alone at the door. There is also Joy — luminous, glowing, radiant, lighting the way for the others who stand sweating and itchy under their masks. All are holding bowls. They are asking for candy. Wanting to frighten me. Or enchant. They say: Here we are. Feed us.

I must open the door.

But I can choose whom to feed.

All may come in.

All are welcome to leave. 


(image from “Offerings,” by Danielle and Olivier Follmi)

16 Oct
Posted in: Practice
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The Edge

One of Phillip Moffitt’s DharmaWisdom e-Teachings arrived in my e-mail today. They seem to come randomly, every couple of months, but somehow they always manage to say exactly what I need to hear at that particular moment. (Click here if you’d like to subscribe.)

This one is on Practicing Your Edge. Here’s an excerpt:

What does it mean to go “to the edge” in your spiritual practice? The edge is the point of your maximum ability–it isn’t something beyond your capability. Still, when you’re approaching your edge, you may be unsure of how much farther you can go.

One place you may experience this type of precipice is during your formal practice. Practicing at your edge may mean going for longer retreats, sitting longer, sitting without moving, sitting with pain, or sitting with loving-kindness. You could choose to challenge yourself during any part of your practice. At home, simply carving out time away from family obligations may be  your edge. Or maybe for you the edge of your practice is living the dharma on a daily basis.

Your edge might be renouncing wanting mind, coming to terms with the fragility of life, being present, truly accepting “don’t know mind,” or abandoning a piece of your old lifestyle. There are so many possibilities you can explore. You may be tempted to choose an “edge” which really isn’t your edge because it feels good to do something you’ve already mastered. The problem with not working toward your edge is that your spiritual practice will stall. 

When you’re truly at your edge, do not take unnecessary risks. You’re already at your edge so there’s no need to compound it. As you approach the edge, pay attention to your body and mind. Are you going too far? Do you feel fatigued? Ask yourself if you’re really committed to this level of edginess. If you’re not, pull back. At this point, pushing yourself to keep going is just ego creation and is harmful to the self. Beware of artificial pride keeping you on the edge. Do you know you should pull back but you’re too proud to do so? Is fear keeping you frozen on the edge?

Likewise, make sure that going to your edge is not something you’re doing to feed your ego. You don’t go to your edge in order to get a certain outcome, because lots of time when we’re at the edge, the outcome isn’t what we expected.

Want more?

Click here to have e-Teachings sent to you.

(image from “Offerings,” by Danielle and Olivier Follmi)


11 Oct
Posted in: Groups, Practice
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Don’t Limit Yourself

Last night I opened the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group with this excerpt from Wild White Horses, by Laurie Anderson.

In the Tibetan map of the world, the world is a circle, and at the center there is an enormous mountain guarded by four gates. And when they draw a map of the world, they draw the map in sand, and it takes months and then when the map is finished, they erase it and throw the sand into the nearest river.

Last fall the Dalai Lama came to New York City to do a two-week ceremony called the Kalachakra, which is a prayer to heal the earth. And woven into these prayers were a series of vows that he asked us to take and before I knew it, I had taken a vow to be kind for the rest of my life. And I walked out of there and I thought: “For the rest of my life?? What have I done? This is a disaster!”

And I was really worried. Had I promised too much? Not enough? I was really in a panic. They had come from Tibet for the ceremony and they were walking around midtown in their new brown shoes and I went up to one of the monks and said, “Can you come with me to have a cappuccino right now and talk?” And so we went to this little Italian place. He had never had coffee before so he kept talking faster and faster and I kept saying, “Look, I don’t know whether I promised too much or too little. Can you help me please?”

And he was really being practical. He said, “Look, don’t limit yourself. Don’t be so strict! Open it up!” He said, “The mind is a wild, white horse and when you make a corral for it, make sure it’s not too small. And another thing: when your house burns down, just walk away. And another thing: keep your eyes open.

And one more thing: Keep moving. Cause it’s a long way home.”

(image from “Offerings,” by Danielle and Olivier Follme)


10 Oct
Posted in: Groups, Practice
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For a while now, I’ve been really interested in Pali chants.

Last week, I posted the Pali Homage and Refuges chat I use to open the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group. And last night, at Maplewood Metta, I played a tape of Jesse Vega-Frey leading a group of yogis (people on retreat) in chanting the Pali Karaniya Metta Sutta. (It’s only 5 minutes long. You can listen here.)

This morning, I downloaded a gorgeous recording of Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero (a Sri Lankan monk) chanting the entire Satipatana Sutta, in Pali. I’ve been listening to the first 4 minutes…over and over…since hearing it played as part of a talk given by Greg Scharf. (You can listen to the talk here.)

The entire Satipatana chant is available here (scroll down). The quality of the recording is extraordinary…and the sutta is long….so the chant has been recorded in 3 parts (plus a spoken intro). The whole sutta lasts more than an hour. But even if you just listen to the first few minutes, it can be a truly transportive experience.


(image from “Offerings,” by Danielle and Olivier Follmi)

9 Oct
Posted in: Practice
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Guanyin Again

I went back to look again at Guanyin on Sunday. This was my 7th of the 13 visits I plan to make, each time writing a page or two in my “Now I See” journal. Here’s what I wrote:

Now I see soot on the tips of her fingers. Has she been in a fire? Was it candles? Smoking incense? She is made of wood, so right away I sense danger. Those tender fingers seem impossibly long, eminently vulnerable. They rest, yet seem to ripple, like waves on the ocean, or grass, but more alive, serpent-like almost, but without menace. Her hand, like the rest of her pose, is relaxed, yet reaches out. Not moving, it is the embodiment of potential motion.

But that soot! Surely this was not intended. It suggests age. Fragility. Wear. And use. She was not kept away from life. Protected. There is roughness. And a worn quality that adds its own patina.

I imagine the artist, sanding those fingers. Rubbing, caressing, stroking. How intimate! Now I see the sensuality of those curves, the tender spaces between the fingers, the exposed openness of the palm. And now the possibility of holding hands with this — goddess? — has suddenly appeared with such visceral awareness! The act of her creation must have been, quite literally, an act of making love.

Now I see that her fingers, so alive, seem to be reaching out, responding, ready at any moment to return the caress. And now the fact that her hand is soiled makes that potential seem all the more vivid. I can look at her closely like this from the side, but when I step to the front, I feel too bold. She seems to watch me, with eyes almost closed, and I feel impertinent. Out of bounds. She lets me look. But she sees that I see. And this causes me step away.

How sentient she seems, and yet I know that she is not. It’s a projection of my own mind, of course. A story made up from the arrangements of features, the shape of limbs, the form of hands. She is carved from wood. Which, in fact, was once living…in the form of a tree. Not conscious. But alive. Then the tree became wood. And the wood became what I see in this moment. Which eventually will decay, turn back into carbon and oxygen. Which will then be taken up again, into another form. Perhaps human. Perhaps not.

But now I do not see a piece of wood. And certainly not a tree. I see a human-like form. One that my mind responds to by making associations and projections. Which is not to say that there is anything wrong. When I look at her, I am seeing the workings/habits/skills (even) of my mind. Of this midstream…if you want to get all Buddhist about it.

Looking at her, I see myself. This particular human incarnation. The causes and conditions that have brought “me” here, that have resulted in my seeing what it is that I see when I look at her.  

So she is me. And I am her.

Together we respond to the world, with eyes half-open. And fingers, dark with soot. 

5 Oct
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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Mindfulness at Work

My very first introduction to Mindfulness meditation — to any meditation, for that matter — was at a 3-day silent retreat offered by the company I worked for at the time: Monsanto. Strange, I know. But it was a life-changing experience….mainly, I think, because the teacher was Mirabai Bush.

Mirabai is the Founding Director of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society (just to name one of her incarnations). And she has recently teamed with More Than Sound to offer a FREE, monthly webinar series on the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace.

The next webinar will be Thursday, Oct 11 at 2:00 pm Central Time. It will feature a live discussion between Mirabai and Dr. Kyra Bobinet, President of Senior Care Solutions at Aetna. You can register for it here, or view a streaming video shortly after the webcast here.

The webinar will cover:

* Dr. Bobinet’s best practices learned from developing and leading Aetna’s clinical efficacy studies with the company’s mind-body stress reduction programs

* Discussion of Aetna’s Mind-Body Stress Reduction in the Workplace clinical trial, and the study results that were published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology

* Mirabai Bush’s experience with developing the curriculum for Google’s Search Insider Yourself course, including participant reports of reduced stress, increased productivity, and more creative problem solving after taking the course

* A short, guided mindfulness exercise led by Mirabai Bush

Stay Tuned: The next webinar in the series will held on Nov 14 and will feature a discussion with Mirabai Bush and Richard Davidson, Ph.D., director of The Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain.


4 Oct
Posted in: Groups, Practice, Talks
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Wakefulness, Wisdom, Community

Last night at the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group, someone asked if we could spend some of our time learning the Pali chants I use to start the sit. So we did!

Here’s the Homage part of the chant in Pali (which we repeat 3 times):
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhassa

Here it is in English:
Homage to the Blessed, Noble and Pefectly Enlightened One

Here’s the Refuges part in Pali (normally done 3 times, but we just do it once):
Buddham saranam gacchami
Dhammam saranam gacchami

Sangham saranam gacchami 

Here it is in English:
To the Buddha I go for refuge
To the Dhamma I go for refuge
To the Sangha I go for refuge

For me, this means that I turn to Wakefulness (the Buddha), Wisdom (the Dhamma) and Community (the Sangha) for my place of safety and rest.

Of course chants are to be heard, not read. Click here for a terrific talk by Greg Scharf, where you can listen to these chants, and hear a beautiful reflection on what it means to pay Homage and Take Refuge.

(image from Offerings by Danielle and Olivier Follmi)