Posted in mindfulness

Bringing the Mind Here

One of the things we’re trying to do in our meditation practice is to bring our minds here, into the present moment. To do this we have to get a handle on our wandering thoughts.

So often in life we aren’t present. We’re daydreaming or ruminating or fantasizing. These things aren’t bad, but we’re missing things in the here and now.

The Buddha said, “Stopping is awakening,” and he was talking about stopping the way our wandering thoughts drag us around. Bodhidharma said, “Put down the myriad entangling conditions; let not one thought arise.” This means put down your crap. Stop seeing the world through the lens of your selfishness. Stop getting carried away all the time by wandering thoughts. Assert control of your mind. If we can do that, then we can awaken to our true nature.

Advertisements
Posted in ch'an, zen

Zen and Zen Stories

What we call the Zen school is really a mix of a few different things.

It includes the original teaching of the Buddha, which I call First Turning Buddhism, and the spirit of Chinese culture at the time. What we call “Zen meditation” is a method for training the mind that is practiced in First Turning Buddhism and in what we call the Great Way, Mahayana Buddhism.

The original word is Dhyana, which means “concentration” or “quiet meditation”. So, when we talk about the Zen Tradition we’re really talking about “The Tradition That Practices Meditation”. But if we’re honest, a lot of traditions practice meditation, although that wasn’t the case when the Zen Tradition started. The Zen tradition is also sometimes called the Mind School, or the Prajna School, which I think might have been a cooler name. This is because the tradition is all about training the mind in order to engage our true selves.

But, while the tradition started out as a get-back-to-meditation, kind of bare bones approach…it’s slowly deviated from that, sometimes moving away from the it’s roots, as traditions often do. In plenty of Zen circles you won’t see anything resembling a bare bones approach.

 

Anyway,

The earliest Zen teachers really wanted to set Zen apart. There were a lot of Buddhist traditions in China at the time and some of them said the path to Enlightenment was very easy.

The truth is beyond words. It’s about practice and not study. That’s the important point that the Zen teachers were trying to emphasize. They thought too many people were into studying Buddhism and not very many were into actually practicing Buddhism.

Zen isn’t something you learn about, it isn’t something you study, and it isn’t something you are. It’s something you do.

That’s how Zen teachers started telling stories. Stories are words too, though. Obviously they are made up of words. The Zen stories are words that tell you how to go beyond words. Stories about people who were attached to words and had that attachment shattered. Kind of silly an circular, if we really think about it.

Stories are helpful because they can be used to illustrate a point. Sometimes the difference between a successful religion and one that struggles to find followers is based entirely on which religion has better stories. We love stories.

Here’s a story.

The Buddha stood at a place called Vulture Peak in front of a bunch of people. There were monks and nuns and also regular people like you and me. It’s said that there were a million people, but that seems far-fetched. It’s said that spirits and celestial beings were there too, but I don’t believe those are real.

People were expecting a teaching and the Buddha just stood there, not saying anything. Everyone was just sitting there waiting, looking around awkwardly. I’m imagining what it would be like to go to a concert and see the band just standing on stage not performing.

Then, the Buddha held up a pretty flower and twirled it, showing it to everyone.

So, still everyone was standing around awkwardly.

And one guy who they call Kasyapa the Elder just smiled.

 

That’s supposed to be the beginning of the tradition. They say Kasyapa was the first Zen teacher. They say the teachings were entrusted to him because he understood the truth that’s beyond words. There is as much truth in a pretty flower as there is in a teaching. Enlightenment is right here. It’s everywhere. That’s the message.

I once heard someone say, “Just because it’s made up doesn’t mean it’s less true.”

Kasyapa was a real person and was considered one of the best monks in the early sangha. The point of the story isn’t “this really happened” or maybe originally that was it’s purpose but we don’t have to pretend it really happened now. (no one wrote about this or, as far as we can tell, told this story until hundreds of years after the Buddha’s lifetime)

The point is it tells us something.

Talking about Buddhism is great. Learning about Buddhism is great too. But sometimes life is about paying attention and noticing little things. Sometimes it’s about looking at a pretty flower.

Stop and smell the roses. Don’t attach to words so much, even Buddhist words. The truth is right here.

That being said…now I wonder if people in the Zen Tradition are becoming too attached to stories, if they’re thinking of them as IMPORTANT rather than as useful teaching tools. I hope we don’t forget that the tradition came from teachers who wanted a simpler, back-to-basics approach to Buddhism.

Zen is full of stories like this, of some teacher pointing the way in a creative way. That’s really what sets Zen apart the most. The teachers are still pointing and we just have to look.

Posted in meditation

Development and Acceptance

It’s a really good feeling sometimes when we think our meditation is working. If we’ve been struggling for a while and then we are suddenly able to stay with the breath or stay with our experience for several minutes, that can be a satisfying experience.

We spend so much time in the daydream, not being fully present that when we step into this moment it can be a shock to our system sometimes. And that can create it’s own problems. Once we have a moment of clarity, we might tend to cling to it. It can be very discouraging when some of our meditation sessions feel successful and others do not. It’s so hard to maintain a passive attitude sometimes.

What I want to encourage you to do is accept whatever your experience is in your meditation practice. This can be very challenging. We want to have feelings of satisfaction or frustration and just notice them, just be aware of them and be with them. If we attach a lot of significance to either experience, then our practice could suffer. We want to be with these feelings and not cling to the satisfaction but also not push away the frustration. The fact is that sometimes our sit will feel really successful and other times it will feel like a failure.

Your attention will improve over time. This is about training the mind. No one expects you to be great at this right away. No one is great at this right away. Our minds naturally wander and get lost. What we want to try to do is have a passive attitude so we aren’t really hard on ourselves when we get off track. We want to try to learn how to gently bring the mind back.

New meditators sometimes feel like their minds are just too crazy to meditate and that sort of misses the point. We’re not meditating because it’s easy to still the mind and be present. We’re meditating because it’s hard.

Hopefully with practice it gets a little easier to simply notice when our minds are wandering and to just bring them back to the present moment without getting caught up in it.

 

Posted in meditation

Timing and Meditation

Sometimes when people first come to meditation they’re in a hurry. People want to start seeing results from their practice right away. Of course, that’s not how any of this works but sometimes it is something people tend to expect.

This is like that old adage “A watched pot never boils.” If we spend a lot of time thinking about how results aren’t coming fast enough, we will never be satisfied.

Any amount of meditation is better than none. The goal should be to try to build up to regular meditation. I suggest 20 minutes per session, but that’s not something I adhere to strictly. We just need to ask ourselves questions about how much of our sit is devoted to getting settled. That can vary widely. Some people can sit and go straight into meditation, but for others it takes a few minutes.

I don’t really suggest sitting for hours and hours. I think a short meditation with some regularity is better than a rare 2 hour meditation. Ideally we should start with a short meditation and gradually increase the length to whatever we feel we have time for. I think 30-40 minutes is a really good length. We don’t want to be counterproductive, however. If scheduling longer meditations leads to making excuses and not meditating at all, that’s a problem. It would be better to have a very short meditation instead.

There’s not really a perfect time to meditate. When I first started I liked to do it early in the morning. Now I do it in the evening, shortly before bed. I think it varies for everyone, so you’ll need to find the time that works best for you.

================================================

if you love my work and want to support it, you can click here to make a donation:

donate

Posted in meditation

Is Meditation Boring?

Meditation tends to be a struggle for a lot of people. People come to the path with a lot of expectations.

The practice I teach is called Silent Illumination. It’s a bare bones and simple practice. Well, that’s not true. There’s a lot to it. But the instructions are very simple. We are sitting very still, being very quiet, and doing nothing.

We’re not trying to focus on anything. We aren’t trying to stop thinking (good luck) or trying to redirect our thoughts toward some weird picture or something. We are just sitting very still and being very quiet.

“The practice of true reality is simply to sit serenely in silent introspection.” -Hongzhi

It sounds like we’re doing nothing. I’ve had people say, “is that it?” more than once when I present the practice. It sounds like nothing, but what we’re doing is settling into the present moment. When the body is still the mind becomes still of it’s own accord. We’re not forcing anything because we don’t have to.

We may tell ourselves while we’re practicing that nothing is happening…but that’s not really true. There’s never a point where nothing is happening. Things are happening all the time. Wonderful, painful, scary things. There’s never a moment when nothing is going on and life is never really boring. If we really come into our experience we can see that.

 But the truth is that only boring people get bored. What we’re doing with this practice is really learning to pay attention. When we train in attention, we can start to see how not-boring everything is. The world is transformed by our attention.

====================================================

Upcoming Events:

5/18/19: 11am-Noon

Fountain City Meditation: Meditation on the Nelson Lawn

Nelson Atkins Museum – South Lawn

4525 Oak Street

Kansas City, MO

This is a public event. We’re meditating on the lawn of the Nelson Museum, just south of “The Thinker” statue. I’m going to give a short talk and a bit of guidance, then we will sit together. Tell all your friends.

=====================

if you love my work and want to support it, you can click here to make a donation:

donate

Posted in fountain city meditation, meditation

Meditation is Not a Victory March

People often come to meditation with some preconceived ideas.

I can’t count how many people have said to me some version of:

“I just can’t get my mind to settle down enough to meditate. When I try it doesn’t work.”

I think a lot of people try meditation just a couple times (or never try) because they have certain expectations. They want to feel relaxed, or blissed out, or…at the very least…not bored. In the modern era we sort of have this idea that we should be entertained all the time. And we definitely want immediate results.

People also tend to think they are unique in their struggle. “I wish I could meditate, but I just can’t get my mind to settle down.” When people say things like that I think they’re making the assumption that it’s hard for them, but for other people it’s easier.

I want to suggest that we can see the path in a different way. The path is not a victory march. We are not in a situation where baring down and focusing really hard will help us. Focusing really hard on goals here will lead to disappointment. The path is not a victory march. One of the most important things we can bring to our meditation practice is a passive attitude. Don’t be hard on yourself if it’s a struggle sometimes. Don’t be hard on yourself if it’s a struggle every time. Just accept that it’s hard and do it anyway.

There will be days we feel like our meditation is “successful” (whatever that means) but there will also be days where we feel like our meditation is a total failure, when we think we’re doing nothing but being distracted and waiting for the signal that meditation is over. Both kinds of meditation are good. Trying to meditate and feeling like a failure….that counts as meditation. The only way to fail at meditation is to not do it.

 

So, let’s meditate together.

======================================================

want to come meditate with me? You can here:

Upcoming Events

===================================================

===================================================

if you love my work and want to support it, you can click here to make a donation:

donate

Posted in videos

Faith, Determination, Doubt | Video

Great Faith, Great Determination, Great Doubt. These are called the Three Essentials of Practice. So Sahn said that a practice that is missing any of these is like a table missing a leg.

 

The text I reference in the video is “Mirror of Zen”. You can get my commentary on this wonderful text by clicking here:

Mirror of Zen

==================================================================


UPCOMING EVENTS

4/20/19: 11am-Noon

Fountain City Meditation: Meditate For Our Lives at Unity Southeast

Unity Southeast KC

3421 East Meyer Boulevard

Kansas City, MO

This is a public event. We’re meditating outside of a church. I’m going to give a short talk and a bit of guidance, then we will sit together. Tell all your friends.

============================================================

My Newsletter: https://mailchi.mp/87b4d12d6983/daniels-newsletter

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT_tV_JzK871blW9xETSBvQ/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DanielScharpenburgWriter/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/DanielSch

 

 

 

 

Posted in fountain city meditation, podcast

Insecurity: Brain Weasels and other stuff

I recorded a two part episode of my podcast Scharpening the Mind on the subject of Insecurity. For both of these episodes I was joined by my wonderful co-host and domestic partner Alicia Marley. Sitting down and recording with her was really great. 

You can listen to it here:

Insecurity Part One

Insecurity Part Two

I wanted to write on the subject a little as well.

We usually don’t see ourselves clearly.

We often spend time either over or under-estimating ourselves. Sometimes we tend to either think we’re great and we can’t possibly be causing our own problems, that we can’t be wrong in any conflict, that nothing is our fault. Other times it’s the opposite. We tend to think of ourselves as failures. We think other people are cooler or more attractive or more valuable than we are. It’s rare for us to have a clear picture of ourselves.

Insecurity comes from that under-estimation. That’s what I’m writing about now. Insecurity is a powerful force in many of our lives. I think it’s one of those things that is a fundamental part of the human condition. Even people that seem to have it all together are insecure at times. I’m not even sure if people that seem to have it all together are ANY less insecure than the rest of us, really.

I’m insecure about all sorts of things. I don’t like the way my belly sticks out. I think I should be making more money.

I sometimes wonder if I should be leading my own meditation events. I sometimes have these questions that come into my mind. “Why do you think people want this?” “Aren’t there plenty of places people can go for meditation in Kansas City?”

And the truth is I’m just inspired to share this practice, sharing it doesn’t cost me anything but my time, and if I can just encourage one person…that’s enough.

The other question that comes to mind sometimes is “Why start your own? Why not just teach in someone else’s community?”
And I guess I have some sort of insecurity around that too. I’m doing this because I don’t think anyone wants me to teach in their community. I would if they asked.

Anyway, I said all that so I could introduce you to the concept of Brain Weasels. I talked about this in the podcasts, but thought I’d show you the definition.

From Urban Dictionary Brain Weasels are:

Intrusive thoughts of self-doubt and despair, often associated with depression or anxiety, that crawl into your brain and make it hard to focus on other things.

These are those voices that show up in our heads to tell us we’ll never succeed, or that we’re worthless, or not good enough. They have plenty of awful things to say and sometimes it seems like they’re talking a lot.

I think we all have this experience. I don’t think we can make the brain weasels go away, but I do think we can make them stop being so loud. When our attention is fractured, when we’re not mindful of our experience, when we are spending a lot of time and energy carrying our baggage and neuroses…it’s really easy for those brain weasels to be loud and obnoxious.

That’s where our meditation training comes in. When we’re learning how to focus and how to see things clearly we’re also learning how to make those voices stop being so loud.

The truth is that we’re creating those voices. They don’t come from nowhere. They come from us. And because of that, we can learn to stop creating them so much. That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s not.

When we listen to these voices we are getting in our own way. They make it more difficult for us to have a sense of well-being. Part of our meditation training is about learning how to stop getting in our own way all the time. This is just one aspect of that, but I think it’s one that everyone understands and can relate to.

How do we meditate?

Come see me and I’ll show you.

========================================

 

You can get my podcast anywhere you get podcasts. Please go subscribe to it and give it a positive review if you’re able to.

Click here:

Scharpening The Mind

Posted in fountain city meditation

Common Questions

“Are you going to have outdoor events again?”

Yes. When (if?) winter ends in Kansas City. I’m excited to get back out there. There’s something special about meditating in an outdoor space and I think it’s also very inviting to new people, which is good. I’m looking at weekends in April for an outdoor event. March seems like too soon.

 

“Will you come give a talk at my favorite temple/center/community?”

I’d be happy to. Ask whoever makes decisions about guest speakers to reach out to me. I am willing to go anywhere that I am invited and I enjoy speaking to different audiences.

 

“What if I can’t meditate?”

I truly believe that you can. Let me help.

 

“There are many meditation communities in Kansas City. Why aren’t you teaching at any of those?”

My goal is to take meditation out of the temples and yoga studios and bring it to people in other places. That being said, if any of the meditation communities in Kansas City invited me to be a teacher there, I’d be happy to do that. If you think I’d be a good fit anywhere, tell them.

 

“Do I have to be religious/spiritual to meditate?”

No. This is about learning how to work with our minds. We are learning how to concentrate, to be more present, and to have more awareness. You can do this practice whether you’re very religious or even if you consider yourself anti-religion. My goal is to help people meditate regardless of their spiritual (or other) views.

 

“Why are you doing Fountain City Meditation by yourself?”

I’d be willing to collaborate with others. My intent is to reach people that aren’t being reached right now by the various meditation communities that are around. Many people are interested in meditation but also intimidated by the way it’s often presented. If you know a meditation teacher that shares that goal and lives in the area, again, ask them to reach out to me. As an aside, I don’t really feel like I’m doing it by myself most of the time. The people that come are active participants and we’re all doing it together. I’m just the guy making the schedule and talking a little bit.

 

“I’ve never meditated before, can I come to one of your events?”
Yes! People that have zero experience are some of my favorites to talk to. I can spend as much time as a I need to helping you understand the practice and answering any questions you may have. Please come.

 

“Why is your indoor location your house?”

I struggled with what to do when it got cold last year and I knew we couldn’t meditate outside anymore. I came up with doing it in my home for a few reasons, but mainly this: if I rent a space I’m going to end up asking for donations. I don’t think asking for donations is bad, but I wanted to create a situation where no one feels insecure because they can’t pay anything. If a really cool space was offered to me, I might reconsider this, but I’m not looking for one. I like that this only costs me my time because I don’t have to ask anyone to help me with the expenses.


questions or comments?


 

 

 

 

 

Posted in buddhism, videos

Forms of Sitting Practice | Video

Here’s a talk I recorded on meditation practice.

I focused on what we’re doing with our bodies when we sit down to meditate.

Let me know what you think.

 

 

===========================================================================

My YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT_tV_JzK871blW9xETSBvQ

To donate by Paypal: https://www.paypal.me/DanielScharpenburg

My Patreon Page: https://www.patreon.com/DanielSch

My Books: https://danielscharpenburg.com/books/