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.

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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.

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Posted in buddhism, podcast

Baggage and Clarity

I gave a talk recently at Fountain City Meditation about the baggage we carry in our lives and about learning to see things more clearly.

You can listen to that talk here. I think it’s really good:

With Thoughts Clear, Sitting Silently | Scharpening the Mind

And I wanted to write something on the same subject.

“You must purify, cure, grind down, or brush away all the tendencies you have fabricated into apparent habits. Then you can reside in the clear circle of brightness.” -Honghzi

We’re trying to get better. That’s what this path is about. Trying to get better. Trying to be more mindful, to see things more clearly, to pay attention, to move through the world in a way that’s less harmful. That’s what all of this is about.

In the quote above Honghzi is talking about working with our bad habits, about improving ourselves and overcoming some of the things that are stopping us from realizing our potential. This is very important.

What are the things that are holding us back?

That old cliché is true. We are our own worst enemies. We are holding ourselves back more than anything else most of the time. We have habits and tendencies that aren’t helpful. We have baggage that we’re carrying around and we sometimes think that we are our baggage. But we’re not.

You’re not an angry person. You’re a person experiencing anger. You’re not a helpless person, you’re a person that is struggling to feel hopeful. You’re not broken, or at least no more broken than anyone else.

We’re working on improving ourselves and that seems really intimidating. Often we think we can’t do it. We’re trying to become more mindful and aware, but how can we when we feel so scattered and lost all the time?

So, with our practice, what we want to do is see if we can put down our baggage for a few minutes and just see what happens. When we train in this way, when we practice seeing the world without all our baggage and neuroses, then something special can happen for us. We can start seeing the world more clearly all the time.

Seeing things clearly is how we make good choices.

“With thoughts clear, sitting silently, wander into the circle of wonder. This is how you must penetrate and study.” -Hongzhi

That’s what we’re doing. The world is full of wonder. Another aspect of what we’re doing here is learning to pay attention. The world is an amazing place, but we’re missing it all the time because we’re so distracted. With our practice we can learn how to tune out those distractions and experience the world in a more authentic way.

 

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*quotes are taken from “Cultivating the Empty Field, The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi” by Taigen Dan Leighton, which you can get here:

Cultivating the Empty Field | amazon

 

links:

The Story of Honghzi | Patheos

Scharpening the Mind Podcast

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Posted in meditation

What Are We Doing Here? |FCM

My girlfriend told me a story about her grandmother.

She would have a Bible study group in her kitchen. People would come from around town and they’d just sit together and talk about their faith. This wasn’t the same as church, where people go to practice their religion in a specific and well defined way. This was more free. They were just relating to each other and talking about what they were trying to do.

I think that’s great.

It was having that in mind that inspired me.

I want Fountain City Meditation to be like that. Not a temple, not a place with strict rituals and forms. Some people don’t like strict rituals and forms. And some people are really afraid they’ll mess up and do it wrong.  There’s no wrong way here.

We just come together and practice meditation and encourage each other. And we do it in my living room.

There are lots of places you can go to for meditation in Kansas City. But I don’t think there’s anything quite like this.

If you don’t like the idea of going to temples or meditation centers, you should come.

If you do like those things but you’re just looking for a little more encouragement and people to talk to about your practice, you should come too.

You don’t have to be Buddhist, you don’t have to be spiritual. You’re allowed to think all that stuff is silly. This is just about training your mind to be more fully present.

When you’re more fully present, you can transform your life.

Encouragement. A chance to sit together. A welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

My wish, above all else, is to make sure no one feels like they don’t belong, like they aren’t good enough, like they aren’t part of the in crowd, like they aren’t doing it right.

If you’ve ever felt that way, you should come.

Fountain City Meditation

Meditation Gathering at the Scharpey House

weird

Posted in meditation

Meditation Mob

I hosted a public meditation on July 28th and I was surprised by the turnout and engagement.
I’ve resolved to make this a regular event.

This is about providing opportunities for practice. Anyone can come, there’s no fee (I don’t even take donations), and people can come and go as they please.

In the earliest days of the Zen tradition, this is what a lot of the old teachers did. They just wandered around and gave public teachings. And that’s what I want to do.

I’ve spent time wondering, “How can I help people? How can I serve the community?” This is it.

Public meditation events.

We’re going to show up in public spaces and sit down to meditate. I’ll give a little bit of guidance and a short talk and we’ll sit with open hearts and awakened minds.

Why?

This is about bringing some awareness and positivity in the world. It’s also about showing people the practice. People may think meditation is weird, or that you have to go to some temple or join some group or something to do it. I want to create a situation where people can just show up and sit for a little while.

Why not give it a try?

Meditation practice can be taken out into the world. And it should.

Meditation Outside the Box.

You should come.


 

Click here for Upcoming Events:

Upcoming Events

 

Posted in way of the bodhisattva

Bodhisattva Mindfulness

There’s a long section in “Way of the Bodhisattva” where Shantideva writes about mindfulness. I’d like to share some of it with you here.

5.1

Those who wish to keep a rule of life

Must guard their minds.

Without this guard on the mind,

No discipline can be maintained.

5.2

Wandering where, the elephant of mind,

Will bring us down to hell.

No beast, however wild,

Could bring us such calamities.

5.3

If, with mindfulness’ rope,

The mind is tethered,

Our fears will come to nothing,

Every virtue will drop into our hands.

Training our minds to be here is called mindfulness training. Mindfulness is like a rope that keeps our minds in control. Mindfulness brings us back to our experience, to this moment, to being here now.

It’s important that mindfulness brings us to this moment. It takes effort to cultivate mindfulness, but mindfulness is important. Our mental habits take a long time to work on, so we need to start with diligence. The quality of patience helps us a great deal.

5.4

Tigers, lions, elephants, and bears,

Snakes and other hostile beasts,

Those who guard hell,

All ghosts and ghouls,

5.5

By binding this mind,

All these things are bound.

By taming this mind,

All these things are tamed.

5.6

For all anxiety and fear,

All sufferings,

Their source is the mind itself,

Thus the truthful one has said.

Shantideva is telling us that all of our problems go away if we tame our minds. I’m not sure if this is true, but I am sure that many many of our problems are created in our own minds. We often let ourselves be consumed by trivial things and the reason for this is because of our minds. When we are present, our emotions don’t take control of us and dominate us quite so much.

5.7

The hellish whips to torture living beings–

Who has made them and to what intent?

Who has forged this burning iron ground;

Whence have all these demons sprung?

5.8

All are but the offspring of the mind,

Thus the mighty one has said.

Thus throughout the world

There is no greater bane than the mind itself.

Shantideva is being more direct here. He’s telling us, “These problems come from your mind”. Our minds distract us and lead us to all sorts of harm. Only with mindfulness can we bring our minds under control.


 

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Posted in meditation, questions

How Do I Avoid Being Aggressive in My Practice?

A reader says:

“I recognize a habitual pattern, not to be aggressive about eliminating it. But then the self aggression in “I should be more patient, kinder, better organized, etc…” can turn into “You/they should be more….” So I guess the question is where to interrupt that cycle?”

So, there’s this thing I always say when I lead meditations. I’ll say it even when I know the person I’m speaking to has been meditating for a long time. I’ll say it even when I know for certain I’ve said it to this person in particular before. I always say it because I think it’s very important. And also, I think it’s something we overlook sometimes when we’re practicing.

That is: “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Now, this can apply in our meditation practice and also in whatever other practices we’re doing. I’m going to focus on our meditation practice first. There are several things that are important to a successful meditation practice—one of them is consistency and another one is having a reasonably quiet place.

But another thing often gets overlooked. We need to have a passive attitude. If we think, “Man, I’m having a shitty meditation! I can’t still my mind at all!” that kind of takes us out of it, doesn’t it? We have so much trouble with this, of course. We expect to be good at meditation (whatever that means) and we expect those results. Expectation is a big problem for us. We’re always expecting things.

I love that fake Shakespeare (Fakespeare?) quote, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Man, that’s good stuff.

Once we start to think of ourselves as failures in our practice, then we start to suffer. The great thing about meditation is that there is no failure. Trying counts as doing. The only way to fail is to not try. And if you’re sitting on the cushion and just thinking about your cats or the plot of Spider-man: Homecoming or having a beer, that’s okay. Just cultivate awareness of these thoughts. And don’t be hard on yourself. Everyone is distracted all the time.

How’s this relate to other practices?

Well, it’s the same. We can beat ourselves up in our compassion practices too. “I could have been nicer. I could have been more helpful, etc.” We have a real tendency to tear ourselves down and think we’re not good enough, but the same thing applies. Have a passive attitude. Don’t attach so much importance to success. Just try your best. You’re not in competition with anyone (even yourself) and you are good enough. You are doing just fine, I promise. An aggressive attitude toward yourself doesn’t help, just try to be the best you can.

And the questioner also asked, “What about when this turns into an external aggression too?”

Being hard on others is also often harmful, of course. What can we do about it?

It’s the same, really. What we want to do is see others as equally important to us. We’re all just trying our best, that’s all we can do. It’s important to recognize that we’re all in this together. It would be hard for me to say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” while at the same time being hard on others.

A lot of our compassion/bodhisattva practices are based on helping us see others as equally important and I think that’s kind of what we’re talking about here. Once we learn how to stop being hard on ourselves, hopefully we can stop being hard on others too.

Life is a struggle for everyone and we’re all in it together.

 

I’m going to start taking questions. If you have something you want me to write about, write it in the comments.

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Posted in anxiety

Stress

We often think of stress as something that happens to us, something out there that is disturbing our peace of mind. But is this accurate?

I’m getting ready to move and it’s stressful, as moving always is. It seems like there’s an overwhelming mountain of things that need to get done and I’m worrying about all that could go wrong. I’m doing this to myself.

It’s not really about what’s happening. It’s about my reaction to it. What I have is just a list of things to be done and it feels really long right now. But the truth is it’s not long. Everything I have to do is just one thing at a time. So, when we feel overwhelmed and stressed out about our to do lists, we can panic and get stressed out, or we can be mindful and aware of what’s happening.

We can just put one foot in front of the other and simply experience what we’re doing.

 


this was previous published on Patheos

Posted in meditation

Breathing

 

Breathing is something that we do all the time. We can return our minds to the breath any time because it is something that is with us all the time. When we bring our minds to the breath, we feel connected to the world.

Training in following the breath is so important that the Buddha recommended it to everyone. Focusing on our breath is how we establish mindfulness. It’s how we can practice being here now. We establish a strong foundation of mindfulness just by being here with the breath, breathing in and breathing out with full attention. We are just using our sensations of breathing as a focus for our mindfulness.

When we pay attention to our breathing, the mind calms down  and we begin to experience each breath fully. Mindfulness of the breath helps us see that it’s a part of who we are, the main way we interact with the world around us. We take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide all the time. When we pay attention to it, we notice that and also we notice how our body moves with each breath.

Instructions for following the breath.

  1. Go to a quiet place.
  2. Set a timer. It’s important to set a beginning and ending to our practice.
  3. Bring your awareness to this moment.
  4. Sit in a comfortable posture and straighten your spine.
  5. Put your hands in your lap
  6. close your eyes or focus your gaze on something that won’t distract you.
  7. Focus on the breath coming in and going out.
  8. Try counting. On the next in breath silently think “one” and on the next out breath “two”. Every time a thought comes into your mind to distract you, bring your thinking back to one.

 

Some tips:

  1. If your mind wanders, don’t get upset, just start over at one on the next in breath. It happens to all of us.
  2. If you begin to feel sleepy, try cultivating a stronger focus on the breath. If that doesn’t work, try practicing while standing.
  3. If you feel pain, adjust your posture. Pay attention to painful sensations and how they change.
  4. If you have questions about your practice, don’t be afraid to ask someone. People with more experience than you will almost always be willing to offer words of encouragement.
  5. Be patient and don’t be so hard on yourself.
Posted in meditation, Uncategorized

Simplicity in Shamatha

Shamatha is a simple meditation style. The point is to free ourselves from delusion. We dwell in delusion all the time, but as long as we understand that and cultivate discipline, shamatha can help us transform ourselves. It’s about being here now. When we aren’t fully present we make all sorts of mistakes.

Shamatha is based on stabilizing our body, speech and mind. We want to have mindfulness of physical experience, mindfulness of emotions, and mindfulness of discursive thoughts.

To free ourselves from delusion we practice. We sit and meditate. Through meditation we develop a state of awareness, both when we’re meditating and off the cushion in daily life. In shamatha we let go. We pay attention to the things that arise and we simply let them go.

In shamatha we are just dwelling in mindfulness. We are engaging in one pointed awareness. Mindfulness manifests in us in a sense that we are actually present in what we’re doing. We train our minds to just pass through, instead of attaching to them.

Our development of awareness is based on our mindfulness practice. We strive to be present, just being, just here. Shamatha is the point at which we behave like a Buddha. It is simple and doable. Being here without preconceptions or discursive thoughts or daydreams is possible. Mindfulness isn’t really religious or even spiritual, it’s just being here. As you go it becomes more natural.

Meditation is about experiencing reality in being as real as possible in our own existence. We train our minds to experience reality directly. By practicing meditation we are following the Buddha’s example and going through what he went through. It’s important to remember that he was a regular person like us, not a god or a spirit.

SIMPLE SHAMATHA INSTRUCTIONS

Set a timer. You want to set a time for your sit, rather than just sit until you feel like getting up.

Sit and arrange yourself. Posture is important. Your head and shoulders need to be straight and uplifted. Keep your back straight and never slouch. When we slouch we start to lose our awareness. Upright sitting helps our back be free of strain and helps us avoid sleepiness. Sit with your legs either in the half lotus or just the cross-legged position. Relax your eyes. Don’t focus on anything.

Put your hands in either the cosmic mudra or the relaxing mind mudra. The cosmic mudra consists of placing on hand on top of the other, face up. Gently touch your thumbs together, making a circle. The relaxing mind mudra consists of simply resting your hands on your knees.

Feel the cushion beneath you and make yourself as comfortable as possible.  Feel yourself breathing. Keep your mouth slightly open, so you’re breathing through both your nose and your mouth.

Feel the breath coming into and going out of your body. As we pay attention to the in breath and the out breath, we can feel our awareness expand. Every time a stray thought or distraction comes into your mind, bring your attention back to your breathing. Simply bring your attention back to your sensation of breathing every time a thought comes into your mind.

Just be here.


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Posted in Uncategorized

The Seven Factors Of Enlightenment

This is one of the oldest Buddhist teachings.

These are the seven things considered most important qualities in helping us on the path.

Buddhism is full of lists because lists are easy to remember. This is one of the most important lists and it’s emphasized in just about every Buddhist tradition. You’ll notice that some of these are related to one another, and that’s okay.

Mindfulness is an awareness to the reality of things. It is considered an antidote to delusion. It’s a clear and relaxed awareness of what’s going on around us. It involves being in the present moment instead of distracted remembering the past or thinking about the future.

Investigation involves investigating the Dharma for ourselves. The Buddha said, “Believe nothing no matter where you read it or who said it unless it agrees with your common sense and observation.” He was suggesting that we aren’t practicing the Dharma because he said so, but to see if it works for ourselves. The Buddha really wanted us to think.

Diligence represents not giving up. I tell people that the easiest thing in the world is not meditating. I’m at home early in the morning and no one is around and I have to make the choice to meditate. I could easily not do it and watch Netflix. In the modern world, we have millions of ways to distract and entertain ourselves. But I cultivate the quality of diligence. It means not giving up, pursuing the path with determination. When I was a kid I remember teachers talking about a quality called stick-to-it-iveness. I didn’t believe that was a word and I still don’t. But, that is the same thing as diligence.

Joy represents positive thinking. If you are excited about chanting a mantra or meditating, you are using the factor of joy. We aren’t practicing Buddhism because we think we are supposed to. We are practicing to transform ourselves, to transform our suffering and to bring some contentment to our lives. That is something to get excited about.

Tranquility refers to our ability to relax. This is important on the Buddhist path because if we have a lot of anxiety about the path, that can cause problems too. So, the cultivation of Tranquility represents our ability to manage our stress and anxiety. When we take a deep breath when we are upset or angry or nervous, we are engaging Tranquility.

Concentration is our ability to focus. When we count our breaths during meditation, that is Concentration. We are trying to keep our minds on our breathing. When we really strengthen our ability to concentrate, it gives us real insights into our lives. But, it is something we have to strengthen over time. Improving our concentration obviously helps us in a lot of other ways such as focusing on something we have to study for school or some new project at work.

Equanimity is probably the deepest one of the seven factors. It represents facing the difficulties of life without getting needlessly attached to them. When something bad happens and I get stressed out or angry about it, I am often making the situation a lot worse. If I face a problem with Equanimity, then I am not letting the problem be bigger than it is. We have a tendency in our lives to make things bigger than they are. Equanimity is our ability to resist that.

So, these are the Seven Factors of Awakening. My favorite is diligence. What’s yours?