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Friday, July 27, 2012

Live. In. It.

I'm not telling you to make the world better, because I don't think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I'm just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.

And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that's what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.

Joan Didion

Monday, July 23, 2012

The IDPeeps Contemplate Happiness

The IDPeeps contemplate ... will the Cookies n Cream make me happy?

Maybe in the moment. But then the Cookies n Cream will be gone.

Perhaps leafy green vegetables, with their folates and fiber, will bring long-term happiness.

That too proves to be unsatisfactory.

Caught in the trap of doubt, self-confidence ebbing, IDPeep falls back on habit and into a glass of fine Kentucky bourbon, on the rocks.

Hung over and still unhappy, IDPeep realizes that habitual patterns don't bring happiness. IDPeep turns to meditation.

and comes to realize

that in between the thought and the action

there is a space

and in that space

is the happiness that comes from knowing one's true nature as primordially, inherently good.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Petting your emotional dog

Do you feel at the mercy of your emotions or emotional reactions? Do you find that you respond the same way in many situations -- does everything irritate you?

In mindfulness, we note things arising -- and let them go.

The question that always come up for me is, then what? Where does it go, and why am I still irritated?

Jack Kornfield says the instruction is more like "let it be." Let the story go -- the thing that you tell yourself to explain your reaction -- and be with the energy.

If you're like me, you're now asking how to do that. Kornfield explains it in "The Eightfold Path for Householders:"

-- See it. Label it, acknowledge it, see that it's human. "Well, there it is, there's aversion, there's irritation, there's judgment, there's confusion." When you look directly at the emotion -- without anticipating reactions or consequences -- it's not that bad.

-- Let your heart connect with it as though it were a poor, down-trodden dog that you usually shoo away. It's a metaphorical dog, so just look at it without thinking that it will drool on you or give you fleas or shed hair or whatever the story is that makes you shoo it away. Just see an energy that wants your kind attention. Feel the awwww ....

-- As you open to it, notice its nature and study it as if you were a botanist examing a plant. Where does it begin? What's in the middle of it? How intense does it get? What is the end like? What is the most powerful point of it? What do you feel in your body when this emotion-dog is nudging your mind? What triggers it, and what's the thought or image that comes right before it? What's the story?

-- One last question: Who is making up the story? Kornfield calls that a "very useful question at that moment. It's beginning to observe the movement or the dance of the mind."

Instead of fighting with the energy you don't like, maybe you can learn to like dancing with it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blow out the candles -- and send out love

Saturday, July 14, is Pema Chodron's birthday. Ani Pema is one of the faces of western Buddhism, even though she wears the traditional monk's robes and a haircut that's just barely avoids having a shaved head. She's been interviewed by Oprah and Bill Moyers, and her books have sold millions of copies.

Before she was Pema Chödrön, she was Deirdre Blomfield-Brown. Born in New York City, she attended Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught as an elementary school teacher for many years in both New Mexico and California.

Part of her brilliance lies in her ability to translate ancient wisdom to modern life, to identify with the worldly world while living in a remote abbey. Her teachings are tonglen are one example of this. There was a time when tonglen was a secret practice, given to advanced students. Now it's widespread in meditation circles.

For a detailed description, go here.

Essentially, it's a compassion practice in which the meditator takes on the suffering of another person and gives something beneficial -- peace, health, ease, love. It's sometimes called taking and sending or exchanging self and other. It's a way of dissolving the boundaries we erect around the self we want to protect and the messy world outside.

I learned it as a four-step process:

Flash on openness -- get a sense of space, of the wide blue sky, an open plain, a place without walls.
Imagine that you are breathing in thick, smoky, oily, polluted air. Breath out clear air.
Call to mind someone you know -- personally or through the news -- who is suffering. Please in their pain; breathe out an antidote. (Breathe in sadness; breathe out joy.)
Expand that to all beings who are suffering in that way.

When you're finished, do shamata or some other practice for a while to settle back into your being.

I know from experience that this is a heart-opening practice for the person who performs it. I've been told that the recipients also feel the compassionate energy, even if they don't know the practice is being done for them.

Ani Pema's on retreat for all of 2012, but she's invited everyone to join her in meditation and practicing peace today. Details are on her website

I think I will picture a birthday cake with 76 candles, breathing in the smoky air from all the burning colored wax.

Breathing out, I wish that all beings may know the joy of clear-seeing.

Here is a video of Pema teaching tonglen:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Meditation reduces work stress: study

A new study finds that becoming more focused, productive and less stressed at work may involve nothing more than learning to meditate.

David Levy, a computer scientist and professor with the Information School at the University of Washington, found that those who had meditation training were able to stay on task longer and were less distracted. Levy and his co-authors discovered that meditation also improved test subjects' memory while easing their stress.

Some companies, such as Google, even teach their workers to meditate.

If yours doesn't, you can still sneak it in. Even if you're sitting a cubicle and you don't want to get a rep as the office meditator (not that there's anything wrong with that -- and maybe there would be things right with it if people notice your calm and focused demeanor and ask what your secret is) you can meditate at work.

Look at your computer screen or a document but soften your gaze so that you're not absorbing what's there. Focus instead on your breathing. Know that you're breathing in; know that you're breathing out. Focusing on your breath cuts off the fight-or-flight impulse and activates your parasympathetic nervous system.

Pick a number ahead of time or watch the clock on your computer. Consciously breath for 27 breaths or three minutes or whatever works for you. Go back to your task with a clearer mind.

You can do that many times a day.

A screensaver with drips of paint
And if you also practice at home, for 10 or 15 minutes or more, your body and mind learn to recognize that you're calming down, and you'll switch into it more quickly.